A small group of Orange County real estate and e-commerce leaders have told associates they are planning to take control of the 40-acre Parker Hannifin Aerospace headquarters in Irvine and turn it into a massive incubator for Internet companies.
The site, on prime commercial land off the San Diego Freeway and Jamboree Road, would breed Orange County technology companies that would, in turn, foster the future economic growth locally and make it a hub of new Internet activity in Southern California, according to more than a dozen brokers and developers.
"There are numerous venture capitalists in the Silicon Valley, but none are purchasing a business park and housing their funded companies like this," said Matthew Kot, an associate vice president at Grubb & Ellis.
James Watson, who resigned this month as head of Koll Co.'s Western division, and Buy.com founder Scott Blum are heading a new company called e-Developments.com of Aliso Viejo to manage the property. Keith Ross, who oversaw Koll's Orange County projects and reported to Watson, also resigned to join the new firm.
"I'm under a confidentiality agreement with my partners," Ross said, "and I'm not able to comment until the first week of February when we'll announce our partnership and our new business plan."
Ross declined to confirm the deal, adding only that the Koll Co. would "participate in the new venture."
But close associates and industry leaders said the new company will work closely with Koll to buy the property for $55 million to $59 million and build on the 300,000 square feet of office space that Parker Aerospace is vacating. Under current land use approvals, the amount of office space could be doubled.
Parker and its 500 employees will be moving to two other offices the company operates in Irvine.
While Watson, Blum and Ross have refused to divulge much publicly, they have been discussing their plans with commercial real estate brokers. Also, several bidders for the Parker property revealed information about the successful bid.
The planned incubator reflects the current trend to cash in on the tech boom through Internet start-ups. Already, about a half dozen incubators exist in Southern California, including eCompanies in Santa Monica and Idealab in Pasadena. While some question how many incubators the region can support, others in the tech community insist that new ones stimulate the business climate, expanding the entrepreneurial pie.
Idealab, the best-known of the bunch, has launched Internet toy seller EToys Inc. and GoTo.com, the Web search engine. Among other things, incubators help young companies recruit executives, raise capital and handle administrative functions. Some of Idealab's companies are pitched by entrepreneurs themselves, but the bulk of the start-ups were conceived by founder Bill Gross.
Associates of Watson, Blum and Ross say the trio hopes to create an incubator and bring in major companies to provide services.
"I think it's a fantastic concept that will surely gain momentum," said Douglas Killian, vice president, at the Voit Co. real estate brokerage in Irvine. "When word gets out on this project, they'll get a look at every dot-com company interested in this area."
Times staff writers P.J. Huffstutter and E. Scott Reckard contributed to this report.