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As Tech Titans Take Over Downtown, a City Skyline Changes Forever

Silicon Valley is an expansive swath of land in Northern California, much of which is not urban. Headquarters of global technology titans like Facebook and Google enjoy sprawling compounds in quiet towns like Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Cupertino.

But these are the extremities of the Valley. The beating heart of the world’s best-known startup hub is, undoubtedly, the city of San Francisco.

Look at SoMa. Look at Mid-Market. The city’s high-octane tech boom, which has been revving for decades, is ever-present. Every other heritage building is now stuffed to the brims with startups—behind worn-down, brick-and-mortar facades are the most modern, digital companies in the world.

It’s a beautiful contrast, but tech’s influence on San Francisco extends even deeper—or should we say higher: the city’s skyline. The most successful tech companies have taken over the city’s most iconic buildings in droves. The financial district, where the vast majority of San Francisco’s tallest towers rise, is now just as much as a technology district.

In 2010, tech companies occupied around 3.5 million square feet of space in San Francisco highrises. By 2014 that number had more than doubled, and that year 100% of space in under-construction towers were pre-leased to tech titans, including Uber, LinkedIn, and Dropbox. Google, Amazon, and others continue to acquire space downtown.

Salesforce Tower_Top

But if anyone has spurred this dramatic shift, it’s Salesforce. In 2011, the company made a surprise decision to abandon plans for a new campus in Mission Bay and invest heavily in the downtown core. So Salesforce leased all of 350 Mission Street. And then all of 50 Fremont Street. And finally half of the Transbay Tower, which Salesforce in 2014 renamed the Salesforce Tower, which is expected to be complete in 2017. Already the tower reaches for the sky, visible from almost anywhere in the city, including Moscone Center, where Salesforce hosted 170,000 people for Dreamforce recently—with venues and hotels overflowing with attendees and entire roads closed to foot traffic, the annual week-long event is another strong sign of the downtown tech takeover.

The Salesforce Tower, when finished, will be the tallest building in California, and end the Transamerica Pyramid’s 44-year reign as San Francisco’s highest tower. With its rounded top, the 1,100-foot-tall tower will forever alter the city’s skyline. Beyond the physical inevitability, the tower has already become a powerful symbol: there is no San Francisco cookie jar in which tech does not have a hand.

It’s a sea change, to be certain. One led by the voices of the people—we want to work downtown, they shouted—and executed, first and best, by Salesforce. Who will follow? Many, we are sure. Because Silicon Valley is as hot as ever, and the heart will beat on.

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