Big Geek

To attract technology companies, the U.S. Bancorp Tower repositions itself as open, light and playful.

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Tech is taking over the Big Pink. Once exclusively home to conservative, buttoned-up industries — law firms, accounting agencies and banks — the 33-year old U.S. Bancorp Tower now hosts a handful of tech companies, including SurveyMonkey, Webtrends, New Relic and Lattice Semiconductor. These companies differ from the building’s old guard clients in almost every way, from culture and organization to commuting styles.

How did the middle-aged office tower with the very literal nickname remake itself to attract these players? By gutting space to the studs and starting over. Built in 1983, the Big Pink has a lot going for it. Its central location, nearby conveniences and five-mountain views appeal to bankers, lawyers and computer engineers alike. But its dropped acoustical ceilings, dark wood accents and limited natural light didn’t speak to Portland’s new pool of leasers.

“The creative and tech tenants … are driving the market,” says Brian Pearce, Unico Properties senior vice president of real estate services, via email. “[They] want attractive workplaces with features like open ceilings, rich amenities and bike parking.”

As manager of the over 1-million-square-foot property, Unico obliged. Working with GBD Architects, they created a new space for SurveyMonkey. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., the online survey company moved into Big Pink’s completely transformed 16th floor in early 2013.

The original floor plate, a maze of 60 to 70 individual offices, was razed, creating “something open and collaborative that fits with SurveyMonkey’s values and culture,” says Ross Moser, vice president of operations at SurveyMonkey, via email. That translates into a mostly open office with “just enough closed spaces for meeting-room needs.” Employees work at long tables or casual, informal seating groups throughout the space.

Since moving in, SurveyMonkey has expanded, taking over the 17th floor as well. The two floors are linked by an internal staircase, which fosters a sense of community and connectedness. It was that ability to grow and still remain connected that attracted both Webtrends and New Relic to Big Pink.

New Relic, a software analytics company based in San Francisco, knew they wanted a space “that could handle our growth,” says Darin Swanson, vice president of engineering. Coming from 19,000 square feet in the Commonwealth building, they now house over 200 employees on three floors, totaling 62,000 square feet.

Like SurveyMonkey, New Relic’s interior is open and clean with exposed ceilings and bright accent colors. While there are a few private offices on the perimeter, a window is always within sight. Groups can choose their desk configuration: the battleship or the pod. The battleship features a long table with ultralow dividing partitions; the pod is a square bullpen with tables facing out.

New Relic also connects two floors, the 28th and 29th, with an internal staircase for a “low- friction way” to move between groups and create opportunities for “water cooler moments,” according to Swanson. Unfortunately, getting to New Relic’s other space on the fifth floor requires an elevator. Swanson doesn’t like it. “Elevators are isolating,” he says. “I wish we were on contiguous floors.”

Webtrends’ design also focuses on collaboration and openness. They traded their mishmash of space, 66,000 square feet on five floors in the Men’s Warehouse building, for the same square footage. This time, however, they are all on one floor. “Having everyone on the same floor was the number-one reason for choosing this building,” says Liz Martin, senior director of marketing and communication. “It helps break down silos across departments and fosters collaboration.”

Headquartered in Portland, the analytics company did not entirely get rid of cubicles but went with low partitions to offer acoustical privacy. Executives sit in glass-walled offices that are sprinkled throughout the space, a large departure from their last floorplan, which had them isolated on one floor. “This is much more integrated,” says Martin.

All three companies offer amenities that one would expect in tech: indoor bicycle parking; expansive, attractive lunch areas; and game rooms. You can even see Webtrends’ ping-pong table from U.S. Bancorp’s newly renovated lobby. These perks are viewed “not as expenses but an investment in recruiting talent,” according to Swanson.

Right now tech firms fill 200,000 square feet of the building’s available 1,000,000. With these businesses doing the “lion’s share of leases in the market,” according to Pearce, more are undoubtedly on the way. The most recent tech tenant is Lattice Semiconductor, which moved from Hillsboro last year.

Tech’s presence has even influenced the design of a few of Big Pink’s traditional tenant offices, like litigation firm Smith Freed Eberhard and Deloitte & Touche LLP. Pearce reports that they have “adopted more open, collaborative spaces, democratized the office sizes and took the break room, once relegated to the worst portions of the space, to front and center with windows, high-end furnishings and extensive food options.”

A U.S. Bank foosball table is, undoubtedly, not far behind.

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