Welcome to Home Brew, original content created by Fresh Brewed Tech that showcases the cool and creative spaces that San Diego’s innovative companies call home. This is where the magic happens.
Newspapers have long had a great impact in recording the history of our communities and the people who live, work, and play in them. They also play a vital role in the local economy, painting the diverse portrait of a region.
“In the past, a city’s newspaper was a main cornerstone for sharing information and the majority of the community participated in that by religiously reading the paper. This gave us ownership,” said Casey Brown, who fondly remembers a field trip to the local daily paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune (U-T), during his childhood.
Brown, who is Founder, President and CEO of longtime commercial real estate investment firm Casey Brown Company, is paying homage to his childhood memories, as well as San Diego’s roots, by transforming the former U-T building in Mission Valley into a unique campus for innovative and creative companies while giving a big nod to the history of the iconic site. Following a $40 million overhaul, the result is AMPERSAND, a 342,000-square-foot creative office campus at 350 Camino de la Reina.
I recently had a lively conversation with Brown about preserving the legacy of the building while also celebrating the idea that the future is bringing with it many new and exciting changes, as well as how AMPERSAND is helping breathe new life into Mission Valley, which is also going through a rebirth of sorts.
A Moment in Time: AMPERSAND pays homage to its storied history with the old, recognizable brick exterior and concrete shell of the original U-T building still in place. The docks, once used for unloading ink and paper, have been re-purposed to create an outdoor gathering space, including permanent meeting tables and glass marker boards, which have transformed the docks into platforms for creativity. The loading docks also include the original red and green lights. Meanwhile, The 12,000 square-foot courtyard – the former home of the San Diego U-T’s printing press – is now an open air atrium featuring seamless sliding glass doors to take full advantage of San Diego’s perfect weather. For one last look at the U-T’s Mission Valley printing press click here.
Preservation: In terms of preserving the past, Brown said it is a responsibility when taking on these types of properties. “For example, I would give great accolades to Liberty Station (former Naval Training Center),” he said. “They did a phenomenal job there and had a big social responsibility. Re-positioning the Mr. A’s building came with the same responsibility. We are the second owner in the history of the building; there was a responsibility there, including putting up the famous holiday lights. We all seem to have an ownership in all these projects. The AMPERSAND campus was the local newspaper. So many people were touched by it. This was the place where we traded information and news. The stories that come back … ‘I did this or my grandpa used to do that.’ There’s a tie to the property. It is a piece of property that everyone is aware of and what we have done is brought it back to life and opened it back up to our city and community.”
Transformation: Aside from preserving some of the past, the 13-acre AMPERSAND has gone through a modern transformation, including a major overhaul of a five-story office tower and a three-story industrial/office building. These re-imagined spaces incorporate the outdoors with parks throughout the property and along the adjacent San Diego River. Designed by Wolcott Architecture, AMPERSAND includes 13-foot ceilings, new over-sized windows for natural light, and an industrial loft-style feel with exposed brick, concrete pillars, and polished concrete floors.
The campus, located alongside Interstate 8 and state Route 163, has been designed to appeal to modern companies and their employees, including two large, interpretative murals created by Los Angeles-based artist John Park, that are meant to connect the past and present with bright blue, purple, and yellow hues.
Some other cool aspects of AMPERSAND include:
- The walkway, which is located between the two buildings and is a central hub of activity that directly leads into the San Diego River Park and to the Fashion Valley trolley. The park provides a recreational center with a fire pit, stepped seating, and private gathering spaces.
- Amphitheater, a scenic space that serves as an outdoor multi-functioning gathering area.
- Outdoor seating, which provides a unique opportunity for rest and relaxation. Located under the expansive ficus canopy, the space is filled with flexible lounge furniture to encourage an early morning meditation, a mid-day yoga refresh, or coffee and conversation with co-workers.
AMPERSAND has even garnered the prestigious Best Renovation/Repurposed Project Award in Southern California by Engineering News Record.
“Repurposing is today’s hot ticket and certainly AMPERSAND is a great example of re-purposed buildings,” Brown said. “In terms of the name AMPERSAND, it’s the last symbol the U-T printing press struck before they shut down in 2016 to mark the beginning of something new.”
In the Details: Brown – whose office is located in the former service building for the U-T trucks and vans, which still has the old roll-up doors – also shared some of his favorite aspects of AMPERSAND.
“The loading dock has outdoor collaboration areas, and we left the tracks or rails that were used to move the large paper rolls for the printing press. You will also see some hint of fun in the encouraging slogans in the outdoor spaces such as, ‘You can kick it, yes you can,’ ‘Go full throttle today,’ and ‘I gotta say it was a good day.’ Do all of these slogans make me smile? Yes, they do. And creating happier employees help a company excel. It’s the little details that were at the forefront as we laid out these outdoor spaces.”
Community Gathering Place: Brown said AMPERSAND is not just designed to operate the usual 9-to-5. He pointed to community-type events such as The University Challenge and even Oktoberfest.
“We have also encouraged our tenants to think outside the office and they have also hosted events in the courtyard,” he said. “We really want to involve the whole community.”
Build It And They Will Come: Brown said AMPERSAND, which has already attracted creative and innovative companies such as Qdoba and Encore Capital, plans to add more like-minded companies to its tenant roster. He said by creating the workplace of the future, AMPERSAND will help breathe new life into Mission Valley, which is also going through a period of rebirth. “If you look at Silicon Valley, most innovative companies are located in one area. In San Diego, we have broken the markets up, from North County to Sorrento Valley, La Jolla, Downtown, Mission Valley, etc…. We’re seeing tenants look up and down these markets, specifically the larger tenants. If you want to find 100,000 square feet today in San Diego County, there are a handful of options. There are big players with big employment bases looking at these markets. Those big groups are looking at places that can fit and provide the amenity base and vision these employers need to attract workers.”
Mission Valley: Mention Mission Valley to most folks in San Diego and the word “hip” does not come to mind. But Brown said AMPERSAND, along with a string of other new developments, is going to change that.
“There are some great projects that have been done in recent years that really changed the face and action of this part of San Diego. For example, for years there was no residential here. Now you have a population at night. Now the community has a voice,” he said.
Brown also mentioned the remodeling of the Town & Country hotel’s state-of-the-art convention center, as well as new apartment units under construction nearby, other remodeled office parks, and the proposed River Park project, which would include undeveloped land between Qualcomm Way and Interstate 805, just north of Camino Del Rio North. The river runs through the northern part of the AMPERSAND site, just south of the San Diego Trolley. And of course, we can’t forget about San Diego State University’s recent bid to purchase Mission Valley’s SDCCU’s stadium.
Brown, who attended SDSU on a football scholarship, couldn’t be more thrilled. “There’s something happening here and I’m excited to be part of it.”
Investing in San Diego: Brown, a native San Diegan, was extra animated when talking about investing in his hometown. “Just take a look at Seattle, which took off. I’m a firm believer that San Diego is about to do the same thing. My threads are woven into San Diego. It’a a great city now and one that will only get better.”
Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a two-part series on an inside look at AMPERSAND, one of San Diego’s newest projects that is changing the face of Mission Valley while attracting innovative and creative companies and the workforce of the future. This is not your ordinary office park.