Palo Alto greenlights green lights and signs: $$$$ or #@&^

Palo Alto’s Architectural Review Board unanimously approved Thursday morning (May 1, 2014) a giant green illuminated sign for the new giant building at the corner of Lytton and Alma.

The building is already controversial because of its size and its use of Planned Community (PC) zoning, a device by which developers push thru overly dense building and what most people (but not so-called leadership) would call up-zoning or changes to the established zoning, in exchange for purported “public benefits”.

So now the tenant, a privately held tech widget with a cutesy name and a ton of juice behind it in financial backers, wants an overly large and who are we to deny that? Which reminds of the joke about the 800 pound gorilla.

I am not sure if the giant green illuminated sign points North, South, East or West. I admit, although I’ve lived here on and off for 40 years, I forget which way, officially is West: I think of Menlo Park and San Francisco as North, but sometimes the maps declare things East that I think of as North.

In the case of 101 Lytton or Lytton Gateway (which is actually on Alma — see what I mean?), my question would be: does the giant illuminated sign face the residents of Palo Alto, in University North Neighborhood (what I would call the North and West sides of the building, compared to the South and East sides, which to my reckoning face office space and the train station)?

And because I am an English major I immediately thought of The Great Gatsby and the green light of west Chop, although I haven’t thought thru why exactly — close enough for the blogosphere and “Plastic Alto”.

My main point is: the giant illuminated signs to be installed at the giant new building face: Wall Street.

That is, despite whatever might have been said at the brief public hearing, by our commissioners, staff and the applicants (the developer and his minions, close to a dozen on this Thursday morning), the signs do not help pedestrians find their way. How many times can someone get lost looking for the corner of Alma and Lytton, and that giant oversized building?

No, the idea is to build up brand name for the privately held company, soon to go IPO.

By the way, a secondary tenant of the building is a “third-wave” coffee company, based in the Bay Area, also playing the IPO game – and who knows how many investors are in both projects. And as someone self-employed, office in home, who spends much of his days surfing our better coffee houses, I am pretty psyched about the new coffee house. (This missive would be twice as sardonic if not for that fact).

I felt the same thing about the giant and non-conforming sign at the Grocery Outlet on Alma: the company is actually pretty savvy and in my opinion is only running a Palo Alto store as a short-term loss-leader but they want that giant signage to market direct to the handful of venture capitalists who may drive by, shuttling their kids to soccer matches up and down the Peninsula.

Kara Swisher recently reported on the convoluted funding mechanism that our green light is apparently crucial to:

SurveyMonkey has raised a massive $800 million in debt and additional equity funding, which it plans to distribute in a tender offer, said sources with knowledge of the situation.

It is one of the largest private capital raises for an Internet company.

The move is being done to allow employees and early investors to cash out of the Palo Alto, Calif., online polling company, since it does not have current plans to go public.

That will presumably occur, though, with this financing valuing the under-the-radar SurveyMonkey at $1.3 billion, sources added.

About $450 million of the total will be from new investments from a number of key investors, including CEO Dave Goldberg and Tiger Global Management.

But one new investor is an interesting one — Google — and not through its Google Ventures arm. Instead, it is via a new investing vehicle that has been created at the search giant that is focusing on late-stage companies — like SurveyMonkey — which have a proven business model.

In fact, the company is profitable and has been funding its operations and expansion from current revenue.

But there was a feeling that early investors — such as Bain Capital and Spectrum Equity, as well as early employees, including its original founder — should be rewarded, since there is not an IPO in the near future.

That said, Spectrum, which bought the company in 2009 and brought the well-regarded Silicon Valley entrepreneur Goldberg in as CEO, will retain a large stake in the recapitalization.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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