Why a solar panel company is moving into a mall and a business group moved out

Jim and Sharon Vargo of Lake Delton, Wis., cross a bridge at Town Square on March 20, 2009.

VEGAS INC coverage

A fast-growing Silicon Valley company is gobbling up Las Vegas office space as it moves into Nevada and, ironically, takes over the offices of a group that works to bring new companies to the state.

SolarCity Corp., a solar panel installation firm, signed a lease for 28,000 square feet of furnished office space at Town Square. It expects to move in next month and take over another 40,000 square feet at the center next year, SolarCity’s real estate broker, Dan Palmeri, said.

SolarCity, based in San Mateo, Calif., got approval in March for a record $1.2 million grant from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Office of Economic Development. The money will help fund employee relocations and is payable over three years if officials can verify the jobs SolarCity promised to create locally.

The company will employ 200 workers here initially, Palmeri said.

Despite the valley’s record-high 26 percent office vacancy rate, SolarCity executives wanted a space that already was taken — by the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The company wanted a location that would make it easier to recruit employees, and officials figured Town Square, with its movie theater, Whole Foods Market and restaurants, was an ideal spot, Palmeri said. SolarCity is subleasing furnished office space from the chamber for the duration of the business advocacy group’s lease, about four years.

“They said they didn’t want to be in a boring office park in the suburbs,” said Palmeri, a director with Cushman and Wakefield Commerce Real Estate Solutions.

A company spokesman did not return a call for comment.

SolarCity recently contacted the chamber and said the office was an “ideal space” for its expansion to Southern Nevada, chamber CEO Kristin McMillan said in an email to members Friday.

According to McMillan, her group decided it would be “beneficial to the chamber and community at large to sublease its current space and move its headquarters” to a temporary space until a permanent office is found.

The chamber moved out of Town Square last week and now is based on Sunset Road near Durango Drive in the southwest valley. Its first day in the new office was Monday.

“While this opportunity has come quickly upon us, rest assured that we have managed the process in a careful and deliberative manner so the chamber can operate business as usual during the period between moves,” McMillan said in the email, which is posted on the chamber’s website.

The chamber was looking to sublease its office anyway, Palmeri said. He said the group signed its lease at Town Square in 2007, at the top of the market, and wasn’t using the whole office.

“They were spending money on space they weren’t using,” Palmeri said.

About 45 chamber employees worked in the Town Square office, which was "built for more staff than we currently have," spokeswoman Cara Clarke said.

She said the temporary office is fully furnished but only 10,000 square feet, too small for the group. Once the chamber finds a permanent home, she said, it will likely be larger.

Founded in 2006, SolarCity has customers in 14 states and Washington, D.C. It had an initial public stock offering last December and says its customer base more than doubled last year, to about 57,400.

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