EcoHub Brings New Meaning to Green Building in San Diego

Scott Ballum

Yeves Perez has a distinct vision for San Diego, arguably sparked by a singular horrific meeting with a potential real estate investor who asked, in completely sincerity, “What are you planning to do? Paint it green? I invested in a terra-cotta colored building up in North County and it’s doing really well.”

The sudden and painful realization that not everyone in real estate was even close to being on the same page, environmentally speaking, threw Yeves a challenge that redirected his career. At the time, he was a recent transplant to southern California trying to make it in “green” real estate, and was finding that not only was it misunderstood, there were no real incentives to develop sustainably. The accepted tactic was to ‘knock it down and rebuild’, not reuse or retrofit. In looking around town to find someone likeminded, Yeves came across Gary London, an adventurous real estate advisor who would end up helping him introduce a new concept in San Diego developments. The first step was visiting an investment club—literally an organization in which people with new projects seeking investors schmooze with individuals with the money to make them happen. Despite an 'old boy’s club' attitude and the routine ‘tear it down and rebuild’ mentality, something clicked for Yeves and his small group of allies, and he decided to start a club of his own.

Built around a handful of curious real estate developers and a MySpace page, Eco Investment Club held its first meeting in 2007. Twenty people showed up. But Yeves says he just talked about what he knew, invited speakers to monthly meetings to discuss national and local building trends and returns on investments—being careful to keep politics and opinions out of it. He wrote about diversifying thinking as well as investments, and slowly started collecting membership fees. Though this project only just supports itself financially, today an Eco Investment Club meeting can draw as many as a thousand people, and its merits can be seen beyond the revenue.

This was the spark of Yeves’ new vision for the city. As his involvement in the investment world grew, he started learning about emerging green technologies, and saw that though these businesses we starting to boom locally, there wasn’t a forum for them to communicate their breakthroughs and cross-pollinate ideas and innovations. He heard a desire for a physical center for this tech industry, but in the cut-and-dry real estate market around them, there just wasn’t a building, or the incentive for a developer to create one for them.

He returned to his advisor, Gary London, now with loyal supporters like retired military man Anthony Harris, and together they started meeting with everyone who would talk to them about the idea of creating an industrial and entrepreneurial center—what Yeves later dubbed EcoHub. Years of learning both the real estate scene and patience, as well the web of connections he maintained through the investment club, led Yeves to an introduction with a forward-thinking development company named Pegasus. After a litany of negotiations, they have agreed to team with Yeves and his crew, becoming fully invested partners in the greening of two glass office buildings (surprise: not painted green) in Kearny Mesa—a heavily settled area north of downtown, home to industrial parks and car dealerships but centrally located near three interstate highways. The buildings offer office environments for dozens of businesses, from the single entrepreneur looking for co-working space, to the established multi-million dollar hi-tech firm looking to rub elbows in the elevator with other industry leaders (Yeves proudly points to the quiet relocation of Envision Solar into a top floor corner suite). With some offices already buzzing, and a new co-working suite recently renovated, the team is now readying for a full launch and marketing program for Summer 2010.

The battle now continues to fill these buildings, but with the incentives finally in place—the developers are as invested in the ‘green campus’ succeeding as Yeves, businesses have a hub available that caters to their needs and promotes the sharing of ideas, and small startups have access to big names and a forthcoming incubator program—it seems quite plausible that Yeves’ vision of San Diego as the country’s Cleantech Capital just might emerge.