Autodesk Officially Moves HQ to San Francisco but Shrinks Bay Area Footprint

It’s official: Autodesk is now a San Francisco company, announced CEO Andrew Anagnost at the company’s Gallery reopening. Autodesk occupies the second and fourth floors of the historic Landmark Building, once the HQ of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

It’s official: Autodesk is now a San Francisco company, announced CEO Andrew Anagnost at the company’s Gallery reopening. Autodesk occupies the second and fourth floors of the historic Landmark Building, once the HQ of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

At the reopening of the Autodesk’s Gallery attended by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, CEO Andrew Anagnost declared Autodesk a “San Francisco company,” making the Market Street location the company’s headquarters. It appears to be mostly a symbolic move, however. The Market Street offices have been Autodesk’s ipso facto headquarters for years, with all of Autodesk’s top brass operating from there, including Anagnost.

Ironically, Mayor Breed’s welcome to her city comes as Autodesk shrinks its San Francisco office space. The company walked away from its newly renovated Mission Street offices after realizing there was a surplus of office space, like many tech companies whose employees have taken to working remotely.

Goodbye, Marin

Autodesk was founded in Sausalito, on the other end of the Golden Gate bridge in Marin County, and since the ’90s maintained its headquarters in San Rafael. There on the scenic Marin Civic Center Campus, the 111 MacInnes building, Civic Center One and Two and “Coppertop” were mostly if not completely occupied by Autodeskers during the Carol Bartz era. The Autodesk presence was once the pride of Marin County and with over 3,000 employees, its second largest employer.

The continued presence of Autodesk in bucolic Marin had always been somewhat of an anomaly, a sentimental holdover from a bygone era, of hippy developers who played Frisbee with their dogs—out of place in the frenetic hi-tech environment of the Bay Area. Carol Bartz is said to have endured an hours-long commute each way (though the back seat of a limousine may not represent a true test of endurance) from her Atherton (South Bay) home to keep Autodesk in Marin.

Every other Bay Area tech company of note has kept to San Francisco, the Peninsula (the area immediately south of the city) and the South Bay (which includes San Jose and environs, the area more commonly known as the Silicon Valley). Marin was where techies went on weekends to hike, bike and lunch. But living there? Marin, mostly ranch land and open space, has very little housing to offer. Those who do manage to find housing will face a tough commute. The area’s rapid transit, BART, does not service the North Bay (including Marin and Sonoma counties).

Hello, San Francisco

Autodesk’s move to the city actually started during the Carl Bass era. Bass, though a resident of Berkeley (East Bay), found the scenic ferry rides across the bay that dropped him off at the Ferry Terminal (across the street from the Market Street offices) to be most convenient.

After securing prime waterfront office space in the historic One Market building, Autodesk added properties on Pier 9, where it was to create a machine shop with a view like no other. Spectacular views in San Francisco sells properties and jobs. In a hotly contested job market for tech workers, Autodesk competes with tech monsters with FAANGs (as Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google are collectively known) and a Bay Bridge view is a bragging right.

Autodesk continued with its San Francisco expansion, leasing and renovating 117,000 square feet of prime office space in a nearby Mission Street high rise. The plan may have been to lure workers back to the office. But in the end, they didn’t come.

“We are subleasing that space,” said Anagnost with a heavy heart. “We made that space exactly like we wanted it.”

Autodesk is certainly not alone with an office space surplus. Many of the Bay Area’s tech firms are in a similar predicament. During the first year of the pandemic, most offices were abandoned. In a January 2021 survey by sfcity.org, 63 percent of tech founders and CEOs said that they would downsize their San Francisco office space. While some may have reconsidered and brought back some workers some of the time, few if any companies have returned to their pre-pandemic full-time occupancy.

The hybrid workweek, with employees working from home some days and in the office the rest of the week, has the immediate effect of companies subleasing or canceling their downtown leases but, in the long run, may reshape our downtowns. San Francisco’s skyline is dominated by the Salesforce Tower. The title tenant, Salesforce.com, has office space in several buildings in the Transbay Terminal area, including the One Market building, but with quite a bit of its workforce working from home, finds itself with thousands of square feet of unused office space.

Why San Francisco? Why Now?

In his introduction to Mayor London Breed, CEO Andrew Anagnost explained how Autodesk and San Francisco are a natural fit.

“Sixty percent of our company’s top executives and half of our board of directors are women,” noted Anagnost. “We support the LGBTQ community. “Where else would we be if not San Francisco? Certainly, not Texas,” he added, drawing applause.

Effusive in her praise of Autodesk was London Breed, San Francisco’s first black woman mayor. Autodesk moving to San Francisco, even if is mostly symbolic, is a political victory for a civic leader during what might appear to be a migration of tech companies from the Bay Area. Oracle announced that it would be moving its HQ to Austin in 2020. Last year, Elon Musk announced the same move for Tesla from its Fremont (South Bay) HQ. San Francisco companies moving their headquarters from San Francisco include Ancestry.com, Eventbrite and Slack. Almost 30 companies (including Autodesk, Airbnb, Twitter and Yelp) are reducing their office footprint. The tech exodus has left the Bay Area with the equivalent of 10 vacant Salesforce Towers (17 million square feet) according to sfciti.org.

Austin may be everyone’s favorite move at the moment, but the rest of Texas, with its low costs and room for growth, is making much of its superiority over the expensive and crowded Bay Area.

“But I can’t see Andrew in a cowboy hat,” said the San Francisco mayor.