MOUNTAIN VIEW -- Google has been on an astonishing real estate spree in the last several years, buying or leasing dozens of buildings across a wide swath of the South Bay.
What's even more astonishing: It's been adding new space even though it has not yet filled buildings it already has, giving the company the flexibility to expand its already large Bay Area workforce by nearly 30,000 more workers.
"I've never seen anything like this sort of expansion from any one company," said Phil Mahoney, a broker with commercial realty firm Cornish & Carey.
The office space boom has been going on for a few years. This newspaper was the first to report that Google had established its first Silicon Valley presence outside its Mountain View home base in 2011, when it signed a mammoth lease in Sunnyvale. Google has also purchased a slew of older office buildings, potentially to tear them down and create new first-class office space for its workers.
But its acquisition spree seems to have intensified. In one of the most recent deals, Google leased an entire office project that's still under construction in Sunnyvale. That totaled 1.9 million square feet, and commercial real estate experts say they can't recall an office lease larger than that in California in at least 15 years. Separately, Google recently bought a six-building office complex in Redwood City totaling 934,000 square feet. Google provided no dollar amount for the deals. Both transactions were initially reported by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
Google intends to occupy both projects, said Meghan Casserly, a Google spokeswoman.
Some real estate industry insiders familiar with Google's hiring plans say the tech titan intends to hire 5,000 workers in the Bay Area a year for at least the next five years. Google does not disclose the size of its Bay Area workforce, but it had 55,000 employees globally as of Sept. 30.
For the last few years, Google has also picked up buildings well before it would have a chance to occupy them.
"They are leasing and buying way ahead of their hiring curve," said David Vanoncini, a partner in the San Jose office of commercial realty firm Kidder Mathews.
The most game-changing deal of the recent transactions is the Redwood City acquisition, because it's the first time the company has obtained a site there. Redwood City fills in a gap between San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
"What Google is trying to do is come up with some options to minimize the commute patterns for their employees," Vanoncini said. "Their young engineers like to live in San Francisco. So this provides an option so they don't have to drive all the way to Mountain View. It will help Google recruit new talent."
The Redwood City project is situated on the bay front, which has raised the prospect that Google could ferry employees by water to and from San Francisco.
Those two deals alone provide Google with enough space to accommodate 14,200 employees. But those buildings aren't ready for Google to occupy yet, and the first of the Sunnyvale buildings won't be completed until sometime in 2015.
As a further indication of how Google is poised for mammoth employment growth, the company has gobbled up dozens of buildings in recent years. Most of them are in locations where Mountain View is actively considering allowing higher-density class A buildings.
So were Google to knock down and redevelop even 20 of the buildings with first-class offices of 100,000 square feet each, that would total another 2 million square feet, or enough room for 10,000 workers.
Google is still eyeing a proposed 1 million-square-foot campus on the NASA Ames Research Center grounds that could accommodate 5,000 workers.
"There are some 800-pound gorillas in Silicon Valley," said Jim Beeger, a senior vice president with commercial realty firm Colliers International, "but what Google is doing is the granddaddy of 800-pound gorillas."