Bitwise stretches tech into two historic downtown warehouses

Two historic warehouses in downtown Fresno will be part of the latest round of expansion for Bitwise Industries’ growing roster of technology tenants.

Bitwise, the self-proclaimed “mothership of technological education, collaboration and innovation” in Fresno, announced Wednesday that it will grow from its current South Stadium location at Van Ness Avenue and Mono Street into three additional sites, including the J.B. Inderrieden building – better known as the former site of the Old Spaghetti Factory at Ventura and R streets – and the State Center Warehouse & Cold Storage building at R and Mono streets.

And for the first time, Bitwise is including a residential component in its plans – a four-story, 28-unit apartment building next to the State Center building.

“It’s great. I like the fact that they are getting into real estate – the residential side of things,” Aaron Blair, president of Downtown Fresno Partnership, said at a news conference where the project was announced. “This raises the bar for other developers.”

The two warehouse buildings will provide more than 150,000 additional square feet of space for Bitwise business tenants. Additionally, Hashtag Fresno, a division of Bitwise that provides membership-based co-working and collaborative space for technology entrepreneurs, will soon relocate from its 2,400-square-foot space on the second floor of the South Stadium building into about 5,000 square feet inside the Hotel Virginia building at Kern and L streets.

The expansion will make a dent in, but not completely satisfy, a Bitwise waiting list of software and technology companies for as much as 500,000 square feet of office space.

“In the next year and a half we are going to go from 50,000 square feet to just under 300,000 square feet,” said Bitwise co-CEO Jake Soberal. “And the thing about everything we’re announcing is that not only will these open fully leased, but we’re still going to have a waiting list.”

The Inderrieden building, built in 1925, is being considered later this month by the Fresno City Council for listing on the city’s Local Register of Historic Resources. It opened as a raisin packing plant and later served as a paper distribution warehouse from 1937 to 1972. From 1976 to 1995, it was the Fresno location for the Old Spaghetti Factory before the chain moved the restaurant north to Shaw Avenue.

Bitwise Land Co. LLC, a joint effort between Bitwise and Fresno developer William Dyck, bought the Inderrieden building in late October for a reported $983,000. It has about 36,600 square feet of space over two floors, plus a basement of more than 9,800 square feet, according to Fresno County assessor records. It will be called Bitwise 41 because of its proximity to and visibility from Highway 41 through downtown Fresno.

“It is maybe the most visible building in Fresno, and we’re going to put maybe one of the most innovative things in Fresno right there for the world to see,” Soberal said with his usual confidence.

In its recommendation to the City Council, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission declared the building an example of the Industrial Concrete architectural style and cited its importance to the city’s fruit-packing industry.

Soberal said he and Dyck plan to carve the building into spaces for about 12 technology companies. “It’s essentially the same size (as South Stadium), or a little less,” Soberal said. But whereas Bitwise South Stadium has three or four dozen small tech companies and even more individual entrepreneurs shoehorned in, Bitwise 41 “is going to be a venue for those folks who have outgrown some of the larger spaces we have in this building and looking for something larger, and companies coming in from out of town that need a little more space.” At the building’s north end, a narrow side yard will be converted into space for two restaurants with outdoor seating and a small performance stage.

Soberal and Dyck expect to spend about $7 million to make the Inderrieden building ready for Bitwise.

Less than 500 feet up the street stands the State Center Warehouse building that was built in 1918, according to the city’s Local Register of Historic Resources. It affords 76,700 square feet of space over its two floors, and it also has a 13,800-square-foot basement. Of all the old, vacant buildings downtown, the State Center warehouse is probably the best-preserved, Dyck said at the news conference held on the building’s second floor. There is no graffiti on the wall, the roof is intact and the brick has not been painted over, he said.

“It’s wonderful to find a company like Bitwise that can not only use the building, but (use it) in its current form,” Dyck said.

Soberal said he expects the space to accommodate about 30 to 50 technology companies, in addition to several restaurant and retail spaces opening onto the loading dock on the R Street side of the building and a speakeasy-style bar in the basement. “The loading dock will be converted into a raised patio with outdoor seating overlooking the street,” Soberal said.

But Soberal is more excited about plans for the building’s roof: adding 10,000 square feet of office space and 8,000 square feet of outdoor co-working space. At the northeast corner, a 100-seat amphitheater will be available for performances. “It is almost the most complete view of downtown that you can get anywhere in Fresno,” Soberal said. Renovations to the warehouse building are expected to cost about $15 million.

In a side yard at the south end of the building, Bitwise will make its first foray into residential development: a $5 million apartment building. “We’re going to do 28 units, studio to two-bedroom  and the rooftop is going to be a rooftop patio area, an entertaining area exclusively for the residents.”

Soberal said that polling of occupants just at Bitwise South Stadium suggests that the tenants there would absorb as many as 150 residential units. “And that’s to say nothing of the tenants who have yet to move into these new projects,” he said.

“One of the most critical things facing downtown is we give away about half of the economy because we all leave at 5,” Soberal said. “If we can keep what is principally our audience – young people who want to live in a vibrant downtown – if we can keep them en masse, that’s how you sustain the nightlife that we all dream of.”

Soberal said the 28 apartment units at State Center is Bitwise’s first toe-dipping into the type of mixed-use development that is a hallmark of new land-use and development plans approved in October by the City Council for the Fulton Street corridor and downtown Fresno.

Both the Bitwise 41 and Bitwise State Center projects should be open for tenants by the summer or fall of 2018, Soberal said.

In the Hotel Virginia building, Hashtag Fresno will be entering its third site since it was founded in 2011 by Irma Olguin Jr., now co-CEO of Bitwise, in a Tower District storefront. The collaborative team-working space moved into Bitwise South Stadium when it opened in October 2015 and will probably move into the Hotel Virginia in February.

The new space will come with a new amenity: a rooftop patio that will double as an outdoor co-working space for members.

“Hashtag is where there is the lowest barrier to entry to plug into the technology community in Fresno,” Soberal said. “It’s grown so quickly here (at South Stadium) that it again demands doubling its space.”

Staff writer BoNhia Lee contributed to this report. Tim Sheehan: 559-441-6319, @TimSheehanNews