San Diego office building spices work up with bocce ball, firepits and day-long dining


The area surrounding the three-tower office complex in Sabre Springs is something of a dining-out desert, so when the owner was looking to entice new tenants to the largely vacant buildings, it turned to a local restaurant company for help.

The result of that collaboration is a new eating and drinking venue called The Florence — an homage to San Diego swimming legend Florence Chadwick — which will open later this month in the office building, owned by Kilroy Realty Corporation, that at one time was the home of Bridgepoint Education.

Not only will the reinvented campus feature multiple indoor and outdoor spaces for grabbing a quick breakfast or sharing a cocktail after work, but it will also include fire pits outside and a regulation-sized bocce ball court for the more recreation-minded.

Legal Restaurants, the 3-year-old company that will be operating The Florence, likes to think that its new concept played a pivotal role in helping lease out much of the 450,000-square-foot Kilroy Sabre Springs campus.

“For two years the property sat vacant and once we released our materials and we did tours and tastings, the project leased in two months,” boasted Legal Restaurants chief operating officer Nick Sanderson. “Now everyone wants to be a part of something more than just an office building.”

Agreed, says Kilroy, although it was more than just the new restaurant that succeeded in luring tenants, says Nelson Ackerly, senior vice president with Kilroy overseeing San Diego and Orange counties.

Kilroy also transformed surface parking into a park-like area integrating the three office towers, and it added an 8,000-square-foot gym for its tenants. Bridgepoint had occupied two-thirds of the complex before it moved out at the end of 2017. The building is currently 85 percent leased, with General Atomics occupying one of the buildings.

“The Florence is an integral part of a much larger effort,” Ackerly explained. “We really reinvigorated the entire office, we redid two of the building lobbies and built out tenant spaces and redid the common area and restrooms.

“But I would say the restaurant is absolutely critical to the success. Legal Restaurants is embracing the entire park setting where we built out the bocce ball court and cool sitting areas, which may evolve into events on weekends and evenings. There’s nothing worse than having these office buildings and you look out the window and nothing is going on.”

Designed with a “coastal bohemian” ethos — light, airy and beachy — the Florence takes its name from Florence Chadwick, whose family at one time owned a large chunk of Sabre Springs.

Chadwick, who grew up in San Diego, is known for her long-distance open swimming achievements in the 1950s, most notably across the English Channel. The Chadwick story line was incorporated into some of the restaurant design touches, like a silkscreen wall covering depicting a lifeguard tower from the Catalina Channel, which Chadwick also swam. In the covered patio area, pool swim lanes were integrated into the fire pit trellis.

The $4 million project, which includes 10,000 square feet of indoor space, plus two acres of outdoor dining, entertainment, lounging and recreational areas, is being funded by Kilroy. Legal Restaurants will pay rent as a tenant in the office building.

Founded three years ago by San Diego chef Antonio Friscia, Legal Restaurants plans to partner with other office building owners to develop restaurant and event space as an amenity for the tenants and the surrounding community.

Next up is a 15,000-square-foot restaurant, private event space and catering venue in Phoenix that will be called Condesa, named after a neighborhood in Mexico City. Legal Restaurants also plans to open in June a European-style café and wine bar in the Ampersand office building in Mission Valley, former longtime home of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“Our goal is to have five venues constructed by the end of this year,” said Sanderson, “and then going forward our target is to do five to seven venues every year.”

While the business model for The Florence has Kilroy covering the development costs, in other projects, Legal Restaurants will contribute equity, Sanderson said.


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Twitter: @loriweisberg