Stories for August 2000
Monday, August 28
Greg and Carol Lindstrom conquered OC. Now San Francisco is their oyster, too. Two years after relocating from Emerald Bay, Greg is one of the Bay Area's highest-profile lawyers and Carol is a globe-trotting dot-com queen. Carol used to run Deloitte & Tou
It's no secret that the remodeling of the Anaheim Convention Center to increase available space by 40% will be a boon to the meetings and conventions market in Orange County. The expanded center, which will give Anaheim 1.6 million square feet of conventi
The stock market is still hot on tech infrastructure stocks, but with the tech labor market tight as a drum it's also starting to pay attention to the teachers of the new economy.
Beleaguered online retailer TheBigStore.com is fighting for its life as Santa Ana electronics distributor Ingram Micro Inc. tries to force it into chapter 7 liquidation to recover more than $3.28 million in unpaid bills.
DispenseSource Inc., a Rancho Santa Margarita company hoping to cash in on the frustrations of the typical office manager, is set to announce a long-awaited $10 million investment on Monday and the completion of its first field tests.
COMPANIES LIKE BROADCOM AND CONEXANT TEND TO MAKE THE BIG headlines (as they do on page 1 of this issue). But sometimes the companies making little headlines can, in aggregate, say just as much about how Orange County is emerging as a major center of "br
It began with the percolator, that hulking piece of machinery that brewed coffee for the ranks; then the microwave and refrigerator migrated to the workplace. Management got daring and brought in a gym, childcare and ping-pong tables. Office parties becam
Phoenix-based Summit Builders has joined the growing list of major construction firms setting up shop in Orange County.
While the eyes of meeting and convention planners are largely turned toward Anaheim as the Convention Center remodel and other projects near completion, another facility that will be a showplace for Orange County is taking shape quietly in Newport Beach.
Irvine-based R & S; Trading is planning to make a big splash at the Action Sports Retailer Trade Show in September.
Heitmon Holdings bought an 18,218-square-foot building at 20762 Linear Lane in Lake Forest for $1.6 million. Lee & Associates represented Heitmon in the transaction. CB Richard Ellis represented the seller, AG Heinze Co. Inc.
$1.4 billion hotel development on 34-acre site of former Aladdin Hotel at 3667 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas. (702) 736-7114, www.aladdincasino.com
Final Phase of Remodel Will Be Complete This Year; More Conventions Coming
South County has its Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and,soon,St. Regis resorts, but when Disney's Grand Californian Hotel opens on the grounds of California Adventure in January, it will set a new standard for resort hotels in North County. Some industry insi
rvine-based Pen Interconnect Inc. is hoping to rise from corporate oblivion through a merger with perFORMplace, a New York firm with operations in Santa Monica that provides online services for Hollywood types and the recording industry.
Emergencies frequently spawn heroes, and California's summer 2000 power shortage has produced 127,000 unsung heroes within the ranks of SCE customers.
HomeBase Inc., Irvine, reported earnings of $1.4 million on sales of $407.0 million for the fiscal second quarter ended July 29, compared with earnings of $10.1 million on sales of $453.6 million for the previous second quarter. For the six-month period,
On July 28, Massachusetts-based Avici Systems Inc. finished its first day of trading at $96.75, more than triple its initial public offer price of $31. Late last week, it was trading at around $133 a share.
Since Baxter Healthcare Corp. spun off its cardiovascular unit in April as Edwards, the newly independent company has unloaded two of its less profitable units, taken $362 million in charges, accused two major competitors of infringing on its patents and
Albertson's Inc. is in escrow to acquire the 131,000-square-foot former Hewlett-Packard office building in Fullerton, where the supermarket chain will relocate its Western regional offices and more than 400 jobs from Buena Park.
Integrated Circuit Solutions Inc. is the last place most manufacturers ever want to call, but that doesn't exactly hurt company president Joe Stafford's feelings,or his bottom line.
Thai Kitchen in Irvine is one of the sweetest little restaurants around: architecturally charming, soft colors, full linen service, staff ready to please, and food that's identical to that in the homeland. It is one of our personal favorites. Having spent
UltraLink, Costa Mesa, an iBenefits company, is hoping to expand an Internet-based group health insurance purchasing program it developed beyond a just-completed test with American Airlines. UltraLink officials claim the pilot e-commerce exchange helped A
Edwards Theatres Circuit Inc., Newport Beach, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, saying it lost $40 million on sales of $299 million last year and plans to close about 15% of the company's theaters ... A hoax press release targeting Costa Mes
Epicor Software Corp., an Irvine provider of enterprise and e-commerce software for mid-market companies, last week announced that Cygnifi, a spin-off of J.P. Morgan and a leader in online derivatives services worldwide, has selected "e by Epicor" softwar
Today marks the 120th day of the actors' strike. But OC advertisers continue to plug away with new spots using non-union talent, including the latest commercials created by Los Angeles-based davidandgoliath to launch the new Rio models for its client Kia
The National Capital Cos. Inc., an Irvine financial services company, last week announced that its Travis Morgan Investment Banking division initiated a global rollout by opening its first international investment banking office in Tel Aviv, Israel.
In the second quarter, the industrial base in Los Angeles County swelled another 7 million square feet to 867 million square feet, second in the U.S. only to the Chicago market in total industrial square footage.
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Internet-minded futurists might suggest that travel agencies are a thing of the past, but a continuing strong economy, burgeoning travel technology and consolidation helped Orange County's travel agencies turn in a strong performance in the past year. Tot
The Irvine Co. has bumped PM Realty Group from its list of property managers and is transferring the roughly 3 million square feet of space managed by that company to Insignia/ESG, which already handles the bulk of the Irvine Co.'s portfolio.
The race between Orange County's broadband titans has taken a significant turn over the past two months as shares in Broadcom Corp. rebound mightily from spring's tech downturn and those of Conexant Systems Inc. continue to stagger.
Amy Ellena was named traffic coordinator at Lawrence, Mayo & Ponder, Newport Beach. Ellena previously worked for Color Graphics.
For the past three years, Orange County's hospitality and tourism industry has struggled under the weight of construction as the county has remade itself into what officials hope will be a singular destination. During that time of sagging convention atten
Monday, August 21
Santa Ana-based Sangui BioTech International Inc. said its Singapore subsidiary has begun setting up biomedical labs in the Asian city-state's Science Park II research and development center.
I don't think that Richard Reisman's Aug. 7 Notebook, "Thoughts on the Times Piece," was belaboring the point. Rather than being repetitious, I thought his article was a fresh viewpoint on the data. In fact, I particularly enjoyed his point/counterpoint a
Fremont-based electronics maker Intarsia Corp. plans to open a 3,000-square-foot wireless networking design center in Orange and hire about a dozen engineers locally.
If you want political intrigue, the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles was not the place. Instead, business is keeping a closer eye on Sacramento.
Newport Beach-based Churm Publishing Co. has signed a sponsorship agreement with Huntington Beach-based Women in Sports Careers Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Huntington Beach-based Women'Sports Services. WISC supports women in sports-related businesses
For millions of technology workers and hundreds of new economy companies that dot Southern California's shores, the Tech Coast already is a place bristling with economic activity. But can it become a brand name, too?
Private donations to the University of California, Irvine reached a record $87.9 million for the fiscal year ended June 30. The figure marks a 77% increase in donations from the previous fiscal year.
RSM McGladrey Inc., Anaheim, promoted Pat Murphy from managing director for the national tax group to executive vice president of tax services.
Moviegoers cheered this summer when Mel Gibson battled the British in "The Patriot." Fast-forward two centuries and a smaller revolt over taxes is brewing.
Hot dog chain Wienerschnitzel may be pushing 40, but this old dog has a few new tricks.
Perhaps nothing is more difficult to categorize or quantify than that which takes place in cyberspace. To a large extent, the clout of a region or city in the virtual world depends on public relations.
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The stocks of real estate investment trusts have made a nice rebound lately, thanks to Wall Street's ongoing search for relief from the sometimes wild fluctuations of tech and Internet stocks.
Online textile exchange start-up EcomTextile.com has tapped First International Bank to provide financing of up to $5 million for users of its site.
Broadcom Corp., Irvine, will acquire Irvine-based NewPort Communications Inc. for $1.24 billion (see related story on page 1) ... Struggling KPC Medical Management, Anaheim, received a commitment from eight HMOs for a $30 million financing package ... ESy
As Fadi Chehad & #233; will tell you, doing business is all about connections,and the Viacore Inc. chief executive has plenty.
Orange County's residential real estate market continues to surge, and few businesses are reaping as much of the rewards as most of the local brokerage companies. But for how long remains to be seen, as the OC residential market finally began to show sign
An Irvine company that hopes to make everyone from computer technicians to plumbers more efficient with wireless Internet access is getting a boost of its own with a $23 million venture capital infusion.
George W. Bush and Al Gore have something in common with Yamaha Motor Corp.'s new line of 2000 motocross bikes: they want to win the big race.
The Abbey Co., a Garden Grove real estate company, has bought its first medical office building in La Mesa in what the company calls the start of more buying in San Diego.
Henry Segerstrom has sewn up the naming rights to the OC Performing Art Center's planned concert hall for himself and his late wife Renee. But if you still want to put your or your company's name on something, and for considerably less than $40 million, c
MDK2 Computer game for PCs and the Sega Dreamcast; about $50 in retail stores or online at www.interplay.com/mdk2.
Downtown LA never looked safer. Dozens of police roamed every block. But it was eerie. Helicopters constantly hovered above, like in a scene out of "Apocalypse Now." It seemed like an explosion was about to happen.
Park Electrochemical Corp., a Lake Success, N.Y.-based electronics maker, is nearing completion of an expansion of its Fullerton plant.
When Tustin Hospital and Medical Center reopened after two years, Chief Executive Jane Wingate and other officials had a decision to make about what role health maintenance organizations would play in their business.
Entridia Corp., an Irvine startup that makes equipment designed to speed up the Internet, has closed the final $10 million stage of its second-round financing, which now totals $25 million.
It's noon on the first day of the Democratic Convention. About 700 foreign political leaders, who are in Los Angeles to watch American democracy in action, are being treated to a luncheon at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. There, Milan Panic, chairman of C
THE SHOW FROM LOS ANGELES PROVED ONCE AGAIN THAT DEMOCRATIC conventions are more fun than Republican conventions. Everybody just seems more excited and more emotional.
The Orange County retail market now encompasses approximately 71.5 million square feet of gross leasable area. The second quarter brought about the completion of three more shopping centers, adding 665,000 square feet to the existing retail base.
A tight market for hotel financing and the sale of only one of Orange County's largest 50 hotels contributed to a flattening of the local hotel sales market in the second quarter.
Layton-Belling Associates is trying to bring a little of South Orange County to the northwest of OC. The Newport Beach-based real estate development company is working to reposition the Cypress Technology Center in Cypress. The company is redeveloping and
Since my column ran a little long last week, I held these last thoughts on dining in the Napa Valley until today. But, since the following three dining spots are also serious food havens, they too should be on your first-choice list.
"We are very small and have the potential to grow," said Rick Suzuki, president of American Suzuki Motor Corp. and the grandson of the founder of Tokyo-based Suzuki Motor Corp.
With a construction boom well under way, the Puget Sound region is on track to dramatically alter and expand its office market during the next three years. These are heady days for local office developers, who have roughly 6 million square feet under cons
A huge resurgence of demand was evident in the Orange County office and flex-tech markets in the second quarter, resulting in positive fundamentals that reach well beyond expectations. The "wait and see" attitude that characterized tenants and landlords i
Biolase Technology Inc., a San Clemente dental-surgical technology company, last week announced the signing of a two-year distribution agreement with Munich, Germany-based Industrie-Beratungs and Communication GmbH.
Pacific Alternator & Starter Inc., a Fountain Valley company that rebuilds automotive alternators and starters, appointed Donald Day president.
Lack of construction has created an office space crisis for growing companies in metro Boston. In the suburbs, delivery year-to-date of 3.6 million square feet of Class A supply tells an important tale when compared with demand. Class A net absorption at
Vinod Dham, chief executive of Mountain View chipmaker Silicon Spice Inc., was awake for more than 26 hours the day Irvine-based Broadcom Corp. announced it was buying his company. Along with Henry Nicholas, Broadcom's hard-charging chief executive, Dram
Driven by 4.6 million square feet of industrial sale and lease activity, second-quarter net absorption vaulted to nearly 2.8 million square feet, a 58% increase over the first-quarter figure.
The Orange County industrial market has grown to nearly 240 million square feet after another quarter of industrial construction that added almost 2 million square feet to the base. The majority of this new construction was manufacturing-and-warehouse-typ
U.S. Rep. Christopher Cox called for the permanent embedding of a research and development credit in the federal tax code at an Aug. 10 lunch presentation for biomedical and drug industry officials at Allergan Inc.'s Irvine corporate campus.
The Orange County office market encompasses approximately 81.6 million square feet of product. The Greater Airport Area continues to dominate the office market by containing nearly half (48%) of the total net rentable area. Central Orange County (19%) and
Peer-to-peer networking,the file-sharing method that has gained attention thanks to the battle over digital music-swapping services such as Napster and Gnutella,is getting a look from eLiberation.com Corp., a service that pays people to use its Web softwa
Monday, August 14
Christopher Pinckney, chief executive of CP Web Design, together with Elliot Light, president of L & A; Marketing and Advertising Inc., recently created a joint-venture online marketing business called "garden of e" targeting clients in the housing, financia
Surfing Girl magazine is getting ready to take the plunge. The 84-page insert is set to separate from Surfing magazine in January, targeting girls, teens and young women.
Four years ago, AutoNation Inc. made headlines as it swept across the nation building an automobile retail empire with annual sales now topping $20 billion.
Irvine-based Billabong USA is looking to its parent company's public debut Down Under to drive a swell in its business here. Australia's Billabong International Ltd., which owns and operates Billabong USA, went public Friday on the Australian Stock Exchan
Some of the world's most respected medical specialists work at the UCLA Medical Center. Or at least they used to. High-profile specialists are fleeing UCLA in favor of fee-for-service hospitals that have promised them state-of-the-art equipment and higher
The Learning Channel, the cable network owned by Discovery Communications Inc., is known for its documentaries examining various aspects of life, including human development, sexuality and paramedics. Starting this week, TLC's documentary lineup is gettin
Irvine-based InvestorIQ.com PLC, a stock analysis service that launched operations last month, is looking to land $5 million to $8 million in a second "Level 3" round of funding, company officials said.
With Pressure Mounting From Hospitals, Doctors and Patients, Is Managed Care Still Viable?
Level 3 Communications Inc., the Broomfield, Colo.-based builder of speedy fiber-optic data and communications networks, is making a big move into Orange County.
A family trust bought the 7,505-square-foot Landson Center at 24338 El Toro Road in Laguna Woods for $2.67 million. Marcus & Millichap represented both the family and the seller, Landson LP, in the transaction.
The California Association of Mortgage Brokers, an industry group representing lenders, brokers and other real estate services companies, is looking to get members to sign off on an internal code of conduct designed to counter fallout from well-publicized
Ingram Micro Inc., Santa Ana, reported earnings of $33 million on revenue of $7.30 billion for the second quarter ended July 1, compared with earnings of $50 million on revenue of $6.81 billion in the previous second quarter. For the first half of the yea
It looks like there's a cloud in the silver lining of eSynch Corp.'s recent announcement that it was selected to provide the official media player for this year's summer Olympics.
The latest example of this is in Huntington Beach, where environmentalists recently claimed a major legal victory. They were happy that the so-called Bolsa Chica decision prevented a landowner from removing several dying eucalyptus trees from a degraded
Local timeshare developer Pacific Monarch Resorts of Laguna Hills has broken ground on a $69 million, 431-unit timeshare resort in Cabo del San Jose, Mexico, and has received approval from Clark County, Nev., officials for an additional 400 units at Cancu
Irvine-based venture capital firm Ventana Global, founded in 1974, has been using money from corporations to make investments in start-up companies for a couple of decades, a trend that only more recently has burgeoned in the U.S.
The Inland Empire industrial vacancy rate dropped to 3.84% in the second quarter, with approximately 9.1 million square feet of positive net absorption of industrial space. Across the board, vacancy rates in cities were in single digits. Rates ranged from
Occasionally the phone rings and someone asks if I can get them a reservation at the French Laundry in Yountville, where seatings are meted out weeks in advance. No, I can't.
OC's 35 Largest Increase Profits 1%; St. Joseph Knocks Hoag From No. 1 Spot
Future Orange County construction activity is in for a slowdown. June contracts for future construction in Orange County declined substantially in both commercial and residential sectors, according to The McGraw-Hill Cos., a research service that tracks s
Ground was broken last week on a three-story, 103-room Holiday Inn Express at Sungrove Street and Garden Grove Boulevard in Garden Grove, the eighth such project in the city in the past two years.
Sares-Regis Group has formed a partnership with Starpointe Ventures to jointly develop a $55 million, 250,000-square-foot office complex at The Campus Centre in Irvine, expanding its investment in a big development project.
n Al Gore was applauded in Nashville for his choice of Joe Lieberman as running mate. But he almost blew it. His consultants dragged him offstage just as the vice president was about to take credit for inventing the bagel.
We live in an extraordinary moment in California history. We enjoy the unparalleled bounty of the most economically vibrant state in the richest nation on earth. Scarcely a week passes without new reports of prosperity,unemployment at new lows, personal i
Irvine-based Sundance Travel International, the third-largest travel agency in Orange County, formed a strategic alliance last month with TraveLeaders, a Coral Gables, Fla., travel agency.
It's getting downright nasty between OC-based giants Fidelity National and First American, the nation's largest and second-largest title insurers, respectively. Two months ago industry legend Bob Duff left First American after 40 years to join Fidelity. F
Brookstreet Securities Corp., an Irvine brokerage firm, last week inked a multiyear investment banking agreement to assist in the development of an oil field in Trinidad and Tobago.
Bruce Allen was appointed senior practice development manager for the Pacific Southwest technology and communications practice of the Costa Mesa Deloitte & Touche office.
Ann Rozelle is stepping down after 15 months as president of the Irvine-based Life Science Industry Council. Taking her place as interim president is John C. Anderson, a council co-chairman and the director of corporate technology investment and of advanc
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Even though Orange County is a center for high technology with a dizzying pace, people are willing to step back a millennium to relax. This year's fair is proof. The Orange County Fair 2000 drew 808,552 people, a 12% increase from 1999 and a record for th
Everyone knows the price of oil has skyrocketed. But that doesn't mean it's fat city for everyone in the industry. Just ask Costa Mesa-based 76 Lubricants, a division of Tosco Corp. "Our costs on raw materials are up 45%," said Garry Rooney, president of
Thousands of reporters are set to attend this week's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, and many are expected to hear about one the confab's biggest issues: healthcare. Officials at PacifiCare Health Systems Inc. of Santa Ana say they are read
Broadcom Corp., Irvine, acquired Silicon Spice, Mountain View, for $1.2 billion ... Arrow Electronics Inc., Melville, N.Y., one of three companies acquiring Germany-based VEBA Electronics, will buy VEBA unit Irvine-based Wyle Electronics for $840 million
Venture capital funding in Orange County companies nearly tripled to a record $303 million in the second quarter vs. the first three months of the year, according to a report due out Monday from Pricewaterhouse-Coopers LLP. "Orange County had a red-hot qu
Monday, August 7
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has reorganized its offices in Orange County and next month will open a storefront office in Santa Ana to make its programs more available to the public.
The Choi family of Fullerton is no stranger to the textile industry. Now the Chois are looking to weave their business into the technology of the day,e-commerce.
Crow Holdings bought the 221,224-square-foot Imperial East Shopping Center in Brea for $35 million.
The Santa Ana online retailer, which has ties to Internet high-flier Chinadotcom Corp. as well as several Orange County Internet companies, is being sued for $3.28 million by Ingram Micro Inc.
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William A. Albright Jr. was promoted to president and chief operating officer of Nexell Therapeutics Inc., Irvine, a supplier of therapeutic and diagnostic products based on stem-cell technology. Albright replaces L. William McIntosh, who resigned to purs
The low-rise market, which accounts for 53% of the Orange County office base, is made up of office and flex buildings that are one, two or three stories. The second quarter saw another 665,360 square feet of low-rise office completions. All of the new low
9keys.com Inc., a real estate services company with big online ambitions, has moved its headquarters from San Diego to Newport Beach.
Broadcom Corp., Irvine, acquired Atlima Communications Inc., San Jose, for $560 million as part of an expansion into the small-to-medium business networking market ... C.J. Segerstrom & Sons said it is planning a 255,000-square-foot office tower at Bristo
Power Paragon has made a name for itself supplying power switches to almost every U.S. Navy ship and submarine for the past 40 years, and plenty of foreign vessels to boot.
The transfer of the Tustin Marine base to the city of Tustin is taking longer than expected, but that hasn't stopped companies from lining up to work on developing the 1,600-acre site in the middle of Orange County.
An economy that continues to grow and demand more accounting services has fueled a long trend of employment growth at Orange County's top 35 accounting firms, which continued in the past year, according to the Business Journal list.
It's been a bumpy ride on Wall Street for John Martin in his attempt to be No. 2 to both Starbucks and Harley-Davidson.
Irvine-based Bankers Mutual has a new owner,its third in as many years,but this time around the mortgage lender is representing the West Coast in what's planned to be a national expansion by its new parent.
Few things scream for more attention in the bustling Southland economy than an idle 160 acres of commercial property.
Rockwell Collins completed the acquisition of Sony Trans Com last week, which includes a 430-employee Irvine facility.
Pinnacle Communities has purchased 49 lots in the Woodridge masterplanned community in Thousand Oaks for $3.8 million from Shea Homes. Pinnacle also acquired an option to purchase another 43 lots in the community.
Caliber Collision Centers, Irvine, promoted Shawn Hezar to senior vice president of client services and operations and Dan Pettigrew to senior vice president of technology and integration.
Harriman Jones Hires Premier Practice Management; UCI Buys Purchasing System
New York-based Investcorp and Santa Barbara-based Pacifica Real Estate Group have teamed to acquire Landmark Lakehills, a 231,323-square-foot, six-building office complex in Laguna Hills, for $38.2 million from Landmark Asset Management Group, Laguna Hill
The Tech Coast Angels, one of Southern California's most prominent angel investor groups, is raising the bar to adapt to the changed investment landscape. Gone are the days of easy-to-understand dot-com pitches. Today's angel investment plays are more com
Over the years, the Big Five accounting firms have expanded to offer technology and management consulting. Now they would like to practice law in the U.S., like they do in most other countries. But a lot of lawyers see big problems with that, and the Amer
Mentioning what's going on at Il Fornaio was never more appropriate than now. That's because our own executive chef-partner from the Irvine location, a native of Basilicata in the mountainous southern region of Italy, is the culinary star this month in th
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Carter Chappell inherited a smaller region when he was elevated to head up the Southern California operations of McCarthy Building Cos. But that doesn't mean he has been any less busy.
More than 8,000 bridge players will be descending on the Anaheim Marriott and Hilton Anaheim hotels this week for the 11-day North American Bridge Championships, but two are of particular note: "Bill Gates has indicated he will play in Anaheim with partne
The recently signed, $99.4 billion California state budget will provide significant tax relief for businesses, especially start-up technology companies, small businesses, and the self-employed, according to Bruce Larsen, tax partner in the OC office of Er
It is fascinating how open-minded the folks of Orange County are. And maybe, in part, it's a tribute to the credibility of the Los Angeles Times, a place where I used to work.
Brea-based Pacific Western National Bank received certified lender status with the Small Business Administration, which will allow it to make more SBA loans more quickly.
Just ask Costa Mesa-based Tickets.com Inc., which saw the unraveling last week of its merger deal with the UK's second-largest ticket seller, First Call, after languishing share prices made the all-stock purchase considerably less attractive to the London
In two separate deals, Orange County Register parent Freedom Communications Inc., Irvine, recently purchased a daily newspaper in Illinois and has formed a new company with MEXUS Publishing of Tucson, Ariz., to create a string of newspapers geared toward
Just nine months after the November 1998 opening of Anaheim's Tinseltown studios,a $15 million faux Academy Awards dinner theater designed to bring hordes of Hollywood wannabes to its nightly productions,owner and entertainment powerhouse Ogden Corp. pull
Many technology companies that found their first round of financing during the investment boom of years past now find financiers reluctant to invest as the industry proves more volatile than expected.
Kawama.com Inc. says rumors of its death are more than exaggerated, they're malicious, and it has warned a competitor to stop spreading them around.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study revealed that nearly half of the 2,500 adults surveyed reported "some kind of problem with their health plan."
Winfire Inc., the Irvine startup that made a splash with its offer to give away free high-speed Internet access, is plunging into new markets and is closing in on financing worth $50 million to $75 million, according to company officials.