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Monday, May 29, 2023

Stifel Steps Up in Newport Center

Bill Gross might have the highest profile among the first batch of tenants at Irvine Company’s newest office building in Newport Center, but Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. can claim the highest perch at the 21-story building.

For the time being, anyway.

Stifel, a St. Louis-based brokerage and investment banking firm that’s making the Orange County market a priority in its West Coast expansion efforts, recently signed a full-floor lease at one of the highest top floors of the recently opened 520 Newport Center office.

The company will occupy the building’s 15th floor, which runs about 18,000 square feet.

Stifel is one of two full-floor tenants announced for the 331,000-square-foot building, which opened a few weeks ago.

Newport Beach-based patent owner and licenser Acacia Research Corp. previously leased the 12th floor of the building and plans to move its headquarters to the office next year.

The travertine-clad building, which overlooks Fashion Island, is the first speculative office tower to open in Newport Center in nearly 30 years.

Irvine Co., which has its headquarters next- door to the new office, said the development was “crafted to become the most prestigious office building in Orange County.”

The Pei Cobb Freed & Partners-designed building has floor-to-ceiling glass and a multitude of higher-end finishes and amenities.

Higher floors give tenants a view over much of OC and parts of L.A. County.

Stifel plans to move into its space around next April, according to John Lee, Western Region director for the company.

Terms of the lease were not disclosed.

Sources said Irvine Co. is looking to get monthly rents well in excess of $5 per square foot for the top floors of the building, which is more than double the average for high-end office space in OC.

“It’s not our cheapest office,” Lee said.

The firm thinks the location will help it attract employees as it expands its local operations and looks to compete with other financial advisory firms, a competitive field that includes Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, UBS Financial Services Inc., and Wells Fargo & Co.

“Orange County is a major market for anyone in the financial services industry, and it’s a big market for us,” Lee said.

The firm has about 16 brokers and retail wealth managers, but it has room for more than double that at the new office, Lee said.

That amount of growth would vault Stifel toward the top 10 of OC’s largest financial advisory firms in terms of brokerage personnel.

The 520 Newport Center office is expected to serve as Stifel’s main OC location. The company has a smaller office in Newport Beach that will move to the new building.

Stifel also has offices in the Irvine Spectrum and San Juan Capistrano; it is expected that some positions will be relocated from those offices to Newport Beach.

The Newport Beach office is expected to hold about 70 employees once it’s filled.

Into the West

The company has led an aggressive charge into the West Coast in recent years. It didn’t have any offices west of Colorado when Lee was hired to lead a Western expansion in 2007; it now has nearly 60, with more than half of those new offices in California.

Stifel has also made a name for itself in the past few years by becoming one of the country’s largest underwriters of tax-exempt municipal bonds.

That could give employees something to talk about in the elevators with the best-known tenant at the 520 Newport Center building, bond king Bill Gross.

Gross, who last month left Newport Beach-based Pacific Investment Management Co. for Janus Capital Group Inc., is leasing about 2,500 square feet on the office’s fourth floor.

Janus is the building’s first tenant, and the company’s new offices give Gross a view of his former company. Pimco’s new headquarters, at 650 Newport Center Drive, opened earlier this year about two blocks from 520 Newport Center.

Other companies in the process of setting up shop on the fourth floor—where Irvine Co. offers move-in-ready suites to smaller tenants—include Boston-based CrossHarbor Capital Partners LLC, an investor that deals in private equity, real estate and distressed loans.

This year’s opening of Newport Center’s 650 and 520 offices should mark the last batch of major office construction in the immediate area for Irvine Co. for now.

A plan that would have allowed Irvine Co. to build about 550,000 square feet of office and commercial space around Fashion Island, in addition to more apartments or condominiums, fell far short of receiving voter approval during last week’s election.

OC’s dominant real estate company still plans to move ahead with a 20-story office tower in the Irvine Spectrum.

The 450,000-square-foot office at 8055 Irvine Center Drive is slated to go up near the western edge of the Spectrum shopping center.

It would be the largest tower built in the Irvine Spectrum and the eighth largest office in Orange County.

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Mark Mueller
Mark Mueller
Mark is the Editor-in-Chief of the Orange County Business Journal, one of the premier regional business newspapers in the country. He’s the fifth person to hold the editor’s position in the paper’s long history. He oversees a staff of about 15 people. The OCBJ is considered a must-read for area business executives. The print edition of the paper is the primary source of local news for most of the Business Journal’s subscribers, which includes most of OC’s major corporate and community players. Mark’s been with the paper since 2005, and long served as the real estate reporter for the paper, breaking hundreds of commercial and residential real estate stories. He took on the editor’s position in 2018.

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