(Photo by Jeremy Messler)
Christopher Aker is a bit of a romantic.
Aker, the 41-year-old CEO of Galloway Township, N.J.-based (suburban Atlantic City) hosting company Linode, spent 20 months fighting to buy his dream office building right on N3rd Street in Old City. It’s a four-story, 15,000-square-foot neoclassical beauty with Roman columns and more than a century of history in its walls. It started as a bank, then lived other lives as a nightclub, an art gallery and perhaps most notably as the house for MTV’s “The Real World” in 2004.
It was that history that won him over. The building, like the antique BMW motorcycles he restores in his spare time, was full of stories, stories of the people that spent their days in the space. He envisioned his company as the next chapter of the building’s life.
That’s why, even when he hit roadblock after roadblock in the nearly two-year buying process, he kept at it. And just a week and a half ago, the building finally became his.
Aker bought the building at 249 Arch St. and the parking lot across 3rd Street for $5 million. It’ll become the company’s Philadelphia office and has the capacity to fit all 85 of Linode’s current employees, plus growth of at least 75 more. (If they filled the space, that would be pretty huge for a tech company within city limits. RJMetrics is close to that number, with 130 employees in their newly-expanded Center City office, and nearby Weblinc has a multi-building campus with more than 100.)
Employees won’t move in for as much as a year — Aker has big plans to restore the space. He says he’ll retain his two current offices in Galloway, a shore town near Atlantic City, and Haddonfield, N.J., at South Jersey coworking space King’s Hall, and he’s not sure yet how the employee breakdown will go between the three offices once this Old City option opens.
A move to Philadelphia has always been in the cards, said Aker, who grew up near Galloway and recently bought a house in Haddonfield. He knew it’s where he would need to be in order to hire the talent the company needed to grow. We’ve reported that he’s tried to attract dev talent in South Jersey before he shared his relocation plans last summer.
The space itself is a sight to behold: Floor-to-ceiling windows (that you can actually open!) line the second floor and look out over Arch and 3rd Street, the top floor has a a stunning skylight and a small room with unclaimed, leftover art from when the space was a gallery (they’re figuring out what to do with all of it). Plus, there’s an historic former bank vault is the basement. The bathroom and dressing room from “The Real World” is even still there, tacky sink fixtures and all. (Aker is itching to get rid of ’em.)
Though it’s still a work-in-progress, Linode is having its holiday party in the space next week, as a way to introduce employees to their future office.
It’s a pretty enormous purchase for a tech company, not to mention a big bet on Philadelphia itself. Most tech companies, at least the ones we’ve reported on in Philly, work to find the most flexible lease terms to accommodate their growth. Instead, Linode is putting its flag in the ground and committing to this corner property. It’s a level of long-term commitment that we have yet to see in the Philly tech scene — and it’s coming from a South Jersey success story.
Aker, speaking to us in the basement of the office as we toured it this afternoon, said the purchase was in part a financial decision. He wanted a space that he could really invest in, really make Linode’s own. There’s no sense in putting a lot of work into an office that you’re just going to move out of, he said.
But there’s also a more romantic notion behind it.
“So much of what we do as a company is intangible,” he said. “It’s bits flying through wires. It’s electrons. It’s magnetic fields on spinning rust, or in our case, on SSDs.”
“This is something tangible,” he said. “Undeniably.”
See below for more pictures.