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Amazon plans a headquarters move to South Lake Union

The company is in talks to lease buildings on three blocks of land alongside the new streetcar line. Over time, the plan goes, the company would consolidate operations on a single campus there.

Amazon, the iconic online retailer, is "within days" of announcing a move of offices to Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood, according to sources in the company and at City Hall. The move would be staged over several years, but the end result could be nearly all of Amazon's Seattle-area employees, estimated at about 5,000 and growing fast, working on one urbanized campus. According to a well-placed City Hall source, the new "Amazon Zone" would straddle two blocks of the Terry Avenue North stretch of Seattle's new South Lake Union Streetcar line, extending south of Mercer Street.

No one at Amazon, or at Vulcan or Schnitzer Northwest, owners of the property expected to be the new Amazon campus, would comment about a pending deal. Questions to Amazon, the landowners, the architects, and the real estate brokers all produced a similar, brusque answer: "We never comment on rumors." One source, while confirming the closeness of the deal, cautioned that there were still details to be negotiated.

Downtown property interests say that the Amazon move would be a blockbuster, giving a huge employment anchor to the somewhat scattered development of the emerging area. If it were to happen, remarked Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, "it would turn on the switch" for other projects in the area and provide an impulse for still more startups, as well as providing needed customers for some pioneering retail concerns in the area, such as Whole Foods.

The move, if it happens, would signal a shift of the expected employers in the South Lake Union neighborhood from mostly biotech businesses and University of Washington Medical School facilities to a broader mix of technology companies. Microsoft recently leased 126,000 square feet at the Westlake Terry Building, one block south of the expected Amazon campus. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is building a campus on 12 acres just east of Seattle Center, with about 420,000 square feet of space. Meanwhile, biotech growth is proving to be slightly slower than hoped, observers say. Three of the unbuilt buildings expected to be part of the Amazon project were originally planned for bio-tech firms.

The Amazon move would be large enough to cause other real-estate ripples. One likely impact would be the company's home office in the converted PacMed tower on Beacon Hill, where it occupies 189,000 square feet under a lease that expires in 2009. Other large leases are in two buildings in the Union Station development near Chinatown, where Amazon leases 445,000 square feet, and 180,000 square feet in the 76-story Columbia Tower at Fourth Avenue and Columbia Street.

According to a City Hall source, Amazon is focused on two large parcels in South Lake Union. One is a five-building complex known as Interurban Exchange, which sits on property owned equally by Vulcan, the Paul Allen company that controls a large part of the land in South Lake Union, and Schnitzer Northwest, the Portland real estate developer. The Interurban Exchange project, once described as 572,000 square feet of bio-tech office development, began in 1999 with a small Rosen Building leased to the University of Washington for medical research. A second building of 133,000 square feet was built in 2004 and is leased by Rosetta Inpharmetrics, the bio-software company. These two existing and occupied buildings lie on Terry's west side, where come December the South Lake Union Streetcar will rumble right alongside.

It is unclear whether the two occupied buildings will become part of the Amazon campus, as space in them may open up later. But there are three unbuilt buildings, originally designed for medical research labs, that could easily be reconfigured. One is Exchange 2, with 107,000 square feet and planned for the parking lot at Mercer and the west side of Terry. Exchange 4 and Exchange 5, pictured in a large real estate sign on the site, would occupy the entire block between Terry, Boren, Republican, and Harrison streets. An historic brick warehouse, once owned by C.B. Van Vorst Company and now boarded up, would be preserved as a 14,000-square-foot "amenity center," with fitness and meeting facilites, fronting on an interior plaza of 24,000 square feet. Exchange 4 and 5 have 258,430 square feet of rentable space, according to the real estate broker, Pacific Real Estate Partners. It's not known whether the Amazon proposal would follow the plans for the original buildings or significantly alter those designs.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Oct 1, 6:20 a.m. Inappropriate

All is well on South Lake Union: ...But I'm still waiting for the Common's backers to bring their vision of park building revitalization to the area around our downtown park, Seattle Center.

Right-o.

-Douglas Tooley
Lincoln District, Tacoma

Posted Mon, Oct 1, 6:26 a.m. Inappropriate

Just what South Lake Union needs: This is such a major development... one that will hopefully push South Lake Union over the hump from a somewhat awkward, mostly residential neighborhood to a real live-where-you-work center of town. And Crosscut gets the scoop!!

jsloan

Posted Mon, Oct 1, 9:13 a.m. Inappropriate

More Than "Medical Research": There's a boom of high-security biolabs in the Cascade Neighborhood (SLU) and some (like the Rosen building) are doing a bit more than common "medical research".

University of Washington is leading the way with multiple BSL-3 labs in that area cashing in on the current biodefense funding coming from the Feds. Some of the "medical research" bound for labs in SLU and Belltown include work on the 1918 influenza virus, SARS and Ebola. These "select agents" merit enough concern to be highly regulated by the Feds but somehow are benign enough to be worked on in high density neighborhoods? I don't think so.

UW is one of the 10 U.S. Regional Centers for Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (RCE). Texas A&M;, also an RCE, had it's biodefense program shut down in July by the CDC for multiple unreported exposures to it's personel over a four year period (in addition to a long list of other related violations). Shutdown of that program is expected to last at least until 2008 as that University plays catch-up on safety issues.

UW isn't immune to problems either. In November of last year it was put on probabiton (and remains on probation) by the leading animal research accreditation organization (AAALAC) for a long list of violations. One of those violations was using a yellow piece of tape on a floor to differentiate a BSL-2 lab from a break room.

Long story short, high security biolabs deserve public scrutiny and debate prior to their inclusion in our neighborhoods and city.

Mike
mikemc

Posted Mon, Oct 1, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: More Than "Medical Research": I'll second you, and go one further.

Putting a biolab in an urban area just seems strange. Sure, the risk is unknown - there's no history of such. But we do know the potential risk, like that of global warming, is apolytical and potentially even could lead to the extinction to of the human race.

I'll go one farther and say biolabs shouldn't be located anywhere near water. The great basin in Nevada, which doesn't drain to an ocean, seems prudent. Atmospheric controls are also important and based on my limited knowledge it would seem those are likely deficient as well...

-Douglas Tooley
Lincoln District, Tacoma

Posted Mon, Oct 1, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: More Than "Medical Research": Your argument seems to be pretty week. A quick google search of "biolab urban" turned up this article [#], which covers a recent court decision regarding a law suit filed over the proposed construction of a new National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) ("being built by Boston University to study life-threatening diseases").

SUNY Buffalo created computer models "develop computer models that would simulate the release of Ebola virus, Sabia virus, monkeypox virus and Rift Valley Fever (RVF) virus to predict who ... would become infected, as well as where they would be infected, when they would be infected and what would happen."

What did the find?

"Results of the simulated scenarios, which exaggerated risks to force infections beyond the laboratory, showed that there was no difference in simulated disease transmission among the three communities for Ebola, monkeypox or Sabia virus; that the population size in each community did not affect the rate of transmission of the viruses."

In fact, because some viruses were actually more likely to be transmitted by livestock, being in the city _reduced_ the probability of mass infection:

"the nature of the communities surrounding Boston-BUMC (i.e., urban environment, lack of livestock virus carriers, etc.) places citizens of these communities at much less risk of RVF infection"

With anything of this nature, safety has to be the number 1 priority, but your arguments against such a facility don't seem to hold muster. If there is a risk, I want to see the facts.

In regard to this story in general, I'm all for it. I'm happy to see that the city is creating environments that encourage businesses like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft to invest in our community. There are plenty of other cities that would love to lure these valuable companies away, and if we're ever going to improve things like transportation in this town, we're going to need lots of tax dollars to do it.

It would be interesting to see what kind of tax revenue the city makes from a company like Amazon.com, juxtaposed with the cost of the street car. I'm not looking to start an argument about the street car, but it would be interesting to see those numbers.
cwesley

Posted Mon, Oct 1, 6:28 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: More Than "Medical Research": I believe that the much-maligned SLUT is going to be a blockbuster and one of the very few transportation successes that the region has seen in the past 30 years. One can debate the method of finance (I don't but I can see that reasonable people might disagree) but I will bet dollars to donuts that the street car will have a huge and beneficial impact on the whole CBD.

No I don't work for Vulcan. But you heard it here first.

Posted Tue, Oct 2, 11:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Must appeal to the talent: It is not likely to be effective to put important research labs in far removed remote places because these labs need to be able to recruit talented people. A lot of talented people are not going to want to move to the middle of a Nevada desert and set up life there. They are going to want to live in a stimulating environment such as Seattle where they can have satisfying and stimulating personal lives. This kind of research and development requires such talented people. With proper safety this kind of work can be conducted within an urban environment without great risk.

BB

Posted Tue, Oct 2, 1:21 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Must appeal to the talent: People will go to where the jobs are if they are interested in pursuing their passions. Hanford, WA never lacked a healthy supply of experts in the field. And yet they certainly have had their fair share of accidents.

Proper safety? Define that. While you are at it define "without great risk".

Safety of those working in labs and those that live near labs would certainly depend on the people working and running the labs to follow proper safety protocols (which my two examples above illustrate were not followed by two major U.S. Universities).

Today papers cite another 100 incidents for why putting labs in densly packed neighborhoods should be questioned if not outright denied.

More than 100 incidents reported at labs handling deadly germs

Mishandled Germs

Mike
mikemc

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