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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