During the mid-90s, I lived in the east side suburb of Bellevue, WA, near the headquarters of Microsoft. I witnessed the growth of that company and its suburban corporate campus, which included new buildings and upgraded community infrastructure (see picture below).
It was interesting to experience the effect which a large corporation can have on the economy, traffic flow, and housing of a region. Since then, I visit the Seattle area annually and find it intriguing how the different cities are influenced by major employers.
Enter another well-known corporation in that area, poised to change the flow and feeling of a previously run-down part of Seattle. Amazon is in the midst of building a new headquarters near Lake Union, an area of warehouses that I’d drive through on the way to the Space Needle. By the end of the project, three towers will have capacity for 12,000 employees and will increase Amazon’s current capacity in Seattle to just under 30,000.
The changes are exciting. The plan for the buildings and grounds is unusual and inspiring. The eye-catching structure of three glass spheres will serve as the center greenhouse of the new campus. There will also be public open spaces, such as a play field and dog park, in between the spheres and the nearby office tower. Criticisms of the spheres include scarce retail and no protection from rain for pedestrians. It’s also been noted that there will be more trees inside the sphere than outside in the public area.
Beyond the architecture, the urban setting has become an important recruiting tool, along with salary and benefits. New apartments are being built and new businesses are moving in. This will encourage and enable employees to live within walking and biking distance. In fact, Amazon is in a public-private partnership to fund a protected bike line which will provide increased access to the area as well as safety for riders.
Along with the exciting expansion however, come concerns over Seattle’s capacity to keep up with the growth. With the State of Washington tightening the budget around transportation funding, what will the transit system have to do to keep up? Will rising rents turn potential employees away? Will the younger work force want to raise children near the new headquarters, requiring a public school where none currently exists? Only time will tell. According to Mayor Mike McGinn:
“As the city grows — and again, it’s a good problem to have, one that other cities don’t — we have to keep investing in all of our places. How do we make sure we preserve the things that make the city special?”