Seattle celebrates Amazon.com's new headquarters in South Lake Union neighborhood

Mar 22, 2011

One of Seattle's most famous employers is moving. City leaders are celebrating…because online-retailing giant Amazon.com is only moving a few miles across town. 

The new headquarters complex is large enough to house several thousand employees.

Amazon is coy about where the employees who move in will come from. The company will only say the company has more than 33,700 employees world-wide, several thousand of whom are already located in Seattle.

But, as anyone who has followed economic development over the past few decades knows, serving as a headquarter city is not something any town can take for granted, especially not in these tough economic times. And, considering how tight the credit squeeze has become, neither is building a major new campus --unless you're a well-connected economic powerhouse.

"It takes a village to construct a 700-million dollar project,"  said Ada Healey, the real estate chief for Vulcan, which is the Paul Allen company that's swiftly building a neighborhood on the south shore of Lake Union, where the new Amazon campus is located. 

A who's who of local politics and media came out to mark Tuesday's milestone: Amazon.com's announcement that the majority of the campus is now complete. The company says 10 of its 11 new buildings are now finished. The final office building in the group is set to open in 2013.

At an unveiling ceremony Tuesday morning, Healey thanked many non-profits for supporting a plan to get more affordable housing into the neighborhood.  Vulcan is paying $6.4 million to the City of Seattle to support groups such as Plymouth Housing in the construction of lower-income apartments in the area. Amazon's payment will also help provide for daycare needs in the neighborhood.

Vulcan's Healey also lauded the city of Seattle for changing building codes to make it all happen (the new campus has two 12-story, 160-foot towers, which are  taller than what was previously allowed), before getting to the main point:  recognizing Amazon for working with Vulcan.

"It not only helps meet their long-term business needs, but is also an economic windfall for the city and for our region.  So thank you amazon," Healey said.

New construction means new jobs

The smell of new paint fills the newest addition to the campus, which is located a few blocks west of I-5. 

Amazon dot com's John Schoettler, a Vice President in the company's Global Real Estate and Facilities team, says the online retailer is looking for builders, innovators and inventors to join their team as they move into the new neighborhood and the 11 mid-rise buildings they're working on.

"By 2013, thousands of 'amazonians' will be working out of these buildings – working hard, having fun and making history on behalf of our customers,"  Schoettler announced against a backdrop of local politicians.  The announcement attracted just about every news crew in the city. 

Perhaps the media was lured by the smell of Chai prepared and served up by another luminary in Seattle's employment scene:  world-famous Chef Tom Douglas, whose name is behind several of the city's finest restaurants.  He is opening a pair of new restaurants in the middle of the new neighborhood. 

Amazon is moving its headquarters from Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood.  It's old headquarter building is the art-deco Pac-Med building, which looms over the junction of I-5 and I-90, a few miles southeast of the new South Lake Union complex.