The Seattle insurer is trying to decide whether to expand in Seattle or move to Redmond. And it has two lists of requests, tailored to each city. One is quite short, the other long.
As corporate requests go, Safeco is not asking the world of either Seattle or Redmond in deciding where to locate its headquarters.
If the insurer stays in Seattle’s University District, its most controversial request is to build a 125-foot-tall office tower that would exceed the area’s current height limit by 60 feet. The company also wants to raze an International House of Pancakes (IHOP) adjacent to its current headquarters and put more offices there.
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If Safeco moves its headquarters to Redmond, it wants a bigger sign.
It is hardly a hot battle of cities involving tax breaks and other incentives, like those that companies such as Boeing have engineered.
“They’re being very mature and reasonable,” said Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata. “They said they didn’t feel right about asking for tax breaks.”
Licata, one of four Seattle council members running for re-election this year, said it would be a particularly bad year to lose Safeco’s headquarters.
“It would be like handing bullets to your enemy,” Licata said.
About 1,600 Safeco employees work at the University District headquarters, and 1,350 work in Redmond. The company plans to decide this summer where to consolidate in one location.
Licata said the request for a second tall building — Safeco’s 22-story headquarters tower already dominates the neighborhood — is bound to cause concern in the community. But, he added, “I think it would be a bigger concern if Safeco left.”
Matt Fox, president of the University District Community Council, said his group has not yet taken an official position.
Space is a major issue for Safeco if it stays in Seattle.
The company owns about 537,000 square feet of office space in its Seattle headquarters complex and needs an additional 260,000 square feet to accommodate both its Seattle and Redmond employees, said spokesman Paul Hollie.
In Redmond, Safeco occupies more than 840,000 square feet and has an agreement that would allow it to add 445,000 more, Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives has said.
She said yesterday that Safeco’s request for a bigger sign is fine with her. “We’ve reviewed our code, and we can make that work.”
Safeco’s list of requests for Seattle, according to people familiar with the situation, includes getting permission to :
the IHOP next door and extend its current building onto that site.
a 125-foot-high building across Brooklyn Avenue Northeast, where there is now a Washington Mutual branch.
an underground parking facility, part of it beneath Brooklyn Avenue Northeast.
a skybridge or tunnel to connect Safeco’s current building with the new tower.
that Safeco’s development does not overlap with plans for a light-rail station, which could mean moving the station’s projected location.
Safeco officials declined to comment on specific plans for expansion but said talks with representatives in Seattle and Redmond have gone well.
“We’re pleased to know both cities have been very receptive to our initial discussions,” Hollie said.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who is up for re-election this year, has a big stake in keeping Safeco’s headquarters.
“We’ve communicated very strongly to them that we want them to stay,” said spokeswoman Marianne Bichsel.
She declined to comment on Safeco’s discussions with the city. “I’m not going to speculate on what the city would agree to.”
Councilman Richard Conlin, also running for re-election, said Safeco is asking for “nothing that’s unusual.”
“Basically they’re asking us for support in creating what would be a fairly dense office development in the University District,” Conlin said.
“My sense is that they’d like to stay in Seattle if they can make it pencil out.”
Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org