While the loss of Expedia's headquarters is a short-term blow to Bellevue, the city is positioned to attract new business
The inter-regional move of a headquarters — think Russell Investments leaving its historic home in Tacoma for downtown Seattle — always leaves a bad taste. The Puget Sound needs to be competing against metropolitan areas around the world, not cannibalizing its existing assets in a zero-sum game of city against city.
But while the move of Expedia to the former waterfront campus of Amgen in Seattle is a blow to downtown Bellevue, I’m betting it will be a short-term setback and might even be a net plus to the region.
Why? King County is growing at a pace in line with the Sun Belt, and, as a reader pointed out, the draw is not thanks to retirees and the neo-extraction industry of sprawl housing construction. We’re attracting talent, youth, entrepreneurial drive and wealth. We also have one of the hottest regional economies in the nation.
There’s no denying the astonishing boom in Seattle, specifically downtown, and the driver isn’t merely the pathbreaking urban technology campus of Amazon.com. Creative people and companies want to be close to each other. They want the “creative friction” that comes from a dense downtown.
But Bellevue is not, say, Mesa, Ariz., a vast suburb desperately searching for an economy besides real estate. It has a real downtown and a real economy, with close proximity to Microsoft. It offers many downtown amenities but close access to traditional suburbia and good schools, a suburbia that survived the recessionary and other shifts that have damaged such areas in other parts of the country. It has an old-school steward in Kemper Freeman. And, with the development of the Bel-Red Corridor, especially Wright Runstadt’s dense, transit-oriented Spring District, Bellevue 2.0 can be more than a car-dependent “edge city.”
This is another reason why I advocate for the Eastside to get building light rail now. Build it from Microsoft to downtown Bellevue and let Sound Transit catch up with the I-90 bridge. It would provide an essential transportation option and appeal to site selectors. Any city’s future worth having is not in monstrously wide streets. And sure, I’d rather have a BART-like connection between Seattle and Bellevue and all over the region. But the federal government doesn’t fund such projects at the level it did in the 1960s and 1970s, and subways are more expensive than light rail.
So, hot regional economy, attractive place, committed developers and existing headquarters and amenities, downtown Bellevue will be fine. Remember, Tacoma attracted a major State Farm operation to replace Russell (whose fate is a question mark after being sold, but that’s another column). Bellevue has a chance to lure a corporate headquarters from out of state. Then the zero-sum game turns into a growing pie.
Today’s Econ Haiku:
Will the RadioShack store
Still tweet on Third Ave?
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