Amazon outlined a plan Friday to accommodate 25,000 employees in Bellevue by 2025, the same number it’s expected to employ at its second headquarters in Virginia by 2030.
The technology and commerce giant, which already has some 3,000 employees in the city of its birth, revealed plans for a downtown Bellevue skyscraper last July and said early this year it would grow to 15,000 people working in the Eastside city in the next few years. Now it’s upping that target by 10,000.
It signed leases Thursday with Vulcan Real Estate for 2 million square feet of office space under construction and was planning to seek a permit for a second skyscraper of its own — a potential the company let slip in early permitting documents filed last summer for its first one at Bellevue 600. It said then that there was no timeline for a second building.
“We look forward to bringing more jobs to Bellevue — contributing to a regional growth strategy that can create opportunities for people across the Puget Sound,” said John Schoettler, Amazon vice president of global real estate and facilities, in a blog post announcing the new growth.
If the plans hold, Bellevue, by the mid-2020s, will host as many Amazon employees as Arlington, Virginia, the winner of the company’s second headquarters sweepstakes. In 2018, Virginia promised the company some $573 million in cash grants and tax incentives to land HQ2 and some 25,000 new jobs, paying $150,000 a year on average, by 2030. Amazon said at the time incentives were only one factor, and that access to talent was the leading consideration.
Bellevue has provided no tax breaks or financial incentives to bring back Amazon, which was founded by Jeff Bezos 26 years ago in a house with an oversized mailbox just over a mile from the city’s new Amazon campus. Schoettler said Amazon will donate $1 million to the city of Bellevue’s Human Services Fund.
Amazon began leasing space in Bellevue in 2016 and last year said an entire corporate division — the worldwide operations group headed by Dave Clark, named recently as the incoming CEO of broader consumer business — would relocate there in phases through 2023, with space left behind in Seattle to be filled by other teams.
Amazon has also been growing in Redmond, home of cloud computing and tech talent rival Microsoft. Google and Facebook are other major technology companies — which have been largely unscathed and continued hiring during the pandemic — that have major Eastside offices, in part to appeal to would-be employees living throughout the region.
Commercial real estate watchers had long predicted the vast majority of Vulcan’s new Bellevue office space would go to Amazon, which in 2010 consolidated its headquarters to 11 Vulcan-developed South Lake Union properties, marking the beginning of a decade of torrid growth that transformed Seattle.
Crews are currently finishing construction on Block 18, a 17-story, 388,000-square-foot office building rising on Seventh Avenue between Bell and Blanchard streets, land Amazon purchased in late 2016 as part of another major expansion in the Denny Regrade. Construction began in 2018 and is on track to be completed in the first half of next year. Amazon has given no indication that it plans further growth in Seattle, where it now has some 55,000 employees spread across about 50 buildings.
A company spokesman wouldn’t comment on Amazon’s future Seattle hiring or real estate plans, other than to confirm that no new projects are in the works. Its portfolio is split roughly evenly between owned and leased space. Amazon on Thursday had 6,640 job openings in Seattle and 440 listed in Bellevue.
Beginning next year, Amazon will owe a payroll tax of 1.4% of the salaries of employees earning $150,000 or more under the city’s new Jump Start tax. After vocally opposing a 2018 Seattle corporate tax proposal, the company has not commented on the Jump Start tax directly, though other business groups, including the Downtown Seattle Association, which counts Amazon among its members, fear it will prompt employers to leave Seattle.
Schoettler, who was not available for an interview, praised Bellevue in the blog post as a “business-friendly community with great amenities, a high quality of life, and a fantastic talent pool.” The company’s emerging campus in Bellevue centers on the Link light-rail station and Grand Connection pedestrian corridor — amenities that city leaders hope will transform a car-centric downtown to accommodate thousands of new tech workers.
Vulcan had been adamant it wouldn’t start construction on 555 Tower or West Main, formerly known as Bellevue Plaza, without a tenant in tow. So when both projects broke ground in the downtown core earlier this year, many assumed it was only a matter of time before Amazon scooped them up.
Nor is it necessarily a surprise that Amazon is continuing to make long-term, big bets on office space, even amid the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic. The Vulcan projects are set to be completed in 2023 and Amazon’s own Bellevue 600 towers should be ready in 2024 and 2025.
What office work will look like during and after the pandemic remains an open question.
Amazon currently plans to end its remote work option on Jan. 8, the earliest return-to-the-office date among white-collar employers with big Seattle-area workforces, though the company is continually reevaluating that timeline based on guidance from public health officials and its own consultants.
Contrast that with Google, which announced employees won’t come back to the office until next July, or Seattle-based Zillow, where most employees have the option to continue working remotely indefinitely. In San Francisco, Pinterest walked away from a massive office lease, citing the success of its remote work program.
Last month, Amazon polled some of its Seattle area employees on whether they’d prefer to work from offices in other cities around the region.
But Bezos has long proselytized the power of small, “two pizza” teams — meaning a group that could be fed with that much food — and spontaneous collaboration to generate new ideas.
“The work-from-home model is not Amazon’s preferred way of working,” said Rod Kauffman, president of the local Building Owners and Managers Association, in a recent interview.
Many companies are contemplating much more flexible arrangements for their office workers, allowing a combination of remote work and in-office days for meetings and other face-to-face collaboration. With so much new office space coming online in Bellevue over the next five years, Amazon will have ample room to experiment.
Seattle Times business reporter Katherine Khashimova Long contributed to this report.