A year after Amazon and City Hall clashed over a proposed tax on big businesses, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan toured the company’s newest building and said ongoing efforts to strengthen the city’s relationship with its largest private employer, which included a half-dozen private meetings scheduled with top executives, “are paying off.”
“I always had a positive working relationship, but we were navigating some troubled waters,” Durkan said Thursday as she left Amazon’s new 37-story “re:Invent” tower, across Seventh Avenue from the company’s iconic Spheres.
A block away, construction workers toiled on the “Block 18” site, which Amazon in May 2018 paused pending the outcome of city deliberations on the so-called head tax to fund housing and homeless services. That building is now on track to be completed in 2020.
Amazon had also threatened to sublease the 722,000-square-feet of space it had claimed in the under-construction Rainier Square tower project. It said earlier this year that it intends to do so, despite the City Council’s repeal of the head tax, which was opposed by other businesses and faced a citizen referendum.
Durkan, who praised the thousands of construction jobs resulting from Seattle’s historic building boom, said she has tried to “have an ongoing dialogue” with Amazon, beginning before the head tax and continuing this year. She had proposed a version of the per-employee tax half the size of the City Council’s, in an attempt to assuage Amazon and other businesses.
“We had to keep focusing on what are those positive things we could do, even through that period of time that was difficult,” Durkan said, citing Amazon’s support of her Seattle Promise program to offer graduates of the city’s public high schools two years of tuition help at community and technical colleges, which offer training in the building trades among other subjects.
Durkan’s calendar, obtained by The Seattle Times through public-disclosure requests, shows four in-person breakfast and coffee meetings with senior Amazon executives through the first five months of 2019, plus a phone call with one of them, and a group dinner that included a company executive. The scheduled meetings were with general counsel David Zapolsky, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Chief Executive Andy Jassy, senior vice president of corporate affairs Jay Carney and Amazon board member Jamie Gorelick.
Durkan meets regularly with community and business leaders, her calendar shows, but few, if any businesses had more frequent one-on-one contacts scheduled with the mayor so far this year than Amazon.
Earlier this week, Durkan visited the under-construction offices of two other major tech companies expanding in the city, Apple and Expedia, which are making space for more than 3,000 and 4,500 employees, respectively.
The re:Invent tower alone can accommodate 5,000 employees, approximately the number Amazon had in Seattle in 2010 when it began consolidating its offices in the South Lake Union and Denny Regrade neighborhoods. It has built or leased 46 others since, amassing a real-estate footprint of 11.5 million square feet. Amazon has well over 45,000 Seattle employees now and some 10,000 job openings in the city.
Meanwhile, it’s poised to add space for several thousand more across the lake in Bellevue.
The re:Invent building, named for the company’s annual cloud-computing conference, will mainly serve employees in the AWS division.
“More than 10 years ago, we decided we want to be a part of this neighborhood, a part of this city,” Amazon vice president of global real estate John Schoettler said. “We made a conscious decision to grow in downtown Seattle instead of building our own confined campus in the suburbs.”
He said that when the re:Invent building is completed in a few weeks, “we will see our vision for the Regrade realized.”
Seattle Times reporter Daniel Beekman contributed to this story.