Expedia intends to eventually fill its new Seattle headquarters with 1,500 more employees, especially with young tech workers who like Seattle, but it also may bring a day of reckoning for the Seattle mayor and others who insist the city will be fine with fewer traffic lanes.
Expedia is Seattle’s next Amazon.com, for better or worse.
In announcing last week that it’s moving from Bellevue to the former Amgen campus on Elliott Bay, Expedia is joining the dizzying rush of tech companies moving to Seattle.
Lately we equate this phenomenon with Amazon, making it the focal point of Seattle’s transportation crisis and growth angst.
I wonder if that focus will shift to Expedia after its 3,000 employees begin moving to the 40-acre spread next year.
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It’s an exciting move. Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi expects it will help him add 1,500 more headquarters employees in the next few years, especially young tech workers who like Seattle.
But it’s also likely to worsen the traffic problem and increase concerns about the city’s ability to manage its growth.
With 75 percent of its employees living on the Eastside and a new campus that’s off the beaten path and a significant walk to the nearest bus stop, Expedia may bring a day of reckoning for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and others who insist the city will be fine with fewer and fewer traffic lanes.
Their urban-utopia fantasy works with Amazon and the surrounding web of apartments, bus routes and bike lanes. Especially if you squint and don’t count the cars streaming to and from Interstate 5.
Murray said Seattle is adding more buses and requiring Expedia to provide bus passes and charge for parking on campus. But it still doesn’t fit the narrative. Instead, Expedia’s move will highlight Seattle’s standing as a hub for people who live and work across the region.
Bellevue’s construction boom may have to pause for a moment to absorb the loss. But perhaps the Expedia space there will be filled by a Seattle company escaping the traffic.
F5 Networks, the biggest tech company now on Seattle’s waterfront, two years ago opened a satellite office in Bellevue. It did so to hire and retain engineers living on the Eastside and wanting to avoid the commute. In the evening, it may take 50 minutes to drive from Seattle Center to the freeway on Mercer Street, according to traffic-data firm INRIX.
There are other similarities.
As Amazon did in 2007, Expedia is moving into a glorious spread that taxpayers helped fund back when elected officials were trying to lure biotech companies to the city.
Both Expedia and Amazon have a strong retail brand that obscures the fact that they’re really heavy-duty tech companies.
They run software platforms that thousands of other companies around the world use to conduct their business. They’re also distributed, with more employees and leased space in the field than at their headquarters.
Both also have enough confidence in their prospects that each is spending heavily to expand beyond rented offices and into their first permanent, company-owned headquarters.
Amazon’s colorful downtown skyscrapers and Expedia’s new luxurious waterfront digs will both be ready for occupancy next year. They represent how each has moved out of Microsoft’s long shadow in the Puget Sound region and become a major presence.
This is especially important to Expedia. A new location across Lake Washington will raise its profile and establish its identity as one of the region’s flagship companies. It will no longer be “just” a Microsoft spinoff filling floors in a Bellevue office tower (although it’s not fully independent; media tycoon Barry Diller owns a controlling stake).
It’s a little sad that the Amgen facility won’t house a big biotech company, which would have further diversified this area. But the empty campus had become a white elephant and embarrassment to public officials who cut sweet deals to get the project done.
In the 1990s, the Port of Seattle offered cheap waterfront and the city and King County paid for a fancy overpass so cars could directly reach the relatively isolated parcel.
I was a reporter covering King County when it approved the overpass funding. I remember hearing officials in Seattle say the subsidy was critically needed because the project otherwise would be lost to Bothell, as if that were enemy territory.
Now I wonder if the overpass was the last time Seattle added traffic lanes.
The site was developed by Immunex for an estimated $750 million. But shortly after construction began, Immunex was sold to Amgen, which never filled it to capacity. Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., used the place for 10 years but reduced employment and finally moved out in 2014.
You can’t blame Expedia for snapping it up.
If you don’t fret about cars, it’s the perfect spot for a travel-tech company. It’s also the biggest, most beautiful available space in the software boomtown.
The site is also right next to a cruise-ship terminal. About 900,000 tourists a year will sail past Expedia’s headquarters, which by itself almost justifies the $228.9 million price for the property.
It’s kind of funny that a travel agency has booked daily round-trips for its employees through some of the worst congestion on the continent.
But maybe it’s worth the hassle since it scored a deal on the best room in town.
|MORNING COMMUTE FOR EXPEDIA EMPLOYEES|
|Eastside city||Avg. travel time at 8 a.m. to Bellevue headquarters||Avg. travel time to Seattle headquarters||Avg. travel time increase to Seattle vs. Bellevue|
|Issaquah||24 minutes||45 minutes||21 minutes|
|Woodinville||38 minutes||62 minutes||24 minutes|
|Sammamish||30 minutes||60 minutes||30 minutes|
|Redmond||20 minutes||50 minutes||30 minutes|
|Bellevue||20 minutes||36 minutes||16 minutes|
|EVENING COMMUTE FOR EXPEDIA EMPLOYEES|
|Eastside city||Avg. travel time at 5:30 p.m. from Bellevue headquarters||Avg. travel time at 5:30 p.m. from Seattle headquarters||Avg. travel time increase from Seattle vs. Bellevue|
|Issaquah||34 minutes||62 minutes||28 minutes|
|Woodinville||45 minutes||66 minutes||15 minutes|
|Sammamish||42 minutes||64 minutes||24 minutes|
|Redmond||25 minutes||55 minutes||27 minutes|
|Bellevue||25 minutes||46 minutes||21 minutes|