Four years after Expedia announced it would move its headquarters from Bellevue to the former Amgen campus in Seattle, the first of the company’s 4,500 employees will enter the new space Monday.
Those workers won’t have much reason to leave.
Ringing the Interbay campus are a grain terminal, seafood distributors and a busy railway — a far cry from the downtown Bellevue amenities many employees are used to.
Inside, though, it’s a different story. Appropriately enough for the global hospitality group, the refurbished biotechnology building opening next week is designed to replicate the experience of being inside a posh hotel.
Every few hundred feet, cappuccino machines and fridges stocked with healthy snacks sit behind mirrored bars. Pendant lamps, not track lighting, shine over workspaces. Colors are earthy neutrals. Fluid workspaces abound; or if you want privacy, step into a soundproof phone booth. Windows open onto breathtaking Puget Sound views. And a full-service cafe will make up for the relative dearth of anywhere to eat in the industrial district (not counting a Taco Time across the tracks).
Then there are the WiFi-enabled rocks.
The company hopes that spreading internet throughout the 40-acre campus by embedding wireless access points in fake rocks will urge employees at least to venture onto the obsessively landscaped waterfront, where logs reclaimed from a Port Angeles lumberyard have been placed at an angle carefully calculated to mimic driftwood and, soon, lawn will extend up a promontory reminiscent of a ship’s prow.
The company’s entire Seattle-area workforce will be based at the new campus by February 2020, and the site can house another 1,800 workers without additional construction — although there’s plenty of space for it. Three-quarters of the property remains green space, and the company has said it could nearly double its local staff by 2031, though there aren’t any immediate plans for new building, a spokesperson said.
While labor and maritime industries have long warned that converting industrial land like Interbay into grocery stores, self-storage and office space could backfire on the city, one part of the campus, more than any other, has been a lightning rod for criticism: The parking garage.
Expedia has said it is committed to reducing single-occupancy driving, but at six stories and 2,300 spaces, the garage raises questions about the extent to which the company really expects employees to quit their cars — potentially snarling traffic along Elliott Avenue, crosstown Mercer Street and Denny Way, and rippling up onto 15th Avenue West into Ballard.
The city estimates the new campus will bring an additional 2,900 daily car trips into the city in the near future, and up to 4,000 by 2031. In an attempt to bring those numbers down, Expedia has rolled out an ambitious suite of transit carrots (and one stick): Employees ride the bus and light rail for free. Four shuttles run from the Eastside to Seattle. Expedia covers the cost of van and carpooling. It will pay every employee who does not drive $5/day. And it charges employees who drive themselves to work $16/day to park on-site.
“We think we’re managing it correctly, but we’ll launch and iterate,” said Expedia vice president of real estate Mark Nagle. “If it’s not working, we’ll add incentives.”
Still, even Expedia employees are nervous about gridlock.
“I am 1,000% concerned about the commute,” said employee Mark Winden, who currently works in Bellevue. But, he said, he’s just going to keep trying new ways to get to work until one of them sticks. And the campus itself is a major upside.
“I almost wish the building was less beautiful so I could hate the change,” he said.