The move is an economic boost to the Pioneer Square neighborhood and signals a shift for the company as it looks to attract the next wave of employees.
Weyerhaeuser, one of Washington’s oldest and most valuable companies, marked a new chapter in its 116-year history Monday by opening a new, urban “tree fort” headquarters in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, a dramatic shift after decades nestled in the forested suburbs.
Weyerhaeuser’s relocation is a boost for a downtown Seattle neighborhood that’s been seeking major employers.
At eight stories, the building Weyerhaeuser occupies is the tallest office in the area, and hovers over Occidental Park.Mayor Ed Murray noted that landing the global timber company was especially important to help the city diversify an increasingly tech-based economy that is bound to slow down eventually.
The new address on Occidental Avenue South signals a shift in thinking and work culture for Weyerhaeuser after spending 45 years at its renowned, parklike campus in Federal Way.
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CEO Doyle Simons said it needed to attract the next wave of young employees, many of whom prefer to grab lunch from a food truck and take mass transit to work rather than commuting on the freeway and then feeling isolated in the suburbs.
“This is just a different type of building that sets a different tone for where we’re heading as a company,” Simons said. “We’re looking forward to being here for a very long time.”
The new office itself, nicknamed the “tree fort” or “treehouse” by its designers, understandably has wood everywhere: From the exposed ceiling beams to the panels in the elevators to the signs for the bathrooms. Much of the timber comes from Weyerhaeuser properties in Washington.
But the overall vibe is closer to that of a tech campus than a firm specializing in an old-school business like trees. There are Ping-Pong tables, sleek “alternate work areas” like couches next to computer monitors, cafes on every floor, standing desks and ergonomic chairs and tablets outside meeting rooms.
The most striking feature is the eighth-floor deck, where employees can grill and enjoy captivating views ranging from Elliott Bay and the Great Wheel to Smith Tower and the stadiums.
The 160,000-square-foot office has underground parking for only 68 cars, or one for every 10 employees. Many employees ride the bus or light-rail trains, although there are pricey parking lots scattered throughout the neighborhood (the building itself was built on a former lot).
Simons, who used to live three blocks from the new office but has since moved to Queen Anne, said another reason he chose Pioneer Square is its history in the timber industry. Nearby Yesler Way was the nation’s original Skid Road, greased to haul timber logs down to a sawmill in the 19th century.
The “old meets new” theme is apparent throughout: Visitors stepping into the main lobby are greeted by a quote from the company’s founder on the right side, and a giant electronic screen on the left.
Weyerhaeuser has shrunk considerably over the years but remains a significant part of the local economy: Its $23.2 billion market cap makes it the sixth most valuable company based in Washington, ahead of Expedia, Nordstrom, Alaska Air Group or Zillow. But it’s not one of the biggest local employers: 700 people are making the move to the new office, out of 13,000 workers spread out around the world.
The move is the culmination of a two-year process that began when company officials shocked the region by announcing in 2014 it would be selling its 430-acre home in Federal Way and building the new headquarters in Pioneer Square. The company, founded in Tacoma in 1900, had been in Federal Way since 1971.
About 100 employees will remain at the tech-center building the company is now leasing on the Federal Way campus.
Weyerhaeuser said at the time it no longer needed so much space. Simons said it looked around the region for potential new office space but ultimately wanted to be in Seattle, part of a national trend from companies to move from the suburbs to urban spots.
In February, the company sold its former home just off Interstate 5 for $70.5 million to Los Angeles-based developer Industrial Realty Group. The developer has announced plans to build more than 1 million square feet of new warehouse buildings elsewhere on the property, angering neighbors, and is looking for a firm to replace Weyerhaeuser at its architecturally unique — and lauded — main campus.
The new building has a lot to live up to: The company’s former headquarters won architectural awards and is in a tranquil setting that includes rows of trees hundreds of feet deep, along with a lake and wildlife.
The Seattle office is much different: Outside, ambulances zoom by as construction crews shut down streets. The only animals are the occasional squirrels and dogs on leashes. Homeless people sleep nearby.
But the inside does feel calmer: The branches and leaves from the adjacent park cover one side, and the bay downhill shimmers in the distance.
There is plenty of art, including a six-story tree mural that spans the entire stairwell. A library on the third floor is set aside for reading. Every cubicle has some access to natural light, thanks largely to the 12-foot-tall ceilings.
From the city’s perspective, the move means more tax money, with employees potentially patronizing local businesses.
But Murray, whose father and grandfather were loggers, said at Monday’s celebration marking the opening of the office that he was particularly proud of hauling in an employer that isn’t another tech company.
He cited past economic slumps — Boeing’s bust decades ago, while unsaid, came to mind — that were exacerbated because so many people worked in the same industry.
“When that industry got a cold, the whole city practically died,” said Murray. He added that tech companies will eventually start to sniffle, and diversifying the job base “is how Seattle gets through economic downturns.”
He said added jobs in Pioneer Square will help the neighborhood stay alive during the day, making it more than just a nightlife destination.
Leslie Smith, who leads the Alliance for Pioneer Square, said she was heartened that the developer, Seattle-based Urban Visions, was “able to see beyond old stereotypes” of Pioneer Square, which has had a reputation in the past for late-night rowdiness, crime and homeless shelters. She said landing Weyerhaeuser helps with the ongoing transformation of the area, which has also added more housing lately.
“It looked a lot different seven years ago than it does today,” Smith said.
This article has been updated to reflect the current residence of Weyerhaeuser CEO Doyle Simons, who no longer lives in Pioneer Square.