Washington Mutual's new headquarters will be the biggest addition to the downtown Seattle skyline in more than 15 years. But as WaMu executives...

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Washington Mutual’s new headquarters will be the biggest addition to the downtown Seattle skyline in more than 15 years. But as WaMu executives tell it, the company’s new 42-story headquarters won’t be trying to impress in the traditional corporate sense.

The new WaMuCenter building, rising fast from its site at Second Avenue and Union Street and scheduled to open next year, will have an exterior that tries to project the qualities of the bank.

“Approachable, friendly, casual — and stable,” said Kent Wiegel, WaMu’s senior vice president of corporate properties.

For the better part of two years, WaMu has minimized fanfare about the building, which is being built in conjunction with an expansion of the Seattle Art Museum, but today it is holding an event to release the first detailed renderings. They show a building sheathed in stone and glass, with a look company officials say was inspired by WaMu’s Cedarbrook corporate training center in SeaTac. Seattle firm NBBJ is the architect.

WaMu is the nation’s sixth largest financial institution, with 55,000 employees nationwide and assets of nearly $319 billion. Yet, “if you asked people on the street what’s the largest company in Seattle, I’m not sure many would answer Washington Mutual,” said Benson Porter, WaMu’s chief administrative officer.

The company’s two decades of often sizzling growth have left 6,000 employees distributed among a dozen downtown Seattle buildings. About 4,500 of them will move into WaMuCenter beginning next year.

Having WaMu employees mostly under one roof will save the company money, but there are other benefits: The building’s generous common space, from rooftop deck to cafeteria, “provides a lot more ability for our folks … to interact with their colleagues,” Porter said.

The massive move will take nine or 10 months and has already set off a domino effect in the downtown rental market as companies plan to occupy space WaMu is vacating, and landlords recruit new tenants to replace them.

“It’s definitely going to have an impact,” said Kip Spencer, co-founder of Officespace.com, which tracks commercial real estate. “It’s going to add a lot of inventory to an already fairly soft office market.”

Spencer estimates that the market for lower floors of downtown high-rises in Seattle could remain soft for three to five years.

One more way WaMuCenter won’t be like the classic corporate tower: Top execs aren’t claiming the best views. They’ll occupy offices in the middle floors. At the moment, Wiegel said, community relations is penciled in for the top.

Tom Boyer: 464-2923 Staff researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.