It has been a long journey from the garage of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, to the gleaming, 1.9 million sq. ft. campus the book behemoth occupies today in Seattle.
Bezos started the Amazon.com website in 1995, and within a month was shipping books to buyers in 50 states and 45 countries. Now the bookseller occupies a campus of 11 buildings, as befits a company reporting net sales in the first quarter of $9.9 billion, up from $7.1 billion in the first quarter of 2010.
Developer Vulcan, which built the campus in the South Lake Union district of Seattle, where its own headquarters is located, is wrapping up the project's last segment, phase five, set for completion in 2013. The bookseller occupies most of the square footage, with 100,000 sq. ft. set aside for retail space, says Ada Healey, vice president of real estate at Vulcan.
Amazon is bringing together thousands of employees who had been scattered throughout the city. The newest office building provides 340,000 sq. ft. “Amazon is taking the lion's share of that. There's about 7,000 sq. ft. of retail that they're not leasing,” says Healey.
While Amazon does not reveal employee figures, tech publications report that the bookseller has 31,000 employees globally. A large segment is housed at its headquarters.
The campus is a project Vulcan is proud of. “Clearly this is the largest project we've done. Not including tenant fit-out, it's a $725 million project,” says Healey. “We've got a little bit of equity in the transaction, and we've used five different lenders, mostly banks. But we do have some loans with life company lenders. The financing was a challenge during the worst of the financial crisis, but we were successful in making that happen.”
Amazon represents the developer-owner's largest tenant. The second largest is the University of Washington School of Medicine, which is expanding nearby, adding about 500,000 sq. ft. for a life sciences research facility.
For years, Vulcan has been transforming South Lake Union, taking the old industrial district upscale. Once the locale of a sawmill and early Boeing aircraft plant, it had become known for run-down warehouses and crime.
Now daytime workers populate new high-rises and gather outdoors, and stores are flourishing.
“The apartment buildings down there are getting leased up, and they're getting premium rents,” says Healey. Ridership on a streetcar from downtown to the district also has risen.
Amazon's leases on the new buildings range from 14 to 16 years, says Healey. “They're going to be around for quite a while.”
Vulcan owns additional land for development, but it doesn't expect another major tenant, says Healey. “I don't think we anticipate another 2 million sq. ft. user that's going to knock on our door looking for another campus. That would be a high-class problem, I think.”