Microsoft announced last week a major investment in their Redmond campus, expanding their footprint to accommodate up to 8,000 more workers, but also renovating and reinventing their campus. 12 older buildings will give way to 18 taller ones with a net addition of 2.5 million square feet.
Urbanists, and other observers, were quick to notice an apparent contrast with Amazon which has built its headquarters in Seattle and avoided suburban offices. Many Bay Area tech companies, after having started in the suburbs, are putting down roots in cities too. Several regional companies like Weyerhaeuser and Expedia have decamped to Seattle. Microsoft doesn’t appear to have ever considered such a move, and is confident that it can create an urban vibe within its historic footprint.
Microsoft’s 2005 master plan foresees a gradually densifying campus. The latest announcement will come close to exhausting the capacity in that master plan, but the likely next step will be another master plan for further development within the 500-acre footprint. Microsoft’s leasing of office space in Bellevue and Issaquah was viewed as responsive to urgent needs for space rather than a strategy to develop outside the core campus. Microsoft in 2015 negotiated zoning changes that allow up to 10 story offices on the eastern part of the Redmond campus though this expansion won’t be that tall.
The campus vision already goes well beyond the stereotypical auto-oriented suburban office park. It’s aligned to the nearby rail station opening in 2023, with straightened pedestrian connections to offices and retail. Buildings are closer together. Cars are removed from the interior of campus and all parking is underground. The office expansion fits with transportation improvements from the master plan including a pedestrian bridge across SR 520. The bridge connects the east and west sides of campus across SR 520 to each other and to the future light rail station.
The excellent transit connections with Link after 2023 also distinguish Microsoft from the far less accessible Bay Area tech company offices. It’s simply not very far from the region’s urban core.
The large suburban campus does permit amenities that would be difficult to provide in a more physically constrained urban setting. A large outdoor plaza will have room for up to 12,000 people. There are running and walking trails and several soccer and cricket fields.
Bellevue and Redmond are, after Seattle, the most urban and fastest growing cities in the region. Downtown Bellevue is more second city than suburb, and the immediate neighborhood south of Microsoft is urbanizing and densifying. Just one development nearby, Esterra Park, is expected to eventually count over 3,000 homes. The longer-term evolution to a contiguous urban area from downtown Bellevue to Overlake and (with some suburban interruption) to Redmond is visibly beginning to take form.
Microsoft won’t entirely escape the limitations of surrounding suburbia. North-south transit, and auto traffic, are mired in congestion on 148th and 156th. Active transportation is limited by distance and auto-oriented infrastructure. Single family neighborhoods that are not amenable to redevelopment closely surround urban areas of Bellevue and Redmond. One test of how the wider neighborhood urbanizes will be how many workers are locked into car commutes from distant suburbs as nearby residential neighborhoods experience comparatively little change.
Nevertheless, this appears a future urban campus and urban neighborhood, as much as the restrictions of historic suburban development patterns allow.
71 Replies to “Microsoft’s expansion in the suburbs”
MS has an incredible tool in their hands for gauging how advisable this is vs. expanding satellite offices in more urban locations but I haven’t seen any indication of using it: LinkedIn. Instead of the incredibly regionally broad search tools given to job seekers they could allow users to specify more fine tuned geographical limitations or other qualities like walkscore/transitscore/average-car-commute time ratings. Maybe a LinkedIn user could even draw on a map where they would like to work and recruiters and search results outside of that would be filtered out or downgraded- and if thousands of people in the MS recruit demographic do this they could weigh that against other location possibilities, and sell the same aggregate information to other companies.
Microsoft doesn’t have any urban satellite offices. The current satellite offices in south Bellevue and Issaquah are in office parks, and shifting those teams to the core campus will be an improvement. The current Microsoft space in downtown Bellevue will not be impacted by this decisions.
Microsoft doesn’t want satellite offices – they want all their workers in the same campus to improve collaboration and maintain a common culture. East Link will help Microsoft tap into the more urban labor market in Seattle. After Link opens, I don’t see how having satellite offices will help Microsoft with recruiting? The quality of life in the surrounding cities – Redmond, Kirkland, Bothell, Bellevue, etc. – is superb and offers much, much more than just high-end single family homes (and those single-family homes are very important for the many MSFT employees who have families). Microsoft is doubling down on their campus because of the recruiting advantages of the location, not in spite of it.
>> After Link opens, I don’t see how having satellite offices will help Microsoft with recruiting?
Seriously? You don’t see how having offices in downtown Seattle would benefit them from a recruiting standpoint? OK, I’ll try and explain.
Downtown Seattle is much more convenient for a lot more people. Imagine you are in Ballard, and East Link opens. Great. Wonderful, Hurray! But a trip to Redmond will still start with a trip to downtown. Meanwhile, the train trip to Redmond isn’t magic, it will still take over a half hour from downtown. You are looking at commutes of close to an hour for a lot of people. What is true for Ballard is true of various parts of the city (Fremont, Greenwood, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, West Seattle) and many northern, southern and eastern suburbs. The only place where you have much of an advantage in getting to Redmond is if you happen to live on the East Side.
Now look at a density map, or a map of where we are adding a lot more people. The East Side has a fair amount of people, but is nowhere near as populous as Seattle.
>> Microsoft is doubling down on their campus because of the recruiting advantages of the location, not in spite of it.
Nonsense. They are doubling down because of inertia. Moving your company (as Expedia is doing) is very costly. You lose a lot of your best people, who preferred to live there, even if you get some good new people who prefer the new location. So I understand why Microsoft is doing what they are doing. But if they were starting today, and could afford it, they would build in downtown Seattle (or some other city’s downtown) just like most companies. There is nothing special about Redmond. It is just another suburb.
> After Link opens, I don’t see how having satellite offices will help Microsoft with recruiting?
Link or no Link, I will never again put up with the misery of a daily commute to Redmond. Microsoft’s suburban isolation is a perfect physical illustration of the insular, dysfunctional culture which made that company such a terrible place to work. Were they ever to try to change that culture, breaking out of Redmond and opening a Seattle office is one of the few things they could do which might convince me to give an MSFT recruiter so much as the time of day.
If by inertia you mean a massive amount of investment in infrastructure, culture, and institutional knowledge that has been developed over decades of being a global force in business and tech, then sure, they are staying put because of inertia. Losing a “bunch of people” is a big deal, which Expedia is starting to learn.
“You are looking at commutes of close to an hour for a lot of people. ” – right, which is currently thousands of people’s current commute to downtown Seattle. It’s not prohibitive.
“There is nothing special about Redmond. It is just another suburb.” Lol. And Ballard is just a random neighborhood. Come on – they are both excellent places to live. Just because you don’t want to leave there doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a great quality a life.
Microsoft would have easily rented a few floors downtown to get crack at talent that won’t commute to the east side, but they haven’t because they don’t need to.
Come on guys. Ross & Mars, your anti-East Side, anti-MSFT bias is showing through. You have to remember that not everyone has the same set of values. Many people live in this region, love it here, and have zero interest living in Seattle. The world is bigger than the progressive bubble that is Seattle.
Sorry, that may have been too grumpy, but i just get irritated when there’s this attitude that anywhere outside of Seattle is a horrible a place to live and people only live there either because they can’t afford to live in Seattle or because they have awful values and therefore should be ignored or pitied. Seattle can be a great place to live and work and Redmond can be a great place to live and work – they aren’t mutually exclusive!
Ross, as someone who grew up in and around the MS campus, I disagree about the Overlake area (it’s not just Redmond) being “just another suburb” at this point. It’s a highly specialized collection at this point. Unlike say Kirkland, Bothell etc which are very typical suburban tract housing with a few offices for sure. I’d compare it to some of the areas around the Boeing facilities that are highly specialized.
A good example is heavy electrical infrastructure built in the late 90’s to support power consumption of 1st gen data centers (which now support the offices, see Denny Substation in Seattle). You also have supporting facilities such as warehouses, fabs, training facilities and lab space. Depending on what you are trying to do also such as Aerospace engineering downtown is completely out of the question due to lab space size and floor loading and vibration requirements requiring stuff to be on a slab essentially. The area has spent 25+ years being built out to support technology firms, not just Microsoft. Seattle has already spent 10+ years doing it itself just to get to where it is now and is no where near done.
FWIW in my view Expedia and Amazon are still behaving as “young” tech firms and following “cheap” labor in the market. Meaning young folks, not experienced people who are expensive and have kids and demand good work life balance.
I look it in terms of ease of access to the office and walkable destinations if I lived there. Link removes one of the major negative factors to working at Microsoft (although the frequent 545 and 520 tolls also did previously to a lesser extent). However, the downsides to Eastside living or going out after work remain. Yes, the Link corridor in the Eastside is much denser than it used to be, mixed-use buildings have come and setbacks have retreated. But the area around Microsoft is still a depressing span of low-density houses and lots of highway concrete. And while you can live next to Bellevue Square and have lots of retail — correction, while somebody can live next to Bellevue Square since you can’t afford it — you get a few blocks out of the glitz and your walk circle still has a lower variety of services than Ballard or Wallingford or Capitol Hill, and there’s more parking minimums pushing things apart and depressing you, and non-drivers are a smaller minority, and bus service is not as much. Still, for some people an Eastside house or apartment is a perfect fit, and those are Microsoft’s primary draw. I’m glad that Microsoft has gone to a lot of effort to make itself urbanist-friendly and accessible. Given that it won’t move to Seattle, that’s the best it can do, I guess. The real issue is, why don’t the Eastside cities just build some Ballards and Capitol Hills so that non-driving urbanists can live there happily? Bellevue Way and the Spring District aren’t it — they’re more for people who want yuppie chic. They could have done it in downtown Kirkland or Crossroads or Eastgate or many other places but they won’t, they’re too much against the human-scaled, streetcar-suburb, non-chain idea. Still, the Eastside is growing in its own way, and that gradually makes it easier to go there or live there and gives reasons for going there. I guess that’s what the cities and Microsoft can expect, from non-suburbanist types.
Mike, I’m not sure quite what you’re looking for. Any development on the East side is going to be new and it won’t look like Ballard. DT Redmond and DT Bellevue are probably the closest. DT Bothell is also densifying and actually trying to build a walkable area. But forcing growth is hard. Just look at Totem Lake or Canyon Park.
>> i just get irritated when there’s this attitude that anywhere outside of Seattle is a horrible a place to live and people only live there either because they can’t afford to live in Seattle
I never said that, nor would I ever say that. In fact, I never said anything about whether Redmond was nice or not. That isn’t the point. Redmond could be most lovely, charming, wonderful spot in the entire state, but it doesn’t matter.
It is hard to get to. That is my point. Link or no Link, the vast majority of the people who live in the region can’t get there easily. That’s the problem.
It is a suburb. You seem to think that is some horrible insult, but it is simply a geographic assessment. It is not the center of activity for the region, but an outlying area. As such, getting there — via transit or by any other means — will always be significantly more difficult than getting to downtown Seattle, which is the center of the region.
“Any development on the East side is going to be new and it won’t look like Ballard.”
Yes it can. It’s design and land use decisions. Current zoning commissions and developers are making different decisions than they did then, and that’s why the outcomes are different. It’s why the Spring District won’t be as full of a wide variety of pedestrians on different errands as the U-District is. It won’t be a place you can comfortably hang out in, like downtown Bellevue isn’t. You don’t hear teenagers or twentysomethings saying, “Let’s spend the day or evening in downtown Bellevue or the Spring District.” They say, “Let’s go to the U-District or Ballard or Capitol Hill.” If people do go to a bar in downtown Bellevue, they don’t go walking around beforehand or from place to place like they do on Capitol Hill. They stay in one place or drive somewhere, and the parking minimums and other design elements make it seem like less of a place for pedestrians.
There’s no insurmountable impediment in the 21st century to having a complete street grid of short blocks and small streets; or having narrow storefronts; or designing for pedestrians first, transit second, and cars third; or having “a Wallingford in Kent” as John Bailo used to say, meaning small-lot houses and lowrise in residential areas; or making facades based on prewar aesthetic principles rather than postwar modernism, or even creating a new style based on those earlier inspirations. Several facades on Capitol Hill have now been restored by current developers: the Pike Motorworks building, the Melrose & Pine building, etc. That shows that current builders can build it if they want to. And if they want to make it less expensive, they can do something between the detailed intricate moldings and giant-scaled geometric lines. The abstract geometric lines are a style, not a necessity.
I would have to disagree with you about Downtown Bellevue, Mike. There are now an estimated 15,000 people in Downtown Bellevue (in less than a square mile) and blocks of 5 to 40 story condo and apartment towers. There is quite an active night life; even I was surprised at the size of the crowds the few times that I’ve been invited to events there — and I’ve seen them walk around within a few blocks of their destination. I even meet people who live there without a car and don’t feel more limited than living in places like Ballard. The major differences that I see between Downtown Bellevue and Ballard or the U-District are that there isn’t a small street grid (and it’s beneficial walkability), there is mostly off-street parking rather than mostly on-street parking blocks away and the crowd appears more affluent on average.
“You don’t hear teenagers or twentysomethings saying,” – there’s more to urban life than where the kids hang out. The happy hour crowds in Bellevue are certainly older than in Seattle.
Mike, I recommend you go walk around Bellevue during lunch hour – I can assure you the broad sidewalks are packed with pedestrians heading to lunch or running errands. I never drive for lunch – that would be both slower and usually more expensive than simply walking a few blocks to the several dozen restaurants around my office.
I don’t think your title aligns with the article, or more importantly reality. This new plan by Microsoft is a win for urbanist and transit advocates, because it densifies and centralizes Microsoft’s campus adjacent to a future Link station, and you say as much in the 2nd half of the article.
Comparing this move to Weyerhauser is laughable. Microsoft can’t move it’s campus into downtown for the same reason’s Amazon’s HQ2 won’t be in Seattle – there literally isn’t enough room for that much office space without adding dozens of office towers above and beyond the current building boom.
Instead of pretending like a move to Seattle was the better option & throwing shade a Microsoft for not being enlightened enough to recognize this, we should celebrate Microsoft, and Bellevue and Redmond in general, for working hard to urbanizing the 2nd more important job center in the region (after downtown Seattle).
Ross, I think that, for more companies than Microsoft, your goal has already gotten underway, and will expand pretty much same graph as LINK. My own goal is a transit system that’ll make the whole Central Puget Sound region into one municipality, with present cities and counties becoming neighborhoods.
Live in Centralia- or wherever you decide to move next. Work- same. Breakfast in South Lake Union, work at Microsoft campus, home with or without coffee stop in Kirkland. Which is really just expanding what a lot of our chosen lifestyles have been since laptops were invented, your office being wherever you feel like.
Since everything in the rendering is mostly either open space or understood suburban housing, plenty of room to build upward when the time comes. As a way to “roll”, easier to densify above rendering than to level South Lake Union. Got it!
comparing to Weyerhaeuser is also laughable because the Federal Way campus used to host 10k+ workers, and the new Pioneer Square building is several hundred at best. Stop buying into Seattle’s marketing about this coup. The coup was when the Weyerhaeuser’s stopped running the company with their name.
>> This new plan by Microsoft is a win for urbanist and transit advocates, because it densifies and centralizes Microsoft’s campus adjacent to a future Link station,
No, it is a loss, because the location, while being close to a train station, is still an outlier station in a relatively distant suburb.
>> Microsoft can’t move it’s campus into downtown for the same reason’s Amazon’s HQ2 won’t be in Seattle – there literally isn’t enough room for that much office space without adding dozens of office towers above and beyond the current building boom.
Fair enough,. Not sure if that is true, but a reasonable assessment. Moving to Seattle would be very disruptive and very expensive. But why not move to Bellevue? As the author of this piece stated, Bellevue is already a “second city” to Seattle, and a major transit hub. It is much closer to the middle of the region than Redmond, and thus a lot more convenient for a lot more people.
The reason Microsoft didn’t move was obvious. It was cheaper to stay put. Moving would have made a lot of the land (which they own) worth a lot less. It would have been expensive to build in Bellevue (although not as bad as Seattle) and just tough all the way around. I understand why Microsoft decided to stay put, but to suggest this is some urbanist victory is ridiculous. This is just a company sticking with the status quo.
It looks better than Fortress Nike near Beaverton, but the fact that employees have to drive between locations indicates to me that Microsoft could do much better. How many people are going to take the train there if they have to drive around once they arrive?
Glenn, I believe the goal with the new campus is to make it more compact. It’s not going to be perfect, but more compact means quicker trips between buildings. And most people don’t have meetings in different buildings all the time so it’s not that big a deal.
Ross, I have to disagree that Microsoft could even move to Bellevue, nor do I necessarily think Bellevue would want them to move there. City Center, which is the main Microsoft building there, has around 2,000 employees over 26 floors. Microsoft has around 40k in the region. That means having to build 20 buildings like City Center. You could probably fit 5-6 City Center type buildings in each Bellevue block, although realistically it would probably be 3-4. That means taking over 4-6 complete Bellevue city blocks just for the Microsoft campus. And suddenly almost doubling the number of jobs in DT Bellevue. That would be huge and not necessarily something Bellevue would want.
Bellevue definitely doesn’t want that many jobs because they want more residential in their core. Those 4 super-blocks that Msft would need to buy for put in office towers are already owned by developers who are either building or planning on building condo towers.
It’s a relative victory. RossB is right that the absolute location. It’s almost at the edge of the urban growth boundary, with only small Redmond and tiny Duvall northeast of it. If the campus is designed for 23,000 people as estimates above and below suggest, that’s over a third of Redmond’s total population of 62,000 if all of them lived there. In Germany workers are more likely to live in the same city or adjacent cities, but in the US organization over 15,000+ people seem to require drawing from a county-sized or multicounty-sized area. The first thing to notice is that the largest population concentrations are in Seattle and South King County, 15-25 miles southwest of Microsoft and both in the same direction. That means thousands of people have to commute the gap every day to a corner of the urbanized area. If anybody suggested that as an a priori plan, you’d call them batty.
But this new campus is not in a vacuum. Microsoft has become a large company in its location over forty years, and it was the biggest factor in the growth and densification of the Eastside at all. And not just Microsoft but all the side companies that grew up with it. There’s another way to look at the new campus. At least Microsoft is densifying the campus, and putting money into its access of the Link station, and the shuttles to compensate for its location, and is encouraging the apartments in downtown Redmond and the Spring District around it. We’d be worse off if it did none of these things, if all the people coming in Link and shuttles came in SOVs and needed much more highways and parking lots. Boeing is much more car-centric than Microsoft is.
Thanks for the post, Dan. Because subject is first positive indicator of the change I thought was inevitable, but doubted I’d live to see.
Somebody important has decided that it’s time for the living patterns of the past to change. Doubtless prompted not only by their balance sheet, but also by a shift in preference by the young people they most want to employ.
Single family neighborhoods are not mountain ranges. Original owners move or otherwise pass on. Especially this close to Seattle, their presently high school age kids have already noticed that cars don’t bring either freedom or fun.
Won’t be the first time that houses are finally bought by someone who’ll decide that they’ll benefit by a different building on the property. Lot of that going on in Seattle. Couple of suburban elections just ended in a good direction, didn’t they?
Mainly, I think we’re seeing transit’s first real break in about seventy years. We don’t make the most of it, nobody else’s fault.
I work on the Microsoft campus, and I personally think this announcement is great. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. Personally, I wish they’d just replace all of East campus with high-rise buildings and move everyone there, and then either transform the rest of the land to dense housing or more office space. But that’s not going to happen unfortunately. This is probably a good second option.
Right now, the campus is walkable and they’ve done a good job with crosswalks, etc…, but there are a ton of roads you have to cross coming from the transit center, particularly on East campus. The plan to build a bridge connecting two campuses directly, with no roads to cross, will be amazing and will radically shorten most walks. Removing car traffic from between the buildings will likewise be great.
As for bikes, I bike regularly to work. The roads around here aren’t perfect. But the campus is on the 520 bike trail (despite the issues with the 40th St and 51st St intersections). The addition of the bridge will mean even less exposure to roads while on the campus. You need to be careful when biking, but it’s really not that bad.
It’s not perfect, but overall, I think it’s a pretty good location. Link/405 BRT will help with connections to the East side and to Seattle. Personally, I’m excited.
Just curious, how do most MSFT employees move around the campus? Are there shuttle buses moving around between buildings, say from the East campus to the West Campus, or do most people walk? What does the average person do upon arriving on a 545 at Overlake Transit Center to get to their desk? Do the Connector Buses all terminate at Overlake TC, or make multiple stops around the campus?
The transit center is roughly in the center and the furthest building is probably 15 minutes (I’m in one of the furthest ones). Most people walk. Some take shuttles. Personally, I find it takes about the same amount of time since the peak shuttles each serve multiple buildings and have to contend with traffic.
In the middle of the day, there are on-demand shuttles. You request a shuttle from one building to another, are given a shuttle number, and wait for it to come. The only problem is that they can be unreliable – sometimes the shuttle comes in 2 minutes and goes straight where you need it to. Other times, it takes 15 minutes to arrive, and then goes all around campus before dropping you off. I think many people will carpool around campus for meetings.
Personally, I walk unless the weather is bad or I’m going all the way across campus.
The Connectors all drop off/pick up at Overlake TC and one in the middle of West campus. My feeling is that most people get off at Overlake unless they work on the edge of West campus.
If the building is nearby I usually walk.
That said, most of my colleagues, myself included, whenever going across campus, drive between buildings using personal vehicles, carpooling if possible.
Since Microsoft offers free parking to employees, the number of my colleagues that take the bus or bike is very small.
“Since Microsoft offers free parking to employees, the number of my colleagues that take the bus or bike is very small.”
I wonder what would happen if they decided to charge a small fee – say $1 or $2 – every day someone parked there. Collecting this should be straightforward since they already scan license plates. Would this alter people’s behavior? Building all that underground parking can’t be cheap and if they can reduce how much of it they need to build, it could save a lot of money.
It’s going to be great in the end, but years of ugly construction in the interim. Glad to have moved on to another employer, before all that construction starts.
As office campus layouts go, this is fairly good. The pedestrian connection will cross over at the new Link station and will not require circuitous walking.
It’s actually better for a rail transit network to have some major employers away from Downtown cores. It provides ways to beef up non-peak direction demand to fill up empty train cars, while not adding much to peak direction overcrowding. I’m pleased that this will help make East Link more productive as an investment.
From what I can tell looking at the public materials, the pedestrian bridge will offer a relatively direct path for those coming from the new campus. For those going across the highway, the routing seems less linear.
“It provides ways to beef up non-peak direction demand to fill up empty train cars,”
That makes it sound like an afterthought. Microsoft is the reason Link is going beyond Bellevue, and is at least a third of the reason for East Link in the first place.
That statement is written as a generic one about rail transit productivity. It is inspired as a response to those naïve armchair urbanists that imply that having any suburban major employer is inherently bad in principle. I’m simply pointing out how it can be good for a rail transit system to serve major suburban employers as well as those in a downtown core as it can better balance train loads.
Certainly, I don’t think that my intention was to imply that East Link to Redmond is an afterthought! If anything, I was highlighting that this proposal is probably good for Link as it would add more riders mostly in the off-peak direction on trains that we will already be paying to operate!
>> It’s actually better for a rail transit network to have some major employers away from Downtown cores.
Sorry, I don’t buy that — at least as far as Redmond is concerned. I get what you are saying, it makes the train more efficient, but that is about it. In terms of an actual network, locating in a relatively distant suburb is not good for transit. You are forced to spread yourself too thin.
Consider this scenario. You are a company, and can locate in downtown Bellevue or Redmond. There are only two groups of employees that would prefer Redmond:
1) Those that live close to work.
2) Those that prefer driving to work.
The first group is very small, which means that a much higher percentage of employees will simply drive to work. This is not good. Not for the region, or the world.
I”m sorry, but Redmond isn’t a distant suburb. If your world consists of Seattle between Greenlake and Columbia City, sure it can seem pretty far out, but within the 3 county region it’s very central.
And we absolutely cannot have all of our jobs in downtown Seattle. We want a multi-nodal region with many job centers. This isn’t Chicago where we have a rail system that is focused on moving everyone in and out of downtown – transit should move people around the entire region. Remember, most people who live outside of Seattle also work outside of Seattle.
There is a third group: those that often can’t get on a train or bus because it’s too overcrowded, and want an alternative.
Shall we even begin to discuss how employment centrality naturally escalates housing costs in nearby areas?
The post mentions north-south traffic congestion on 148th and 156th avenues NE; the former is worse, as it feeds interchanges on both I-90 and SR-520. East-west congestion on arterials with freeway interchanges is also bad; consider NE 24th, 40th, and 51st streets. NE 40th Street is the worst; it also has a very large Microsoft garage. There will be a second East Link station on 52nd Avenue NE. The NE 40th Street pedestrian bridge was warranted a decade ago.
I hope nobody thinks it’s a negative that Seattle is not going to get another corporate presence on the scale of the Microsoft campus. Last couple of visits tell me one thing for certain.
Every time I visit, Downtown Seattle, including and especially South Lake Union, the gladder I am I had to leave. I’d like to see the term “Density” get a couple of years’ rest from being STB’s gold standard. Because Seattle has just surpassed the Black Hole of Calcutta for giving density a bad name.
Somebody pointed out that it’s Seattle’s zoning limits in the neighborhoods that is hindering its job capacity. If we’d just allow lowrise everywhere and build up some large mile x mile urban villages, we could accommodate a population of a million or more, and one or two more companies the size of Amazon’s 50,000. But because we don’t, and because we didn’t prepare for it in the 90s and 00s, Amazon’s 50,000 was a traumatic experience in terms of housing prices and displacement and gentrification. It’s arguably too much to go through again, especially since the second would be worse than the first because all the low-hanging fruit has been used up. So that may be one reason why Amazon is looking outside Seattle for its next 50,000. And that bodes ill for attracting other large company headquarters. (Although Totem Lake, Issaquah, and Lynnwood are wide open if any company is looking…) But to the extent that Seattle’s zoning reflects the majority residents’ wishes, it’s getting what it wants.
Sorta – you start adding that many people or jobs to Seattle, and a bunch of other pieces of infrastructure would need to be expanded, like water, sewage, electricity, schools, and so forth. So it’s not just buildings and transportation.
For example, in the next 5~10 years, Issaquah Public schools are adding 1 high school, 1 middle school, and 4 elementary schools simply to keep pace with projected population growth within the district. As much as Seattle public schools are overcrowded, the real growth is in the burbs because that’s where the families are.
So yeah, it’s more than just the city upzoning aggressively, there’s a lot that needs to happen concurrently.
>>As much as Seattle public schools are overcrowded, the real growth is in the burbs because that’s where the families are.
Nonsense. That isn’t where “the real growth is”. In absolute numbers, Seattle is growing much, much faster than the suburbs. It is just that they are already pretty big, so expanding infrastructure is less of a big deal (unlike Issaquah, which is tiny in terms of population).
Real growth of students. Not people in general, clearly. Issaquah’s population is less than 10% of Seattle, but their enrollment is ~40% of Seattle (20K vs. 50K).
That Issaquah growth could have occurred in Seattle instead. It wouldn’t require as much infrastructure investment because the distances from plant to house would be shorter, and Seattle already has a larger infrastructure to build upon, and a more complete street grid to absorb the movement increase.
Mike, it’s a both/and – Seattle can grow at 3% every year and still not be able to absorb all the growth the region needs. The current regional growth plan has Seattle signing up for 50% of the region’s growth over the next 20 years. That’s an enormous amount of growth, and you still need to figure out where put the other 50%.
What do you mean by “plant to house”?
The last mile from the electric substation, the equivalent for water and sewer pipes and data cables, the street extensions, and the gas for teachers to drive to the schools on the longer roads.
I’d rather see a “regional” growth plan where Seattle signs up for 100%. We’ve already sprawled too far. We need to cluster in and build energy-efficient density instead of continuing to spread ourselves and our environmental impact all over the place.
Note the irony: in Europe it’s hard to imagine a teacher having to drive to a public school. Schools are concentrations of staff and students, so naturally they would be on bus lines.The school wouldn’t be in the middle of nowhere in a residential-only area, and it wouldn’t be isolated from neighboring houses by the required stadium and parking lot.
Mars – the UGA boundary is fixed and it’s not expanding, at least not in King County. All the growth in East King is infill, just like in Seattle.
If the teacher can’t afford to live in Seattle and instead rent an apartment in Monroe, wouldn’t he rather work at an elementary school in Redmond than Seattle?
And for “plant to house” – Seattle generates zero power and zero water – both those mostly come from or over the Cascades. The suburbs are closer to those plants, if that’s the way you want to judge sustainability?
I’m talking about the cables, pipes, and roads that support the housing. They have to be built and maintained. Because it’s less dense than Seattle, all these lines are longer, and thus more expensive to install and maintain and use more resources to build them. In contrast, if you just plop a denser neighborhood inside Seattle there’s more starting infrastructure in it and immediately around it, which you can add to with shorter distances.
The urban growth boundary is a limit, not a goal. Continuing development all the way out to that line represents the worst outcome we are willing to accept. We can do better, and we should try.
“Can’t afford to live in Seattle” is a problem that Seattle has created for itself, with its aggressively wrong-headed zoning code, and we need to fix that.
@Mike – I’m not buying that. If it’s the same building type, the differences are minimal. Frankly, it’s probably cheaper to redevelop brownfield in Redmond than in Seattle because the relevant infrastructure is newer & easier to access outside of Seattle.
@Mars – I disagree – housing affordability is a regional problem, not a Seattle-only problem. Seattle is certainly the most important part of the solution, but it’s not the sole solution. There are more people, more jobs, and more housing in the Seattle metro outside of the city limits than inside. Again, the development I’m talking about is not greenfield, it’s infill.
AJ: It depends on how close together the buildings are. If it’s like the Issaquah Highlands, then you can say it’s comparable to NewHolly and the only extraordinary cost is the trunk from Issaquah to the Highlands. But if they’re further apart, then each new house is getting a larger subsidy than similar houses in Seattle. And the ones getting the greatest subsidy are the large houses spaced far apart; e.g., on Newport Way and on what is that mountain south of there, Cougar Mountain I think.
Right, that’s my point – your critique is about a particular housing type, not about suburb vs Seattle infill development. Objecting to infill development in Bel-Red because of mcmansions in Newport is about as relevant as objecting to an upzone in U District because of the large mansions in Laurelhurst.
Yes, east King has vast swaths of detached homes, but so does Seattle does. Both are (effectively) completely built out and channeling new growth in non-single family home areas.
This is an attempt to create an urban feel without the urban parts. Density of people living and working there, activating the space 18 hours per day? Nope. Urban land use policies? Nope, there’s a giant multi-level above-ground parking garage between the campus and the light rail station.
It’s just insane that we are allowing land use like this to surround an incredibly expensive light rail station. If Microsoft wants an urban feel, sprinkle parcels throughout that are sold to developers to build mixed use buildings. Let people live there. Something that empties out at 5:00 PM every weekday and is completely empty every weekend is never going to have an “urban feel”.
The press release does mention retail in the new campus buildings. I notice a wall of buildings pushed up against 156th Ave. It would be great if many of these had street-facing retail, to create a more “normal” urban commercial corridor in the half-mile of 156th Ave that passes through campus.
The current retail spaces at the current campus commons are closed on weekends, are indoors so require key card access to get to, and most locations are closed by 4pm. That said, it looks like in the linked YouTube video that at least some retail will face outdoors, so maybe such retail will be more publicly accessible.
“It’s just insane that we are allowing land use like this to surround an incredibly expensive light rail station” – right. God forbid we build transit to an employer that has 15,000 employees, many of whom work well past 5pm every day. We should only build stations that have the platonic ideal of mixed uses within a 15 minute walkshed. I don’t think Microsoft is open during the weekends, so we can probably save a bit of money and only run East Link on weekdays.
The Cricket field will see a lot of weekend use. Not to mention the Plaza if the schedule a fair amount of gigs.
Its about building a variety of buildings so the TC gets used more evenly throughout the day. Having some dense housing nearby makes the outbound trains in the morning and inbound trains in the evening more loaded. It also gives the station better weekend ridership.
I don’t mean to complain, AJ, but you seem to be taking these comments very personally. I work for Microsoft–have worked there for almost 20 years–and I live in Seattle and I’m in agreement with my fellows here. Maybe my view is skewed but I don’t see them as critical of how people choose to live, but of the opportunities that are potentially missed to make this a great remodel for the company and the region. The light rail is coming and relatively soon. It would be freaking awesome to see some kind of development at a station that could wind up being virtually unused when work isn’t in session.
The points about there being very little “there, there” around the Microsoft campus outside of “traditional” working hours is pretty well made, in my opinion. I work an odd shift, by virtue of my job, and after 3-4pm there is basically nothing open or available on or reasonably near campus. I ride the bus to work and walk from OTC so whatever is around needs to be walkable, too, and there’s just not much worth the 15-minute hike back to Overlake to get on the B Line. (I’m super sad that my Taco Time on 156th closed.) For what it’s worth on that odd shift, the last 545 back to Seattle at night almost always has every seat occupied.
It would be absolutely amazing if Microsoft would pull off a true mixed use campus. Put stuff that’s accessible to the public around the outer edges. Encourage uses besides just a couple of places that serve alcohol and see about getting places that’ll be open past flee-work-o’clock. Sure, maybe it won’t be a shopping destination or a haute cuisine beacon of light but how about a teriyaki place, a convenience store, maybe a Starbucks or something? Just…anything besides tree-lined streets looking on low-rise office buildings.
…..and parking structures. Don’t forget the beautiful tree lined parking structures.
Wes – I totally agree. (and was probably commenting on an empty stomach last night). Yes, it would be great if the area was more mixed use, and I hope it becomes so. I was irked by people who were suggesting that MSFT doesn’t deserve a Link station at all, which i was thought was ridiculous and frustrating. I took it personally because I think Bellevue and Redmond are doing great things around urbanizing their cities and facilitating “good” growth, and it gets dismissed by someone who lives in Ballard and thinks everything east of Lake Washington is a car-centric hellhole. So my frustration was less directed at the specific comments and more at the attitude I was feeling underneath.
I thought that Microsoft had flex time, so that people may be leaving any time between 3 and 9. Is this true? High frequency light rail is best when employers have flex time, but it doesn’t work as well with peak commuter rail service like Sounder.
They do for at least a large number of departments. Overlake is still clogged to overflowing during peak though, and the 545 has fairly strong ridership throughout the day (just not sardine level outside of peak).
One of the purposes of rail is to move large concentrations of pedestrians that are going in the same direction. So it should serve downtowns, large employers, stadiums, malls, and airports, because that’s where the pedestrians are. Microsoft is not way out in an isolated tangent: it’s between the two most urban cities in the Eastside.
The eastbound 545 is full between 8am and 11am, even with buses every 5-15 minutes. So that’s Microsoft’s peak hours.
What’s a good definition and description of the culture of Microsoft?
Is Microsoft contemplating building their own LRT, akin to the go-it-alone bus system? Sure, tax dodging (sorry, “avoidance”) has a point but at a certain point it must become counterproductive? A private bus system partly substitutes for the loss of benefit entailed in parking money in other places but it seems inconceivable that the same logic would extend to LRT.
Doug, If Microsoft wasn’t there, pretty good chance there’d be fast, heavy-hauling transit along that route anyhow.
But for the “Campus” (Will they walk around in football jackets? Because had a family member with Google for awhile, and his formal business attire was a hoodie with a google logo..) nothing wrong with a streetcar line.
Though I think it’s critically [ON] topic to relate that in 1925 or so, engineering students occasionally sneaked out with a torch and welded a steel wheel to the tracks while the driver was on break. Raccoon coats (no rule they can’t be synthetic) are ‘way overdue to be retro.
Or, depending on the scale of the cars-fair definition of Light Rail as opposed to Heavy is ability to take street curve radii. So some of the schedules could switch into the main line. Well it’s NEAR the shores of both Lakes Washington and Sammamish,so in memory of interurban times, could be called either the East Shore or the West one.
May not be any strain to integrate rail of different calibers with development. Worked several decades before cars started doing same for several more. Nothing technical in the way.
If Microsoft weren’t there, it would all be low-density houses and maybe some garden apartments like how nearby 70th was in the 80s and 90s. The 40th and 51st freeway exits would be less developed or maybe wouldn’t even exist at all, just the 24th exit and the West Lake Sammamish Parkway exit. If there were any business on the Microsoft land, it would have been generic low-density office parks, which would not have as much infrastructure or people around them because it’s not a large, incredibly profitable (at times) company like Microsoft. There would be no particular reason for light rail there, but it might be built because it’s on the way between Bellevue and Redmond. But without a large, highly profitable company like Microsoft with tens of thousands of commuters, there would not be as much reason or political will to put light rail there; the ST measures would have been a much larger sell, like their predecessor that failed in 1972. The impetus for light rail to Microsoft is that there are tens of thousands of people all going to one campus from the entire region, they are affluent liberals who are more positively disposed toward transit than average, and a lot of them insist on living in Seattle and are thus a perfect match for a high-capacity transit corridor, If the Microsoft land had instead gotten businesses like in Eastgate, they would have attracted employees who drive everywhere and don’t care about transit, because people without cars find it very difficult to work in that area.
Now just realign the campus to a public and inclusive grid and build every building to 10 stories and I might support this.
In terms of height, the existing Microsoft commons campus is a good example where they could’ve comfortably added 3+ floors to each of those buildings and housed nearly twice the employees in the same space.
In terms of grid the existing campus, and by accounts this one, feel very insular and closed off. It’s difficult to navigate with streets and walkways that interconnect in a real mishmash. What we are talking about here is building a pretty large CBD. Why not just make it one. With public street fronts, shops, etc. I used to work on campus and I really disliked this mall feel.
The one time I drove through Redmond, it seemed like a pretty nice town..
Still dont get why large companies have a thing about locating them selves in city centers where getting into and out of them 5 days a week is a pain, they should be required to furnish ST with enough funding to build world class high speed transit from city cores to the burbs and beyond where people live.
In the current environment any company with half a clue would locate them selves in Tukwila or Kent near Sounder which can deliver their employees from far afield, and those north can reverse commute with out traffic insanity.
Microsoft could always follow its arch-rival Apple’s example and build one monumental building that could accommodate its future projected workforce.
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