Facebook set to double Seattle presence with another big new office

Originally published December 2, 2016 at 9:04 am
Updated December 2, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Rendering of a new office in South Lake Union that Facebook is going to lease. Courtesy Vulcan Real Estate.

Seattle is already home to Facebook’s largest engineering office outside its Silicon Valley headquarters, and the company is leasing another large South Lake Union project.

By Mike Rosenberg
Seattle Times business reporter
Facebook, which just opened a big Seattle office, is expanding again by leasing a pair of new South Lake Union buildings with the potential to double the tech giant’s presence in Seattle.

Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate announced Friday that Facebook will be the sole office tenant of its new $246 million Arbor Blocks project, which just got underway along 8th Avenue North between Harrison and Thomas streets.

It’s the latest tech expansion in the rapidly-changing neighborhood. The offices will sit in the shadow of one of Amazon’s new mid-rises right next door, and is a few blocks down the street from Google’s upcoming South Lake Union campus, where construction is set to start next month.

The two latest Facebook buildings will total 383,900 square feet of office space when they open. For perspective, Facebook this spring just moved most of its roughly 1,000 employees in the area into a new building on Dexter Ave N. that is 335,000 square feet.

The current Facebook office has potential to hold about 2,000 employees total, and the upcoming offices are slightly bigger, meaning the company could eventually top 4,000 employees locally.

Construction just started this week on the Arbor Blocks project, which consists of two six-story offices with ground-floor retail. Facebook could move in during the third quarter of 2018.

“I think they’re a great fit for the neighborhood and the project,” said Lori Mason Curran, a Vulcan real estate executive.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company first opened an office in Seattle in 2010 with plans for just a few Seattle employees. After some big growth, the city now houses Facebook’s largest engineering outpost outside of its Silicon Valley headquarters.

Facebook and other companies have been particularly interested in the tech talent abundant in the Puget Sound region, where housing costs — while increasingly expensive — are still far cheaper than in the Bay Area, making it easier to attract and retain employees.

For Facebook, Seattle-based teams have already led development of the Facebook Messenger chat service’s video calling and the “cold storage” technology that helps company data centers more efficiently store the photos and other content people post to the social-networking site, among other initiatives.

“Seattle is really a key part of our long-term mission,” Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, said in May.
Facebook on Friday confirmed the lease but otherwise declined to comment.

The new outpost is about half a mile from the company’s brand-new building that just opened in May.

The latest campus will include many of the amenities that have become standard in tech offices, such as bicycle parking, showers and public art. As the Arbor Blocks name suggests, there will be a large canopy of mature sweetgum trees outside, including in the open space that divides the two offices.

But there will be a unique feature: A section of 8th Avenue that splits the two new buildings will be turned into a $2.1 million “woonerf,” a park-like street where vehicles must drive extra-slowly and pedestrians and bicycles have the right of way.

The site had housed warehouses and a former King County library building that are being demolished, along with a parking lot. The project has been in the works since early this decade. Vulcan first bought the site for $8.5 million in 2000.

Vulcan is also set to start building the new Google campus in South Lake Union and has built most of Amazon’s constellation of buildings in the neighborhood. One of Amazon’s newest offices, the 12-story Apollo, sits right next door to the newly-announced Facebook outpost and was also built by Vulcan. And Amazon has three additional new offices just a block or two away.

“We really love to be able to work with three of the big tech companies in the region, with Amazon, Google and Facebook now,” Mason Curran said. “It really solidifies the vision that we’ve had for this neighborhood all along for being a really important economic engine for the region and being a center for job growth.”

Still, the increasing tech presence in the neighborhood hasn’t been welcomed by everyone: It has displaced long-time tenants and contributed to rising housing prices and more gridlock on roads.

Mason Curran said Vulcan had been sitting on the Arbor Blocks project since receiving early approvals from the city in 2013, waiting to pre-lease with a tenant before starting construction. She said they had been marketing the space and learned Facebook was looking for about 400,000 square feet of new offices.

She added that Vulcan’s recently-approved Google project, which totals 621,000 square feet of offices across several buildings, will begin construction in January, and the campus would open by early 2019.

Information from The Seattle Times archives was used in this report
Mike Rosenberg: mrosenberg@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2266; on Twitter @ByRosenberg.