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November 30, 2016

Weyerhaeuser Moves Out of the Woods and Into Urban Seattle

The New York Times

Morris Newman

SEATTLE - The new headquarters of Weyerhaeuser seem an exception to other office buildings in this waterfront city. Instead of a tower on a busy street, this new corporate base is a horizontal structure with a front door that opens onto a public park.

Tucked inside a group of 19th-century buildings, the steel-and-glass home of Weyerhaeuser, a wood products and timberlands company, is almost hidden by a row of trees.

The company's relocation speaks to the changes that Seattle is experiencing in attracting companies, especially in the technology field, as well as the growing interest nationwide by companies in settling in urban environments to recruit talented employees in a competitive market.

Weyerhaeuser, founded in 1900, moved from a forested 400-acre spread in suburban Federal Way, about 22 miles south of Seattle's central business district. Since October, the company's 700 employees have worked in the new building, which has a half-acre footprint and is in the historic Pioneer Square district, just south of Seattle's downtown area.

The old building "was too big for us," said Jack Evans, a company spokesman. At the same time, he added, the company also recognized the recruitment value of an in-town headquarters. "Seattle is the center of gravity," Mr. Evans said.

Developed by Urban Visions, based in Seattle, the seven-story Weyerhaeuser building is a bit of an outlier in the explosive Seattle office market, which is centered on the downtown area to the north, and a second neighborhood, South Lake Union, a former light industrial area just north of downtown. Currently, at least 13 office buildings are rising in these central Seattle markets.

"Seattle is one of the busiest markets in the country right now," said Jake Bos, an office leasing agent who is a senior associate with Kidder Mathews, a local commercial real estate brokerage firm that is not connected to the Weyerhaeuser development.

Central Seattle, in fact, is among the leading markets for new office space in the Western United States. In the first nine months of this year, 822,000 square feet of new office space were completed in central Seattle, and 4.93 million more square feet were under construction, according to Kidder Mathews research. In comparison, the financial district of San Francisco, one of the fastest-growing West Coast office markets, reported 1.07 million square feet of office space completed in the same period, and 3.77 million square feet under construction.

The vogue for central Seattle dates to 2010, when Amazon announced it would consolidate its operations on a five-million-square-foot campus of multiple buildings in South Lake Union. Now behemoths including Google and Apple are shopping for large-scale spaces in central Seattle, according to Kidder Mathews.

"Amazon was the catalyst of the office boom, which has been fueled by tech," Mr. Bos said.

In South Lake Union, at least four new office buildings are expected to open before the end of the year; two of them are fully leased to Amazon. Separately, Vulcan Inc., a company owned by Paul G. Allen, a Microsoft founder, recently received permission to build a four-building complex for Google in the same district. Covering two city blocks, the master plan calls for housing, shopping and 607,000 square feet of office space.

The interest in central Seattle is a sign of a changing culture. With natural beauty and plentiful waterways in the region, Seattle has a high hip factor and has long been a magnet for millennials. Corporations are returning to urban markets in part because of the ease of attracting younger workers and city dwellers.

Mr. Evans of Weyerhaeuser said the new location was a positive for recruitment. The new neighborhood - unlike one isolated in the woods - offers amenities including a bakery, a combined bookstore-gallery and a craftsman bookbinder.

Access to public transportation also played a large role in Weyerhaeuser's choice of the historic district, which is within walking distance of nearly every type of transit available in Seattle, including light rail, regional rail, streetcars and ferries. Ninety percent of the employees are transit users.

Within an attractive neighborhood, the building itself is a recruitment tool, said the developer, Greg Smith, the founder and chief executive of Urban Visions. "The emphasis in this building is on wellness and health, including mental health," he said.

The ceilings are 12 feet high, rather than the standard eight or nine feet. Mr. Smith cited reports suggesting that people's conceptual abilities improve with more overhead space. And while most office buildings have sealed windows, those in the Weyerhaeuser building are operable, he added. Other features of the Weyerhaeuser building include bike stalls, locker rooms with showers, three lactation rooms, a playroom for children and a kitchen. Mithun, a Seattle-based architectural firm, designed the building, including its interior spaces.

A big attraction is the exterior deck on top of the seventh floor. This green roof has a Ping-Pong table, a fire pit, a barbecue grill and an elevated walking path circling the building. From the roof deck, employees have a postcard-worthy view of Elliott Bay, the orange cargo cranes of Seattle harbor directly ahead and the skyline of the central business district.

Replacing a parking lot in Pioneer Square, a designated historic district, required the developer to clear many hurdles. The design went through several versions before it won the approval of city officials, who vetted materials, signage and even color choices. In one concession, the sides of the Weyerhaeuser building were made of hand-laid brick, to help the structure blend with its neighbors.

"The design had to pay homage in the neighborhood without trying to appear to be a historic building," said Leslie Smith, the executive director of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, a nonprofit group. Ms. Smith, who is not related to Mr. Smith, the developer, said she was pleased with the result: "The building is beautifully understated."

© 2016 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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