Three new Bellevue office buildings are hubs for tech companies and changing the downtown workforce

When you think about the ways downtown Bellevue is changing, what comes to mind? More shops? More restaurants? More residents? How about a different type of office worker? A trio of downtown office towers has recently opened, ushering in the latter — a wave of tech employees.

Today, tech companies and their workers are prized clients.

“I’ve been leasing space for 30 years in downtown Bellevue,” said Paul Sweeney, principal and cofounder of The Broderick Group. “When I first started, we were always targeting CPAs and law firms.” Not anymore:

  • In January, the San Francisco-based cloud computing and software company Salesforce held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the opening of its three-floor, 70,000-square-foot office in the new 19-story, 462,000-square-foot 929 Office Tower.
  • In February, the mobile advertising firm AdColony prepared to move into approximately 26,000 square feet on the 929’s 14th floor.
  • Centre 425, a 16-story, 354,000-square-foot tower developed by Schnitzer West, opened this year and is home to a single tenant: Amazon.

And tenants began moving into the 31-story, 750,000-square-foot Lincoln Square Expansion office tower in late January, including video game developers Valve Corp. (floors 11 through 19; 225,000 square feet) and Pokémon (floors 26 through 29; 80,000 square feet), and the consumer electronics company Samsung (21st floor; 25,000 square feet).

The last major wave of tech workers infiltrating downtown Bellevue came in 2006 and 2009, when Microsoft took over large swaths of space in City Center Plaza (561,00 square feet), Lincoln Square (317,000 square feet), and The Bravern (approximately 750,000 square feet combined).

As these new towers fill, it’s unclear the exact number of tech employees that will be added to downtown Bellevue’s workforce. On average industry-wide, four to six employees account for every 1,000 square feet of commercial real estate space. If that standard holds true in these instances, between 3,184 and 4,776 tech company employees could be working in these new downtown buildings. In 2014, the City of Bellevue reported 46,200 people worked downtown. Based on the number of employees calculated above, these new tech company employees could grow the downtown workforce by 6.7 percent to 10.3 percent.

The lobby of 929 Office Tower in Bellevue offers space for employees to take work away from their desks.

The lobby of 929 Office Tower in Bellevue offers space for employees to take work away from their desks.

A skilled workforce is one big reason for the growing number of tech companies in downtown Bellevue.

“The area is home to some of the most talented enterprise software engineers in the world. That’s why we are doubling down on our investment in the area, which will be a key innovation hub for the company,” Salesforce cofounder Parker Harris said in a press release in 2015, when announcing that his company would open an office in downtown Bellevue.

Sweeney, the veteran commercial real estate broker, agreed with Parker.

“Why did Amazon lease a big chunk of space in downtown Bellevue? One, to get a single building, which is what they wanted. Two, I think they wanted to take advantage of the workforce that’s over here because they are on such a hiring binge,” he said.

Craig Dobbs, a principal at Trammell Crow Company, which developed the 929 Office Tower, said a combination of things — a steady and increasing trend in job growth, a declining amount of available Class A office space, and tech companies wanting to be at the center of a talented tech sector workforce — encouraged the company to break ground on the office tower in May 2014.

“We saw a lot of technology companies that were continuing to grow, so that was a big driver of demand,” said Dobbs. “The technology sector has been a big component of the Bellevue market for quite some time, and we are seeing the technology companies as the primary driver in growth of office space needs. In addition, a lot of them are moving in from suburban locations and need to be in the most opportune place to recruit and retain talent. That location is in the Bellevue Central Business District. Technology is the biggest driver, but the economy has been strong and a number of other companies are experiencing growth, although probably not at the same pace as the technology companies.”

Sweeney said developers are keeping tech companies in mind when they design office buildings. As an example, he points to the office tower at the Lincoln Square Expansion. The building has landscaped decks and rooftops, and is filled with indoor common areas with comfortable seating and fireplaces for employees to grab their laptops and work away from their desks.

A shared collaborative workspace in the lobby of 929 Office Tower can be used for board meetings, large conferences, or training seminars.

A shared collaborative workspace in the lobby of 929 Office Tower can be used for board meetings, large conferences, or training seminars.

“Just having that acre of landscaped rooftop and gardens for people to go out and relax during the day outside, that’s something you definitely see the tech companies enjoy,” said Sweeney. “It gives them other places to go and work.”

Dobbs said Trammell Crow Company’s 929 Office Tower is tech-friendly, but it also is home to two engineering firms and will welcome other non-tech tenants in the future. “We were definitely thinking about technology companies, what their needs are, and the trends in that industry as we were designing the project,” said Dobbs. “At the same time, we needed to ensure the project would easily accommodate any type of business.”

Many tech companies prefer collaborative and flexible work environments in spaces where furniture can be moved and room configurations shifted depending on the number of employees or the types of projects underway. The 929 Office Tower’s lobby was designed and built to offer shared and collaborative workspace that can be used for board meetings, large conferences, or training seminars. The building was also designed to accommodate the heavier use of power and other building systems typically required by tech companies.

“We included a number of tenant-focused amenities that are appealing to technology companies because these types of advantages are critical in the very intense battle for recruiting and retaining talent in the technology industry,” said Dobbs.

True, these are amenities most office workers would enjoy. But Sweeney and Dobbs believe they are amenities tech workers also expect.

The global coworking organization WeWork, often associated with being a hub for entrepreneurs and tech startups, has three locations in Seattle and plans to open in Bellevue this spring (see story on page 18). “Generally, the WeWork demographic is reflective of the industries in that city,” said Gina Phillips, leader of WeWork’s Pacific Northwest operations. “For example, the WeWork in Los Angeles really reflects the entertainment industry. So, I do think we’ll see a lot of tech representation reflected in the makeup of our (Bellevue) members.”