No Rain No Gain

Amazon backs out of Seattle’s Rainier Square after head tax debacle

Development News West
Side-by-side renderings of the Rainier Square Tower, left, with its core system exposed, right. (Left, courtesy Wright Runstad & Company, right, courtesy Magnusson Klemencic Associates)
Side-by-side renderings of the Rainier Square Tower, left, with its core system exposed, right. (Left, courtesy Wright Runstad & Company, right, courtesy Magnusson Klemencic Associates)

Long Island City isn’t the only place that Amazon is pulling out of.

The tech giant made waves when it threatened to withdraw from its 722,000-square-foot lease in Seattle’s under-construction Rainier Square Tower over a possible $500-per-employee “head tax” last May that applies only to massive businesses like Amazon. The Seattle City Council ultimately passed a scaled-down version of the measure at $275-per-employee—with the proceeds destined for the construction of affordable housing—but even that measure was ultimately rolled back due in part to pressure from the business community.

Now, even with its conditions met, Amazon has announced that it would be subleasing its space in Rainier square and looking elsewhere to meet its needs. The lease was enormous by Seattle’s standards and would have provided space for 3,500 to 5,000 Amazon employees and would have cemented the tech company as the tower’s anchor tenant.

“We are currently building two million square feet of office space in our South Lake Union campus in Seattle,” said Amazon in a statement released to Geekwire. “We are always evaluating our space requirements and intend to sublease Rainer Square based on current plans. We have more than 9,000 open roles in Seattle and will continue to evaluate future growth.”

The NBBJ-designed tower is notable both for its size and novel construction methodology. The 850-foot-tall, 58-story office building will be the second tallest in the Pacific Northwest once complete next year, and will use a core of modular steel plates and concrete “sandwiches” instead of the traditional rebar. A distinctive high-heeled-boot shape massing was used to preserve views of the adjacent Minoru Yamasaki–designed Rainier Tower (affectionately nicknamed “The Beaver” for its gnawed log-like appearance). A shorter glass-clad hotel will also be wedged between the two buildings as part of the Rainier Square Tower project.

(Courtesy Wright Runstad & Company)

The NBBJ-designed Rainier Square Tower will connect to Minoru Yamasaki’s Rainier Tower, without obscuring views of it. (Courtesy Wright Runstad & Company)

Despite the setback, Amazon is still on track to grow to 50,000 total employees in Seattle, and construction on the Graphite Design Group–designed Block 18, a 17-story, 388,000-square-foot office building solely for Amazon, is still on track.

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