Amgen campus in Seattle will be vacated, leaving a huge hole for someone to fill.
Amgen’s campus in Seattle will be vacated, leaving a huge hole for someone to fill.

News that Amgen plans to shutter its 40-acre campus along Elliott Bay marks yet another setback for Seattle’s biotech industry, which has struggled to take root over the years. Amgen plans to close the waterfront facility and a manufacturing operation in Bothell, laying off more than 600 people as part of a larger corporate restructuring at the Thousand Oaks, Calif-based biotech giant.

The waterfront property is a prized chunk of real estate, tucked in an isolated pocket of the city just west of heavily-traveled Elliott Avenue and just east of Smith Cove where cruise ships often dock. About 750,000 square feet of office space is available in the buildings, which are connected to Elliott Avenue by a pedestrian bridge designed in the shape of the double helix structure of DNA.

So, what’s next for the 10-year-old campus? Here are five possible uses, based in part on our conversations with real estate watchers and industry insiders.

Amgen’s campus in Seattle. Photo via Amgen.

1. Keep it in the biotech family

The Amgen facility is built with drug research in mind, complete with specialized laboratory equipment. Tearing that out would come at an enormous expense. So, why not just keep it intact? One challenge is that Seattle’s biotech industry doesn’t have an anchor tenant on the scale of Amazon in online retail/cloud computing or Microsoft in software. That makes it especially challenging for one biotech company to gobble up the space. Perhaps the campus could be turned into a massive biotech zone or incubator, one where startups and mid-sized life science companies could thrive. The University of Washington is another possible candidate, though it seems to be satisfied with its medical and life science holdings in South Lake Union and the U. District. “In a perfect world, another large biotech company would be preferred,” said longtime real estate expert Kip Spencer. “I think the most likely scenario is a multi-tenant campus, aimed at biotech.” But who would fund such a project? That leads to our second idea.

Odds: 5-1

Paul Allen
Paul Allen

2. Paul Allen should buy the property

Almost immediately after posting the article on Amgen’s Seattle closure, longtime GeekWire reader Patrick Husting noted: “I wonder if Paul Allen would step up and purchase that location.” It’s not out of the question, and Allen’s real estate lieutenants certainly have the wherewithal to pull off something of this scale. The billionaire Microsoft co-founder has already reshaped much of Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, where is now headquartered as well as a number of biotech companies.  He’s also bankrolling the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into those research organizations. Maybe he can consolidate those efforts along Elliott Bay, and toss in a few biotech companies too.

Odds: 10-1

amazonprimeair3. Amazon’s stealthy R&D shop

One of the odd things about the Amgen campus is its geographic isolation, tucked in a difficult to reach pocket of the city. Sounds like the perfect location for Seattle’s quietest tech giant: The company recently expanded in the Elliott Avenue neighborhood with a lease for four floors at 635 Elliott Ave. W., a surprise to us given the distance to its South Lake Union hub. But the company’s growth is insane, taking over huge tracts of downtown Seattle. It now employs more than 130,000 people worldwide, more than Microsoft. Could it put some people in the old Amgen campus working on a high-profile and stealthy project? Maybe the company’s drone unit can operate there. After all, wouldn’t it be cool to see drones buzzing the nearby grain terminal? Or perhaps, given Amazon’s ambitions, it will decide it wants to get into the pharmaceutical business. With Amazon, you never really know. “Given Amazon’s insatiable appetite for space, I wouldn’t rule them out as a candidate,” says Spencer.

Odds: 15-1

4. A tech giant from outside the region moves in

Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Oracle, and several other tech giants already have growing engineering centers in the region. Maybe it’s time Apple plants its roots in Seattle. The Amgen property could serve as an enticing location for a large technology or biotechnology company, but its size would intimidate even the biggest players. I’d bet against this one.

Odds: 75-1

F5-Headquarters5. An emerging tech player from Seattle gobbles it up

It’s far more likely that a Seattle-based technology company takes root at the Amgen property than an outsider, perhaps F5 Networks (which is located nearby on Elliott Avenue) or Tableau (which is bursting at the seams in Fremont). Having a self-contained campus in Seattle along the water could be pretty special. However, Tableau is currently expanding in Fremont, opening new offices in the former Sound Mind & Body gym in August. Plus, the Tableau executives love Fremont, the quirky old hippie enclave that claims to be “The Center of the Universe.”

F5 renewed a lease for three corporate buildings along Elliott Avenue in 2010, with the leases running through 2022. The company is adding headcount, but probably not at the pace to warrant a new 750,000 square foot campus. Zulily would have been a top contender for the space had it not just moved in down the street at the former RealNetworks headquarters. Meanwhile, Concur, Expedia and T-Mobile are firmly rooted in Bellevue, and the isolated location of the Amgen property would make it a nightmare commute for any Eastside workers. I don’t suspect they’ll be making the cross-lake voyage, especially Concur which moved into new space in Bellevue last summer and T-Mobile whose future in the region is uncertain given merger talks.

Odds: 30-1

Ok, those are my ideas for the Amgen property. What are yours?

A privately-run tech university? A new arena for the Sonics? Steve Ballmer’s retirement pad? The Fred Hutch west campus?

Let us know in the comments what you’d like to see happen to this spectacular piece of real estate.

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  • Eric Jain

    New headquarters for GeekWire? :-)

    • johnhcook

      Nah, we are sticking in the “Center of the Universe” with Tableau! :)

      • EleanorENewsome

        my roomate’s mother makes $81 every hour on the
        computer . She has been without work for 6 months but last month her income was
        $19151 just working on the computer for a few hours. read review J­a­m­2­0­.­C­O­M­

  • Tai

    I’ve been in that space…it is heavily plumbed/wired for medical research…may not be best used for a tech company to take over that space, not that it’s out of the question.

  • Science Advocate

    What about turning WA Amgen department into a CRO (Contract Research Organization) in the Seattle campus and CMO (Contract Manufacturing Operation) in Bothell campus campus? The capabilities of the people and of the facilities are a tremendous value to our science and innovation ecosystem.

  • Tai

    BTW…that photo shows the proposed expansion that never happened. Those buildings on the left never got built.

    • Chris

      The buildings on the left did exist. They were the old Seattle Filmworks, then HQ. They have since been torn down.

    • William (Bill) Leak

      Tai is correct. I believe Pier 89 remains undeveloped save for an expanse of lawn.
      1240/1250 16th Avenue West (Pier 89) was our distribution facility for Modern Supply Co., which eventually housed Seattle Film Works, our tenant.

  • anonymous

    Alibaba new US site

  • Magnolian

    The new site of the Tesla Gigafactory.

  • Jeff

    Ann Arbor, Michigan had the same issue when Pfizer’s R&D pulled out of the state & took about 5,000 skilled R&D jobs. In that time & place there was not really a large tech option so the state bought one of the buildings & created an incubator for biotech and chemistry startups. The University of Michigan took over some of the nicer buildings & made good use of it, creating another incubator for companies spinning out of the tech transfer office.

  • Justin Hanseth

    WCTA + UW + Vulcan + Element8 = WA Cleantech Innovation Center

  • billyking50

    Setting aside 1% of the campus research space for the arts would be in the Seattle way of doing things. Thats only 7500 sq ft equalling maybe 10 studios but the potential for cross pollination of disciplines makes the idea a smart set aside.

  • William (Bill) Leak

    An interesting development. Amgen began acquiring the multiple properties on the land filled Pier 89 (to the left of the tall cluster of buildings) in the 1990’s … as part of the Helix Campus. One of those buildings (built in 1969-70) housed Modern Supply Co., a distribution with which I was associated from 1974 through 2004. We subsequently moved to combine operations from a merger, to South Center in 1994, and soon after acquired Amgen our property interests. Eventually they demo’d all the buildings. Seattle Film Works became our tenant to the north, as our business evolved, and took over the balance of our space when we moved. Pretty prime real estate. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

  • Paul Courter

    Whatever happens to the buildings, the city or county or state or Port should take over the wedge of green space along the water. In all the years Amgen was there, this served only as a massive fenced-off area to keep us out of the research area. Rarely did I see any Amgen scientists out there cavorting or even eating lunch. It’s a shame that only the bike path fringe has been usable by Seattleites. Imagine all that green space, perhaps with some elevation added, as a sloping front lawn for Seattle. Somebody make a deal now before the opportunity is lost for another 10-20 years! Somebody who has made a few bucks step up now and carve out that park for all Seattle… that’s a better legacy than just another professorship.

  • meathouse

    Seems a little premature and excessive for Tableau, no?

    I’d pull a Queen Mary on it and turn it into a tourist destination filled with campy night clubs, watered down restaurants, and a bowling ally… but all in biotech/medical theme. Come do Erlenmeyer Flask shots at The Rustic Genetic Engineer, and then dance all night long in The Duodenum Room feat. DJ Hydrofluoric Acid, and when you need to refuel head on over to McDNAld’s for a bunsen burner broiled chimera burger.

    Or maybe we finally have a permanent place to put tent city and all those pesky homeless people and meth heads. We’ll just throw them all in there and see what happens like one gigantic social science experiment.

    At a bare minimum a few horror films should be shot there while it’s in limbo.

  • Laurie Almoslino

    Apparently the 30-1 option is the winner, if the rumors are true about Expedia moving from Bellevue.

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