The land that is now the massive Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash. has come a long way in the last century.
Back then, it was home to Morelli Chicken Ranch. It would remain a ranch until the 1960s when it was bought for a shopping center project that never materialized. Microsoft scooped it up in the 1980s and built four small office buildings on site.
RELATED: Microsoft plans to knock down and rebuild original Redmond campus, creating room for 8K more workers in historic redevelopment project
Fast forward 30 years, and that campus has grown to 125 buildings totaling 15 million square feet on more than 500 acres of land. Those original buildings, referred to as the “X-Wings” by the company’s President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith, are set to come down, as are eight other buildings. They will make way for 18 new modern buildings with room to house an additional 8,000 workers, as part of the biggest campus redevelopment project in the company’s history.
“We have a new generation of employees, and they’re building the tools and services that are redefining the future workspace for our customers, not just here in Washington State, but around the world,” Smith said at the company’s annual meeting of shareholders Wednesday, where he recounted the history of the campus. “So it’s only fitting — in fact, it’s essential — that this new generation of employees have this new generation of work space where they too can do their best work.”
Smith presented the campus to shareholders the morning after announcing the sweeping development project publicly. The new buildings total 2.5 million feet and will open in five to seven years, around the time that Sound Transit plans to complete the extension of light rail from downtown Seattle to Redmond.
The emphasis is on pedestrians, so parking will be moved underground to make sure there is still room for big open spaces and walking areas even as Microsoft puts down bigger, denser structures on the land. Soccer and cricket fields will dot the new campus, and a central outdoor plaza will provide room for 8,000 to 12,000 people to gather for big meetings or musical performances.
“Clearly, this is no longer a chicken farm,” Smith said.
In addition to developing the new buildings and creating additional green space, Microsoft says it is continuing a years-long plan to update 6.7 million square feet of its current facilities.
Smith said light rail will be a crucial asset for Microsoft. It means commutes from downtown Bellevue to Redmond will drop to 10 minutes, and workers can get from downtown Seattle to a station on campus in half an hour. Microsoft plans to build a pedestrian bridge across state Route 520 that connects the transit station to the west side of campus. The company says it has a $33.3 million funding agreement in place with Sound Transit for the construction of the light rail station and the new pedestrian bridge.
The move cements Microsoft’s commitment to the Seattle region at a time when its fellow tech giant, Amazon, is searching for another city to locate a second North American headquarters. Microsoft sees its campus, tucked in a strong suburban environment, bordered by thriving cities and abundant outdoor activities as an asset that can’t be matched, even as tech giants like Amazon, Apple and Facebook have developed their own iconic headquarters campuses.
“I think one would be hard-pressed to find any company anywhere in the world that can look to an asset that can match this,” Smith said of the Redmond campus. “We think it’s one of the crown jewels for Microsoft; we think it’s one of the crown jewels for Puget Sound. And with this kind of investment and this kind of work, we are excited about bringing this into the future and contributing even more both here at home and around the world.”