Expedia is moving its headquarters from Bellevue, WA, to the Amgen Helix campus in Seattle, a premier collection of biotech labs and office buildings along Elliott Bay that biotech industry backers had hoped would find a second life hosting another biotech company.
Expedia, the online travel giant and one of Bellevue’s largest tech companies, is paying $228.9 million for the campus, which takes its name from a pedestrian bridge that mimics the double helix shape of DNA and was a symbol of Seattle’s ambition and status in the biotech industry.
Unless Expedia has some undisclosed plans to dramatically diversify into a business requiring wet labs—something along the lines of the 1990 flick “Total Recall,” in which a travel company implants memories of vacations for those who can’t afford the real thing—that dream is over.
The Helix campus was developed by Seattle biotech pioneer Immunex, which purchased the land from the Port of Seattle for $13.5 million in 1998 and began developing what was to be a world-class headquarters and state-of-the-art research and development hub in 2001. Less than a year later, Amgen acquired Immunex for $10 billion. The California biotech giant stayed committed to the Helix campus as a base for R&D. A decade ago, Amgen moved 750 scientists researching inflammation diseases and cancer into the campus, which had cost $625 million to develop to that point.
Last summer, Amgen, the region’s anchor tenant in biotech, decided to pull out of Washington as part of a global staff reduction. It was a body blow, costing some 660 jobs between the Helix campus and a manufacturing site in Bothell, WA.
Biotech backers, of course, wanted to see the Helix campus—with 750,000 square feet of developed space and acres of land available for growth—put to use by another biotech tenant. But today’s news dashes those hopes—however thin they might have been to begin with.
“I look back fondly at the creative efforts of many of my former Immunex colleagues who helped design this beautiful and first rate science facility,” said Stewart Lyman, a biotech consultant and Xconomy contributor who wrote about the path forward in the wake of Amgen’s departure. “Seattle, unfortunately, has no biotechnology companies remaining that could fill up even a decent fraction of the Helix campus space, so it was inevitable that the property would be repurposed for a new use.”
That new use is Seattle’s gain in the form of another tech company headquarters. Expedia, which has been on a growth spurt by way of acquisitions this year, has some 3,000 employees in the region—three-quarters of whom live on the East side of Lake Washington—and will accommodate 1,500 more at the new headquarters, according to reports from a press conference this morning with Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
The company will make the move in 2018, after spending a significant amount to convert the property for its own purposes. In the meantime, it will lease part of the campus back to Amgen as the biotech winds down operations there.
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