Moving in after Amazon backed out: Inside Rainier Square, Seattle’s new office and residential tower
Two and half years after Amazon backed out of plans to occupy a giant new skyscraper in downtown Seattle, commercial and residential tenants are moving into Rainier Square, a swooping glass tower that has assumed a prominent place in the city’s skyline.
The 58-story, 850-foot-tall building occupies a central business district block along Union Street between 4th and 5th Avenues. It features 38 stories, or 734,000 square feet, of office space, all now being offered for sublease by Amazon, and 20 stories of residential units above that, with 189 of the highest apartments in Seattle.
The building — second in height only to Columbia Tower six blocks to the south — aims to push through the uncertainty over whether workers will return to downtown office buildings after pandemic-induced remote work. Concerns over crime and an unhoused population on the streets below are traded for the hope that Seattle’s rebound can be realized in this so-called “vertical neighborhood.”
In a recent tour of The Residences at Rainier Square, GeekWire took in the unobstructed views high above the rest of Seattle, looking out to Puget Sound, Mount Rainier and beyond from a variety of apartments ranging in price from $3,000 a month for an entry-level, 720-square-foot one bedroom, to $25,000 a month for one of four sprawling, 3,000-square-foot penthouses.
Are people ready to live in this place, at this time?
“We think so,” said Holly Gardner, president of The Schuster Group, which is serving as owner’s representative for Wright Runstad & Company’s residential development team. “I think despite all of our challenges, Seattle has a proven history of rebounding through these challenges. We’re a big believer that we will again.”
So far, for a unique class of house-hunter in the city, it’s working.
Rainier Square opened the doors to The Residences in late June and they’re over 40% leased and 30% occupied. Two of the four penthouses on the 58th floor are spoken for. The building is unique in Seattle in that it’s offering apartment leases up to 20 years in length, which has attracted buyers from cities such as New York and Chicago and elsewhere where that is the norm.
“Our homes start where every other home in Seattle ends,” Gardner said. “There are no residential towers taller than 40 stories.”
Gardner also credits a proximity to heart-of-downtown attractions such as civic, arts and recreational activities. But the building itself provides plenty of reason to not stray far, with free amenities on the upper floors such as business and entertainment spaces, including private focus rooms, a conference room, a maker space, workout room, library, full-swing golf simulator, indoor grilling hangout and more.
At the base of the tower, a PCC Community Market is going in along with more retail.
“You never really have to leave, it really is a vertical neighborhood,” Gardner said, adding that that lifestyle appeals to a mix of retirees, senior-level executives and business owners who have selected the bigger, higher-priced units, while tech workers from the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and elsewhere have been snatching lower-priced apartments.
The 40th floor Sky Lobby is 550 feet above the street and features walls of glass from the floor to the 20-foot ceilings. On the 59th floor, above the penthouses, there are no windows and things have gone to the dogs, with a play area for pets, private grooming stations, and a patch of sod that’s changed out every couple of weeks so dogs can sniff and use real grass high in the sky.
Amazon’s change of heart
Six blocks from Amazon’s main headquarters towers, the tech giant is ever present on the streets around Rainier Square. Prime delivery vans run their routes and an Amazon Go convenience store is set to open just up the block on 4th Avenue. What’s missing is thousands of the tech giant’s employees who would have filled the commercial space in the skyscraper.
Some of those corporate and tech employees might end up working in downtown Bellevue, which you can see to the east from the upper floors of Rainier Square.
Why Amazon would want to bail on a new building, in a city where it already employs more than 50,000 people, extends back a few years to the animosity spurred by its own growth. The company’s decisions to pull out of Rainier Square and instead put 25,000 employees in Bellevue came in the wake of disputes with the Seattle City Council over the company’s impact on the community and a city effort to impose new taxes on big businesses.
Amazon now employs more than 4,000 people in Bellevue as the company leases more space and reveals more skyscraper plans for that city, which some have called the real “HQ2.” Amazon is also adding space and employees in Redmond, Wash., where it employs more than 500 in support of Amazon Web Services and its broadband satellite project, Project Kuiper.
Amazon says roughly 30% of the available office space at Rainier Square has been subleased. Seattle commercial real estate agency JLL says on its website that 526,000 square feet are still available. That figure accounts for approximately 28% of the overall available Class A sublease space in the city’s central business district.
So far, Amazon — and Rainier Square — have attracted subtenants that include Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, RBC Wealth Management, and the law firm Schroeter Goldmark Bender, according to an April report by Puget Sound Business Journal. Bank of America is the largest of those subtenants at 116,000 square feet.
Amazon says it continues to engage with potential subtenants.
The company wouldn’t comment on whether there was any scenario where it might want to put its own employees in the building. And, now that Rainier Square is built and drawing attention as a luxury residential and office property, Amazon declined to say whether it had any regrets about ever backing out.
“It is a beautiful statement tower,” said Schuster Group’s Gardner. “They can always change their mind, I suppose.”