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REI to sell its never-used Bellevue headquarters and shift office work to multiple Seattle-area sites

Paul Roberts, The Seattle Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

SEATTLE -- In yet another sign of COVID-19's disruptive impact on business, REI is abandoning its nearly completed corporate campus in Bellevue, Wash., and spreading headquarters operations to multiple sites across the Seattle area.

The outdoor retailer said it is in talks with "multiple interested parties" to sell the never-used 400,000-square-foot building and 8-acre campus. People familiar with the situation say one of those parties is Facebook, which has facilities in the same upscale multiuse development, known as the Spring District, where the REI headquarters is being built.

REI's move, announced Wednesday morning, is one more striking example of how the pandemic is forcing companies to reassess where their employees work and how much real estate they need.

"The dramatic events of 2020 have challenged us to reexamine and rethink every aspect of our business and many of the assumptions of the past," Eric Artz, president and CEO, told employees in a Wednesday morning video call.

REI's 1,200 headquarters employees have been working remotely since March 2 as the company has navigated the onset of the pandemic, the March 16 closure of its more than 160 retail sites, and a dramatic decline in revenue.

When the company returns to offices -- the date is unknown -- it expects to operate in several sites, including an existing one in Georgetown, as well as new satellite campuses that REI is scouting for on the Eastside and in south Puget Sound.

 

The decision to walk away from the Spring District campus, which the company had expected to move into this summer, marks a major strategic shift for the outdoor retailer.

When REI announced plans in 2016 for the new headquarters campus, the project was billed as a way to consolidate operations that are spread across four Seattle-area sites.

But the pandemic has pushed REI to rethink both where its employees work and how much capital it can afford to sink into a single asset, said Ben Steele, REI's chief customer officer, who has led the headquarters design.

Steele said the success of REI's work-from-home model during the pandemic demonstrated that the company could operate effectively without a central location. "We've seen and we've heard from our employees that they see a lot of benefits of working remotely," Steele said.

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