Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Googling Kirkland

Is the greater Seattle area becoming silicone valley north? Kirkland is almost a stone's throw from the Microsoft campus in Redmond.

Curious. Is Microsoft the reason Google is moving in? Will have to watch and see.
The last time 1,000 people worked at one company in Houghton, they were building minesweepers at a shipyard along Lake Washington.

That was more than 60 years ago during World War II, in a town that long ago was swallowed by Kirkland.

So having a business come in with that many workers is kind of a once-in-a-century deal.

The effect may be even more profound this time around because of the business. It's Google.

By early next year, some 195,000 square feet of offices along Sixth Street South, on the site of a former Navy depot and door company, will be occupied by Googleites. They will move into three office buildings in a campuslike setting near downtown Kirkland between Lake Washington and Interstate 405.

The development is expected to have major impacts on both the city and the region.

"There are going to be several hundred well-paid people coming to town," said Andy Loos, development manager for SRM Development, which developed the Google property.

But the implications of Google's expansion go far beyond numbers of workers, said Ellen Miller-Wolf, Kirkland's economic-development manager.

"It's a really big deal," she said. "It's a change in the way of thinking about Kirkland."

Google's move is a transformative step toward the city's own vision of being a community where people can work, live and play all in the same place, she said, and where people walk more and sit in traffic less.

"Most important in the future of a city like Kirkland is driving foot traffic and downtown activity," said Dave Despard, an IBM vice president and member of the Kirkland Downtown Association. "Our biggest push is to attract and retain this level of employers and employees to the downtown."

The city already has taken steps toward that goal in developing high-density housing, she said. The number of multifamily housing units in the central business district jumped from 39 in 1995 to 1,170 in 2007.

Evidence of Kirkland's evolution is visible at restaurants like the Purple Cafe and Cactus, both within easy walking distance of many downtown businesses, including Google and Bungie Studios, where the "Halo" games of Xbox fame were developed. The restaurants fill up with a jeans- and shorts-clad crowd for lunch and dinner.


Peter Wilson, Google site manager in Kirkland, says the decision to grow in Kirkland came in part because the city matches the company's inclination toward low-rise buildings and informal, people-friendly environments.

"Kirkland kind of fits," he said, noting that he lives along Lake Washington Boulevard and commonly walks to work.

On a recent tour of Google's existing Kirkland offices, Wilson points to rooms filled with pool tables, video games, free food and even massage stations.

Jesus H Christ sitting at a computer with a Mountain Dew. I kick myself for not going to work for Google. Safeco insurance (I worked there for 7 years) had an on-staff dietitian and subsidized meals so they were really and I mean really cheap, but not free. And I never saw a pool table or video game there.

Note: Headline links to source.



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