Microsoft reimagines its corporate home

Thursday, January 27, 2005

By TODD BISHOP
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

Microsoft Corp.’s plan to redevelop its Redmond campus, more than merely adding new buildings, would significantly reshape major portions of the software giant’s sprawling corporate home.

Internal company documents describe an extensive series of potential changes – including plans to redesign key campus entrances, replace surface lots with parking structures, establish a centralized campus traffic circle, and create new internal roadways to cross and connect different parts of the campus.

The documents identify the structures slated for eventual demolition. And they address some potentially controversial aspects of the development plan, such as the company’s proposal to ultimately put new buildings on the existing sports fields at the center of the main campus.

The latest details come after parts of the plan were disclosed by Microsoft in a filing with the city of Redmond earlier this month. Those plans included a tentative proposal for an additional overpass across state Route 520, creating a new link between the eastern and western sides of the campus.

Think of it as Microsoft’s extreme campus makeover – albeit in slow motion. The entire campus redevelopment would take place over the next one to two decades, ultimately adding enough space for 10,000 to 12,000 new employees.

The internal documents provide more but not all of the picture. Microsoft is scheduled to provide additional details about its long-term development plans during a public open house in Redmond tonight. Computer renderings to be shown at the event will depict Microsoft’s vision for the campus under the plan, including the potential location of new buildings.

Company spokeswoman Tami Begasse cautioned yesterday that Microsoft’s plans are still conceptual and require, among other things, approval from the Redmond City Council. The pace at which development progresses over the next two decades also would depend on Microsoft’s employment growth.

The internal documents, made available recently to Microsoft employees on the company’s corporate intranet, were obtained by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this week.

In one of the documents, company planners explain that a fundamental aim of the redevelopment plan is to make the Redmond campus feel more like an interconnected university, with new buildings clustered around college-style quads.

The idea is to create „an efficient, approachable, unified and easy-to-navigate campus,“ the planners wrote in a passage describing the principles behind the plan.

Apart from explaining the development vision in more detail than the company has yet given publicly, the documents seek to address potential employee concerns over the impact of the plan. One of the documents, for example, addresses the fate of the ball fields at the center of the campus.

Although Microsoft plans to eventually develop buildings on the fields, the document explains that they would be effectively replaced by a new, multifield sports complex on the other side of state Route 520, northwest of the former Spacelabs Medical complex, which Microsoft owns. The document adds that Microsoft is „years away“ from building on the fields.

It remains to be seen whether the promise of replacement fields on the other side campus will be enough to placate employees, some of whom already have voiced concern over Microsoft’s efforts to cut expenses by trimming benefits. The existing fields – cited in the current Wired magazine as one of the biggest perks of working at Microsoft – are a popular, central place for employees to play soccer, softball and other sports.

One possible advantage of the new location would be the proximity of the replacement fields to the Pro Sports Club, a gym where the company pays for employee memberships.

In another portion of the internal documents, as part of a list of frequently asked questions, the company addresses another potentially controversial issue – the question of how it can justify such an ambitious expansion plan even as it trims employee benefits and perks to cut costs.

The document explains, in part, that the plan „is a blueprint for where and how the company will grow in Redmond over the long term,“ as employment growth requires the new space to be created. It also notes that Microsoft will look for ways to build the facilities at less cost.

The company hasn’t said how much the redevelopment would cost, beyond the $30 million it plans to spend on various traffic and infrastructure improvements to accompany the overall development.

Microsoft plans to construct new buildings totaling 2.8 million square feet and demolish existing buildings totaling about 600,000 square feet. That would result in a net addition of about 2.2 million square feet to the campus, which currently stands at about 8 million square feet.

In addition, in the internal documents, the company tells employees that it plans to remodel the current Eddie Bauer headquarters building, acquired by Microsoft last year, adding another 200,000 square feet to its space west of state Route 520.

When it submitted its redevelopment proposal to the city earlier this month, Microsoft said the plan showed its commitment to the Seattle region as its long-term home. The plan would also give the company and the city a degree of predictability, establishing the terms for the redevelopment well in advance.

Other details gleaned from the information given to employees:

  • The company’s plan calls for demolition of five existing Microsoft buildings on the main portion of campus, east of Route 520, and seven buildings on the west side of the highway. In addition, the company said it plans to demolish buildings on several properties it acquired recently on the western portion of campus.

  • Improvements would be made on Northeast 40th Street, at both 150th and 159th Avenues Northeast, to create „primary entrances“ for the west and east sides of the campus, on both sides of the highway. Additional campus access would still come from peripheral streets, the company says.

  • A new, „curving boulevard“ would be created within the eastern portion of the campus to connect Northeast 31st Street to a central campus traffic circle that would be positioned at the end of the improved entrance from Northeast 40th Street. Another new roadway would be created within the western portion of the campus, connecting Northeast 40th Street to Northeast 36th Street, anticipating the possibility of a 520 overpass in that vicinity.

    IF YOU GO

    Microsoft will show its long-term development plans for its Redmond campus during an open house from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. today in Microsoft Building 122, at 15120 N.E. 40th St. in Redmond. The building is part of the former Spacelabs Medical complex.


    P-I reporter Todd Bishop can be reached at 206-448-8221 or toddbishop@seattlepi.com

    © 1998-2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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