By Jack Stubbs
Alaska Airlines, the fifth largest airline in the country, recently unveiled its plans to expand its already sizable footprint in the city just south of Seattle—at a time when many companies are looking to expand nationally, the importance of Alaska’s decision to expand its headquarters more locally spoke volumes.
“We are so proud that Alaska decided to expand here in our city. We’re at a time and a place where there are a lot of choices. Amazon is looking for a new headquarters and scouring the country; Alaska could have done the same thing and relocated anywhere, [but] they decided to stay here and expand here. The beautiful buildings that will follow will be a great addition to our community,” said Michael Siefkes, mayor of the city of SeaTac at a groundbreaking held this morning.
On Thursday, May 3rd, a groundbreaking ceremony—which was attended by various city, county and state dignitaries, including governor Jay Inslee, Congressman Adam Smith, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden, as well as Alaska employees and members from the surrounding community—was held to commemorate Alaska Airlines’ most recent expansion of their presence in Seattle.
The event was for the company’s newest structure, referred to as the “Hub,” a 6-story office building comprising 128,000 square feet that will include a 3.5-story garage containing 530 parking stalls. The project, located at 19225 International Boulevard in the city of SeaTac and set on 6.8 acres, occupies the site of the former Sandstone Inn.
The groundbreaking marks the latest chapter for a project that has been in the works for some time. While Alaska Airlines acquired the project site only this January—the company purchased the property for $32 million from a private entity affiliated with Gordon C.Y. Tang based in Bellevue— the design on the new facility began in June 2017. Construction is expected to be complete in December 2019, with move-in slated for first quarter 2020.
The team for the project also includes Seneca Group (development manager); NBBJ (architect); Howard S. Wright (general contractor); KPFF Consulting Engineers (civil engineer); Magnusson Klemencic Associates (structural engineer); PAE, McKinstry and Holmes (mechanical, engineering and plumbing); Berger Partnership (landscape architect); and Kinzer Partners (site acquisition).
In the longer-term, the hope for the new “Hub” building is that it will allow the airline to continue expanding its local and regional presence in the Puget Sound, according to Andy Schneider, vice president of people at Alaska. “We are confident that this new property will help us grow into an even stronger company…we plan to construct an office building that will gather several hundred employees that are scattered across SeaTac together to better serve our frontline employees,” she said.
The hope is that the building—which will feature open workspaces design to encourage productivity and collaboration between employees—will serve as a bridge between the company’s existing buildings located in the vicinity. The new building will link two of Alaska’s existing facilities—the corporate headquarters, which is located at 19300 International Boulevard, and the Flight Training Center, which is on the west side of 28th Avenue South. The new building will reflect a “campus-like environment with an active pedestrian feel,” according to the project plans, and will also include space for support functions, serve as a recruiting center and house the airline’s integrated operations center.
The new facility is the first phase of a longer-term development project called Copper River that could include up to four 6-story buildings totaling 490,000 square feet. The timing and planning process for the three subsequent phases of the expansion project—still in the conceptual stages—will unfold over the next few years as the company evaluates its growth and economic conditions.
Over the years, Alaska Airlines has become somewhat synonymous with the State of Washington—and the groundbreaking of the “Hub” fittingly represents the company’s commitment to the wider region, according to Washington Governor Jay Inslee. “One of the best things about Washington is Alaska; and one of the best things about Alaska is that it will always be a Washington airline,” Inslee said.“CNBC a few months ago said that Washington State is the best place to do business in the U.S. I want to thank [the company] for that vote of confidence. This building will be another example of Alaska’s forward thinking, with energy-efficient buildings to power airplanes with low CO2 emissions.”
Along with the strides being made towards sustainability and energy efficiency, one of the largest contributions being made by the airline is its commitment to creating jobs in the region, according to Congressman Adam Smith, representative of the 9th District of Washington. “I want to thank Alaska for their leadership in this community and for the people who they put to work at family-wage jobs in South King County. Alaska is the largest employer contributing to that; and what we’re building here today is only going to add onto that and give us more good jobs,” he said.
And while the new facility represents a landmark moment for the airline itself, it is equally symbolic, if not more so, for the implications in the wider community, according to Smith. “I’m very happy if Alaska succeeds and if their stock goes up, but the thing I’m most happy about is if this facility results in more people in South King County having a good job to go to that will pay them enough to raise their family.”
The airline has maintained its investment in the region for a significant period of time—having been headquartered in SeaTac for over seven decades—but in the shorter-term, also, the company is making strides for the wider community, according to Dow Constantine, King County executive. “Alaska employs 6,000 people [in the region]; but even since these remarks were written, the company has hired 2,000 more people in our region,” he said. Dow was also quick to reiterate the impact that the airline has had in the region over the last several years from an economic perspective—especially since the crash of 2008. “Alaska’s decision to grow isn’t just about Alaska or about air travel; it is about our region and our people. From the depths of the Great Recession, our corner of the country has rebounded like no other. In the last six years, King County’s population has grown at twice the historical pace,” he said. Dow estimates that in 2012, there was $2 billion worth of construction activity occurring throughout the region. Five years later, that figure sits at $10 billion, helped in part by the contribution of Alaska.
Founded in 1932 in Anchorage, Alaska, the airline currently employs 23,000 workers nationally—up from the figure of 13,000 in 2013—and is the fifth largest U.S. air carrier behind Delta, United, Southwest and American.
The airline has made significant strides in recent years in spite of a changing industry, according to Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden—and the new building reflects a continued commitment to the Pacific Northwest. “A lot of the board members have been around and watched this industry with turmoils, bankruptcies and changes…but this building says a lot about what Alaska Airlines has gone through,” he said. Over the last 20 years, Alaska has grown at an average annual rate of 8 percent, while each year the broader industry has grown 1 percent. “We are Seattle, and we love Seattle and are literally planting a stake in the ground saying that Seattle is our future,” he said.
The hope is that the “Hub”—as its title suggests—will both connect Alaska’s operations in the region and serve as an example in the wider aviation industry. “If you look at this industry, when airlines have failed, it’s typically because they haven’t been aligned and working together. Alaska has great alignment, and we are all working together to make this travel experience as good as can be.”