Amazon confirmed Wednesday it will not occupy the 722,000 square feet it had leased in the Rainier Square tower under construction at Fifth Avenue and Union Street. The lease was one of the biggest in Seattle history — enough space to hold at least 3,500 employees and perhaps up to 5,000.
While the Seattle City Council ultimately reversed itself on the so-called head tax, Amazon confirmed Wednesday it will not occupy the 722,000 square feet of space it had leased in the Rainier Square tower under construction at Fifth Avenue and Union Street. The company did resume construction on another high-rise it had paused as part of last May’s threat.
“We are always evaluating our space requirements and intend to sublease Rainier Square based on current plans,” Amazon said in a statement, adding that the company has more than 9,000 open jobs and 2 million square feet of new space under construction in Seattle, and that “it will continue to evaluate future growth.”
The Amazon executives doing those evaluations exit February with much more to consider than when they entered the month. Meanwhile, the company’s growth in Seattle and relationship with the city will likely figure prominently in the upcoming City Council election season.
When Mayor Jenny Durkan and a council majority sought to compromise with business leaders in May by passing a smaller version of the tax, Amazon announced it would move ahead with Block 18, one of several new buildings going up in the Denny Triangle. But the company never recommitted to the Rainier Square space, even after an effort to nix the measure through a referendum, backed by Amazon and other local businesses, pressured the council into repealing the tax less than a month later.
The annual tax of $275 per employee on companies grossing at least $20 million per year would have raised about $47 million in 2019 for low-income housing and homeless services. Kshama Sawant, one of two council members who opposed the repeal, described Amazon’s Rainier Square announcement Wednesday as a “told you so” moment.
“This is a good reminder for us that backing down to the bullying of corporations never stops their bullying,” said Sawant, praising activists in New York City who protested tax breaks for Amazon, causing the company to pull out from its campus plans there. (Two Seattle council members, Teresa Mosqueda and Lisa Herbold, spoke at a New York eventorganized by Amazon opponents in January.)
“As the next step, people in Seattle should gather courage and renew our fight to tax big business for social housing,” Sawant said.
Sawant’s colleagues showed little appetite to revisit the matter last fall as they and Durkan drew up a new budget. But the council that reversed itself last June will soon look very different.