Two gigantic deals electrified Seattle's commercial real-estate scene in 2012.
One company was behind both of them: Amazon.com.
The transactions solidified the fast-growing online retailer's status as the colossus of Seattle real estate. No company has ever dominated or driven the market so completely, insiders say.
"Amazon is the undisputed heavyweight champion of downtown Seattle," says Kip Spencer, president of The Spencer Companies, a Seattle real-estate consulting firm.
In January, Amazon agreed to buy three Denny Triangle blocks from Seattle's Clise family -- then unveiled plans for a 3.3 million-square-foot high-rise office complex, downtown's biggest development ever.
Less than nine months later the company dropped another bombshell, announcing it was buying its leased, 1.8 million-square-foot South Lake Union headquarters campus from developer Vulcan Real Estate for $1.16 billion.
Those two deals, big as they were, only scratch the surface of Amazon's influence on Seattle real estate.
"In the 25 or 30 years I've been around downtown Seattle, I've never seen anything remotely like what Amazon has done to the market," says Dale Sperling, former president and CEO of Seattle's Unico Properties.
Amazon's breathtaking growth -- it has moved into about 2.7 million square feet in South Lake Union and the Denny Triangle since spring 2010 -- has spearheaded the downtown office market's recovery from record-high vacancy rates brought on by the recession and Washington Mutual's demise.
Richard Briscoe, a senior vice president at brokerage Kidder Mathews, calculates Amazon is responsible for about half the additional office space occupied citywide over the past three years.
The company's contrarian decision to locate downtown could spur more tech and Internet companies to move in from the suburbs, Downtown Seattle Association President Kate Joncas says.
Amazon's influence also extends beyond the office sector. Owners and developers of apartment buildings, condo towers, hotels and retail space are cashing in on the company's growth as well.
Holland Partners, for instance, is building nearly 1,200 apartments in five complexes on downtown's northern fringes.
Tom Parsons, the Holland executive in charge of the projects, likes to tell people they're all within walking distance of the Bravehorse Tavern, the watering hole in the heart of Amazon's South Lake Union campus.
Smaller big deals
Amazon also pulled off some smaller -- but still significant -- real-estate deals in 2012.
It agreed to lease all 110,000 square feet in Spear Street Capital's 202 Westlake, a South Lake Union office building scheduled for completion next year.
And it committed to take an additional 380,000 square feet in yet another South Lake Union complex that Vulcan plans to start building next month.
Amazon may not be finished. Brokers say the company is talking to Denny Triangle landlords about leasing still more space. Talon Private Capital's half-empty 1800 Ninth Avenue is considered the most likely candidate.
Amazon also has options to buy another 1 1/2 Denny Triangle blocks from Clise, and there are indications it will exercise them.
"I think Amazon is just getting wound up," says Spencer, the consultant. By the end of the decade, he says, the company could occupy 8 million square feet of office space -- the equivalent of more than five 76-story Columbia Centers.
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