REI still plans to leave its headquarters in Kent but the specialty outdoor retailer won’t be going to Bellevue.
REI announced Wednesday that it is pursuing a sale of its newly completed corporate campus in the Spring District neighborhood of Bellevue with the intention of shifting to a less centralized approach to its headquarters presence in the Seattle area.
Rather than a single location, REI’s “headquarters” would span multiple locations across the region, and the company will lean into remote working as an engrained, supported and normalized model for headquarters employees, offering flexibility for more employees to live and work outside of the Puget Sound region and shrinking the co-op’s carbon footprint, according to a story on the company’s website.
“The dramatic events of 2020 have challenged us to reexamine and rethink every aspect of our business and many of the assumptions of the past,” said REI President and CEO Eric Artz, in a video call with employees Wednesday. “That includes where and how we work. As a result, our new experience of ‘headquarters’ will be very different than the one we imagined more than four years ago.”
A company spokesperson confirmed by email Thursday that REI will leave its Kent headquarters, 6750 S. 228th St.
“We will not be keeping the Kent campus,” said the spokesperson. “We have a purchase and sale agreement with Bridge Development Partners for our Kent headquarters, but do not have any additional details to share.”
Chicago-based Bridge Development Partners is a privately owned firm that focuses on the acquisition and development of Class A industrial real estate in the supply constrained core industrial markets of Chicago, South Florida, Northern New Jersey, Southern California, the Bay Area and Seattle.
The company has been active over the last year or so in the Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest with the acquisitions and developments, including Bridge Point Kent 100 in Kent, Bridge Point Lacey in Seattle, Bridge Point Sumner 60 in Sumner and Bridge Point I-5 in Portland.
Bridge Point Kent 100 is the latest in a series of acquisitions and developments for Bridge in the Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest. Within the last eight months, Bridge also has announced plans for Bridge Point Lacey in Seattle, Bridge Point Sumner 60 in Sumner and Bridge Point I-5 in Portland.
Late last year, Bridge Point announced the acquisition of an 11.45-acre property at 701 15th ST. SW in Auburn, where it plans to launch the development of a single, 206,155-square foot flexible industrial building called Bridge Point Auburn 200.
REI transitions to remote work
In response to a rapidly changing COVID-19 pandemic, the co-op swiftly transitioned to nearly 100 percent remote work for its headquarters staff in early March. REI originally announced plans for the new headquarters in 2016, to be built on an 8-acre site in a developing, transit-oriented neighborhood called the Spring District. Construction began in 2018 for an intended mid-summer 2020 move-in date.
“[This year] we learned that the more distributed way of working we previously thought untenable will instead unlock incredible potential,” Artz said. “This will have immediate, positive impacts on our ability to attract and retain a diverse and highly skilled workforce, as we continue to navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”
While the decision to move away from a traditional headquarters model was motivated by recent learnings and a desire to create more flexibility for employees, the sale would also have financial benefits for the co-op, according to the company.
The co-op was among the first retailers to proactively close all its retail stores in early March and one of the last to fully reopen, under stringent health and safety guidelines. The co-op undertook a number of cash preservation measures throughout the spring, including tighter inventory management, elective pay cuts by Artz and the board of directors, reductions in headcount and focusing around a streamlined set of priorities. These measures both stabilized the co-op, and allowed REI to invest in customer and staff-facing programs and innovations, as the co-op community adapted to a “new normal.”
The sale of the Spring District campus would enable important investments in customer innovations, REI’s network of nonprofit partners, and the co-op’s carbon goals, according to the company.
“I am confident that the sale of the Spring District campus would have a positive impact on REI’s future—and yours,” Artz told employees. “This year has shown us our home is not a building. Our home is wherever we find ourselves doing our best work, pursuing our outdoor passions, serving our communities. Serving each other. That is what we will build around as we move forward—and as we accelerate into what’s next.”
In July, Kent-based REI said it reduced staff at its retail stores across the nation by about 400 employees. Nearly all 162 stores in 39 states operated by the outdoor retailer reopened as of July 6, according to a company spokesperson. Those stores closed in March because of COVID-19 and 90% of the employees were placed on unpaid furlough but if eligible, received fully funded benefits.
REI employs about 13,000 at its retail stores.
In April, the company laid off about 300 employees at its Kent headquarters because of the economic impact of COVID-19. The company employs about 1,000 in Kent, although most of them have been working from home during the outbreak.
The company announced the move to Bellevue in 2016 because it had outgrown its space in Kent and wanted to build a campus in Bellevue that will serve as a gathering place that fosters creativity and connects thousands of increasingly mobile employees.
REI opened its headquarters in Kent in 1988. The company was founded in 1938 in Seattle.