Google boom: Kirkland campus to double

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SEATTLE — The Seattle area is feeling lucky.

Google announced Tuesday that it's doubling the size of its campus in Kirkland, creating room to hire 1,000 more employees.

The project comes amid a remarkable surge of investment by tech companies in the Seattle market, including Amazon.com's enormous (and growing) Seattle campus, Microsoft's efforts to fill thousands of new positions, and a steady stream of tech giants following Google's footsteps to establish satellite engineering offices in the area.

Google's two new buildings are expected to open in 2015 on what's now a vacant lot below the three-building campus that it moved in to less than four years ago. Design work has just started, but the tentative plan is for a dramatic skybridge over a rail corridor through the site, joining the old and new buildings.

"We think that the opportunity here is really huge," said Chee Chew, a former Microsoft engineer who joined Google in 2007 and became director of its Kirkland site last year.

Public officials lauded the move in a media event at the campus Tuesday evening.

"It is something to celebrate - for all Washingtonians to celebrate," Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Google opened a small office in Kirkland in 2004 and rapidly grew into larger and larger spaces. Many of its recruits came from Microsoft and Amazon.com, but the site also drew employees from other companies and schools around the country and world.

Chew said Google has had double-digit job growth since it started hiring engineers in Kirkland. It's the third-largest engineering center — behind a 3,200-employee New York office — for the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant, which is approaching 40,000 employees overall.

Among products built in Kirkland are Google Voice, Google Talk and key portions of the Chrome browser and operating system.

The Kirkland team also built the Hangouts videoconferencing service on the Google+ social network and recently took ownership of the cloud-computing platform that Google is offering as a service to other companies, in competition with Amazon's Web services business and Microsoft's Azure platform.

Such high-profile projects, combined with the region's quality of life and Google's reputation as a good place to work, provide a steady flow of applicants to fill the campus.

"I get pinged every day for jobs at Google — every other week I'm referring somebody or connecting them to the right people," said Amit Fulay, a Microsoft veteran who left to join a startup that Google acquired in 2010, bringing him into the fold.

As head count at the Kirkland offices has grown, Google has been expanding its engineering and sales office in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, which opened in 2006. Combined, the Seattle and Kirkland sites employ more than 1,000 people. About 60 percent are based in Kirkland.

The Kirkland campus tends to have older, more family-oriented employees while Fremont attracts more young employees and recent graduates, said Anna Cavendar, a 34-year-old software engineer in Kirkland, who builds features to make Hangouts more usable for hearing- and sight-impaired people.

Chew said the current three buildings on the Kirkland campus, at 747 Sixth St., will accommodate 1,000 employees when they fill up in the next few years. The plan is to have the new buildings — with 180,000 square feet of space — available in time to handle the growth Google expects to see in the area.

The project is in "pre-permit review" by the city of Kirkland, which is about to convert the rail corridor through the site into a trail. City Manager Kurt Triplett said the skybridge concept is fine as long as the structures are high enough to allow any future transit service on the corridor. Public access through the site will be maintained.

"We are over the moon" about Google's plans to expand in the city, Triplett said.

Dave Tomson, development manager at SRM, the site's owner and developer, said the two buildings will be joined by a covered atrium, giving them the look of a single structure. The buildings will have two stories with two floors of underground parking. Construction may begin in January.

Tomson said it's too soon to say how much the project will cost, but the investment will be more than the $47 million assessed value of the current, three-building campus.

The expansion isn't a complete surprise. Chew said in an interview last year that Google needed to find more space to grow. A previous Kirkland site director told The Seattle Times in 2007 that he expected the company would employ several thousand people here within a few years.

Broadly, the plan is to give Google room to "innovate and create" without worrying about any limitations, Chew said.

Existing teams will be able to continue expanding, and there will be room for new projects that could become huge, he explained.

The new Kirkland buildings will be Googley in other ways - with amenities that will likely make employees at most other companies drool. Employees are putting together a wish list, but it will be hard to raise the bar in Kirkland, where they already have a climbing wall, two kitchens, music jam rooms, espresso bars and motorboats "docked" indoors, serving as informal meeting rooms and work spaces.

"I think what it will be is something that's really fun and organic and the people feel really vested in," Chew said, adding that "we're in the 'no ideas are too stupid' phase."