Seattle's South Lake Union district will be the new home of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters, shown here, in the heart of the district. The facility will further anchor the life sciences industry in the region when it opens in 2010.
ust in case a metro elsewhere in the country has designs on being the premier biotech center in the U.S., Seattle is bringing out the big guns to show it's just as serious about claiming the title. Already home to a thriving medical, biotech and life sciences industry, Microsoft money is pouring into Seattle in ways that will significantly advance its cause. Two recent developments in particular are behind the momentum.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced in January 2005 that it would locate its new headquarters on a 12.3- acre (5- hectare) site adjacent to Seattle Center, the city's main events venue. And a key region of the city, known as South Lake Union, is being redeveloped by Vulcan, which is a Paul Allen company.
The Gates Foundation project will extend significantly the foundation's $1- billion- plus investment in the metro area through its four program areas: global health, education, public libraries and local giving. The project will likely be on the order of 600,000 sq. ft. (59,400 sq. m.) in size.
"Our staff is excited about the possibility that the foundation's long- term home will be located in the center of our hometown," said Patty Stonesifer, foundation president and co- chair at the announcement. "We've selected a headquarters site that will deepen our roots in the Seattle community while meeting our future program needs in the Pacific Northwest and around the world."
District Makeover Is Under Way
Just as importantly, the foundation will attract entrepreneurs, scientists, health- science companies and a range of related enterprises to the area, which already is home to a significant life science community. The University of Washington is awarded approximately $1 billion annually in external research funds. It's second only to Harvard in National Institutes of Health research funding and second only to Johns Hopkins in federal research funding, according to enterpriseSeattle. Fifteen research organizations and three research hospitals are based in Seattle. The city also is home to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute. And about a dozen venture capital firms that fund bioscience companies are located in the area.
Much of the new investment in Seattle's life science cluster is landing in South Lake Union, a district in between Lake Union to the north and the central business district to the south. Paul Allen's Vulcan organization is behind much of the redevelopment under way in the neighborhood, or set of five neighborhoods more accurately. South Lake Union will blend business, residential, retail and hospitality components in what is fast becoming Seattle's hip zone.
At South Lake Union, the Gates Foundation headquarters will join the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, University of Washington Medical School facilities, life science startups and existing residents and businesses, in addition to new hotels, entertainment and shopping destinations.
"What's taking shape in South Lake Union will be a real catalyst for this area, and the synergies associated with the Gates Foundation will be huge," says Stephen Rothrock, senior vice president at Colliers International's Advanced Technology Real Estate Group, in Seattle. "There is the possibility that Washington – with what Gates is doing on the health front – might become a center for world health. There is quite a conglomeration of assets here that could make that happen."