Blue Origin reached a development agreement with the city of Kent that the aerospace company will pay for a stormwater facility as part of its large expansion in exchange for the city covering the costs of raising 76th Avenue South out of the floodplain.
Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, expects to complete by the end of the year a new 236,000-square-foot headquarters, research and development facility along 76th Avenue South between South 212th Street and South 228th Street. The company aims to one day carry passengers far into space.
The city will allow Blue Origin to forgo permanent half-street improvements in return for a dedicated stormwater storage facility.
“It seems like a very good outcome,” Councilmember Dennis Higgins said prior to the City Council’s unanimous vote to approve the agreement on July 2. “We do not have to buy property for a retention pond, which would be a sizable retention pond for a project this large and then Blue Origin doesn’t have to pay for the road raising. I think that was a good negotiation.”
Teams from the city and Blue Origin worked out the agreement. City code would have required the company to construct half-street improvements on the western side of the road as a condition of development on the west side of the street. That street improvement would have included the requirement to raise the road about 3 feet so that it no longer floods from Mill Creek. But the city does not have the funds at this time to raise the eastern half of the road.
“Since there is no way of raising the western one-half of the roadway without also raising the eastern one-half of the roadway, the city and Blue Origin have negotiated a creative resolution that will benefit both parties,” according to city documents.
Chad Bieren, city Public Works deputy director, said the cost of the city to buy industrial property for a stormwater facility would exceed the cost for the improvements to 76th Avenue South, a stretch of about one-fifth of a mile to raise the road. The city will use the stormwater pond for storage as part of the road project.
“It’s a win-win,” Bieren said.
It would cost about $2.1 million to raise just one-half of the road, Bieren said during a phone interview. The city has the raising of 76th Avenue South as part of its six-year Transportation Improvement Plan, but construction is still a couple of years away.
The city has done dozens of development agreements over the years.
“They are not that unusual,” Bieren said. “We’ve done them for as small as a couple of houses.”
Bieren said the city signed development agreements for the Pacific Gateway business park in the 20000 block of 59th Place South as well as with Boeing, which first came to Kent in the 1960s to build its space center.
“It goes through a public process and we look for a win-win,” Bieren said.
Blue Origin media representatives declined to answer questions about the cost of the expansion or how many more jobs it will bring to Kent.
Bill Ellis, city chief economic development manager, told the council the new facility will house thousands of additional employees.
The new facility is going up on 31 acres Blue Origin bought from the Barnier family, which had farmed land in the Kent Valley for generations, for $14.1 million in 2017, according to King County property sales records.
The current facility covers about 260,000 square feet on 26 acres at 21218 76th Ave. S. Engineering, manufacturing and business teams work at the facility. The company purchased a 120,000-square-foot building across the street in 2017 for further growth.