Kent city staff tried to keep REI in town

REI plans to move its headquarters to Bellevue by 2020 despite Kent city staff efforts to keep the company in town.

Ben Wolters

Ben Wolters

REI plans to move its headquarters to Bellevue by 2020 despite Kent city staff efforts to keep the company in town.

“We’re of course disappointed with the news but it was not unanticipated,” said Ben Wolters, city of Kent economic and community development director, in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’ve worked with REI to meet their needs because they were running out of room at their campus.”

Wolters said city officials and REI staff looked at other sites in Kent, including the city-owned Riverbend Golf Complex par 3 course.

“We did discuss the par 3 property and they looked at it,” Wolters said. “But it didn’t quite fit their needs. They want a more urban-style campus.”

REI released a statement on Tuesday to announce its move.

“REI has outgrown our headquarters in Kent and, after exploring options for a new campus for the past several months, the co-op has signed a non-binding letter of intent to develop 8 acres of land in the Spring District of Bellevue, between (State Route) 520 and Bel-Red Road and part of the Mountains to Sound Greenway,” according to the company. “If all goes as planned, we aim to move in by 2020.”

The company’s headquarters have been in Kent since 1988 at the northwest corner of the West Valley Highway and South 228th Street. The outdoor gear and apparel company employs about 1,200 people in Kent, making it the second-largest private employer in Kent behind Boeing, according to city staff.

Wolters said city staff will meet with REI in the coming days to discuss the use of the facility and property once the company moves. REI owns the property.

“We look forward to identifying a future user of their campus – someone to have as much success at that location as REI did in the last 18 years,” Wolters said.

The company expects to finalize its deal in Bellevue this summer.

“We are confident in the process, but we do not have a formal deal,” the company said. “The non-binding letter of intent allows both parties to pull out at any time, with no penalties. By the end of the summer, we will know either that we’re moving forward or that our search continues.”

REI sees the new site in Bellevue as a better fit than Kent.

“While we feel very positive about the site, the region is growing and it is no secret that current transit infrastructure is under pressure,” the company said. “As a result, flexible work spaces, better technology and improved transit options will be crucial components of our planning process. We are encouraged that the region’s community leaders are planning to invest billions of dollars to improve local transit options, including miles of bike lanes.”

Sound Transit plans to open a new light rail station in Bellevue’s Spring District in 2023. The station would be next to the proposed REI site.

Wolters said the Bellevue site was a positive factor for REI because about half of its employees live north of Renton and half live south of Renton, making the site more centrally located than Kent.

REI also likes that the new site sits in the Mountains to Sound Greenway.

The Mountains to Sound Greenway stretches more than 100 miles along Interstate 90 from the shores of Puget Sound in Seattle, through Bellevue, over Snoqualmie Pass and into Central Washington. The Greenway encompasses protected and working forests, farms, historic sites, lakes, campgrounds, rivers, trails, wildlife habitat and vibrant communities. The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that helped to protect these lands and preserve them for public benefit.

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