City wants a college to replace Microsoft campus
December 10, 2013
By Peter Clark
An educational institution might replace the vision of an Issaquah Highlands Microsoft campus.
The city will begin the process of establishing a development agreement with the new landowner, Polygon Northwest, in the coming weeks. Microsoft sold the 63-acre parcel in October for an undisclosed amount. In the meantime, Issaquah Economic Development Director Keith Niven gave a view of what the city hopes to see in the final document.
“That land would allow for a lot of different things to happen, including residential,” Niven said, explaining what the aim is for the final deal. “We’re just trying to work towards where they can build what they want and the city can work to find an employment hub up in the highlands.”
Situated north of the expanding Swedish hospital location, bordered by Northeast High Street and Ninth Avenue Northeast, the large plot offers a view of the valley from the edge of the hill. Though Niven said Polygon has expressed an interest in a complete residential build-out, the city wishes to cordon off the land into three different parcels for separate uses.
The first proposed tract, roughly half of the 1.2 million square feet of property, sits along the edge of the hill. There, the city wants Polygon’s residential building. Niven said the developer was limited by the housing units available in the planning. He said Polygon has an allocated 365 to build.
“Half the land would be residential,” Niven said, and highlighted Issaquah’s long-term goal. “The other half would have to be not residential, where the city can market to a college.”
He said a technical branch of an established college or university would widely benefit the people of the city and serve as a replacement for the “employment hub” promise unrealized by a scrapped Microsoft campus. He listed Caltech, Stanford and MIT as the type of institutions the city would approach if a development agreement allowed for the possibility.
Though Polygon would not comment on the details of a coming development agreement, Niven said the city had confidence in the vision.
“We wouldn’t put it out there if Polygon was going to say no,” he said. “We see it as being a dynamic use. A lot of colleges have said ‘We’re an economic engine.’”
This prospective educational institution would take up a second divided space, roughly 800,000 square feet, on the southwest corner of the plot, bordered by Northeast Discover Drive and Ninth Avenue Northeast. The third proposed division would be north of that, and its use in the development agreement is undetermined. Niven said it could be potential retail for an outlet mall or additional room for a college.
Though the city does not have extensive leverage in the decision of land use over the owner, the details of the sale with Microsoft created a partnership between Polygon and Issaquah.
“We are a 50/50 partner for the first five to 10 years,” Niven said. “Both parties have to agree on a development deal.”
Bellevue College owns land not 2 miles away and has recently unveiled a master plan for the site, which includes a 30-year build-out of an Issaquah campus. Niven said the city had contacted Bellevue College and made the institution aware of the possible competition.
Ray White, Bellevue College’s vice president of Administrative Services, said the college would approach any future educational institution in a spirit of cooperation.
“We would look at it as an opportunity to create a partner,” White said. “I wouldn’t see it as potential competition.”
In a letter to Niven and City Administrator Bob Harrison, Polygon Northwest Vice President Gary Young supported the collaboration with the city.
“We believe that a development agreement is a good way to establish the terms for the development of the final phase of Issaquah Highlands with a variety of uses consistent with the overall goals of an already successful community,” Young wrote, and then mentioned the four highlands projects Polygon has in different stages of development. “We look forward to expanding this relationship further and creating agreement that is mutually beneficial to the city and Polygon in both the short and long term.”
Actual development of the land remains far in the future.
According to the initial agenda bill discussed by the council’s Land and Shore Committee during its Dec. 10 meeting, the city wants council action on the development agreement by mid-2014.
The final adoption schedule will depend on several factors, including the time needed to complete the environmental review and the specifics of the development agreement, according to the bill. There will not be a rezone or Comprehensive Plan amendment needed with the development agreement.
However, a potential agreement will go through a public hearing process before council action.