REI to sell brand-new headquarters outside Seattle, embrace 'new normal' of remote work

Company walking away from 380,000-square-foot building and 8-acre campus

Outdoor retailer REI may have just completed a new corporate campus just outside of Seattle, but the company now plans to sell the facility before it even moves in due to the new reality of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The company said Wednesday it's walking away from the 380,000-square-foot building and 8-acre campus in Bellevue with an intention to shift to a "less centralized approach" for its presence in the Seattle area.

“The dramatic events of 2020 have challenged us to reexamine and rethink every aspect of our business and many of the assumptions of the past. That includes where and how we work,” Eric Artz, president and CEO, told employees during a video call. “As a result, our new experience of 'headquarters' will be very different than the one we imagined more than four years ago.”

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REI originally announced plans for the new headquarters in 2016 on an 8-acre site in a neighborhood called the Spring District.

Construction began in 2018 for an intended midsummer 2020 move-in date.

But then the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020.

REI's flagship store on Oct. 24, 2016, in Seattle (Photo by Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for REI)

The Kent, Wash.-based company has had its roughly 1,200 employees working remotely since March 2 in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of a single corporate office location when employees can return to work, REI plans to have multiple satellite campuses in the Seattle area and will "lean into" remote working as part of "new normal" for employees.

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The company said the move will also offer more flexibility for corporate employees to live outside of western Washington while also shrinking the co-op's carbon footprint.

“[This year] we learned that the more distributed way of working we previously thought untenable will instead unlock incredible potential,” Artz said. “This will have immediate, positive impacts on our ability to attract and retain a diverse and highly skilled workforce, as we continue to navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”

REI also closed more than 160 retail sites on March 16, which caused a dramatic decline in revenue. In May, the company projected a 30% decline in revenue for the year due to the pandemic.

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Although stores began reopening in May and sales have outperformed that forecast, Chief Customer Officer Ben Steele said the company expects “to be down on an annual basis.”

In the call with employees, Artz said the sale of the Bellevue campus will also help with much-needed cash flow as retailers try to recover COVID-19 losses, Q13FOX reported.

REI said Wednesday it is in talks with “multiple interested parties” to sell the never-used building and campus.

The Seattle Times reported that one of those parties is Facebook, which has facilities in the same upscale development.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.