Expedia, one of the world’s largest online travel companies, is going to be doing some traveling of its own soon. It’s moving across the lake from Bellevue to Seattle.
KUOW’s Joshua McNichols headed to Bellevue to see how people are taking the news.
It’s a little after 9:30, and I’m at the Café Ladro in the lobby of Expedia’s office tower in Bellevue.
Expedia’s employees come from all over the world. Here they are, reacting to news about Expedia’s planned move.
Sardeshpande: “Oh, that would be just great for me! Because I live in Seattle. That means I can take the bus. I save a lot of money on gas, I guess.”
Leibman: “I love Seattle. Love West Side. Never really wanted to move to Bellevue, so it’s great, I’m very excited.”
Busch: “It’s awesome, I’m so happy.”
KUOW: “Why are you so happy?”
Busch: “Because I live in Seattle. I can forget about cars, forget about public transport, I can bike all the way in without having – ‘cause 520 doesn’t have a bike lane. Don’t have to put a bike on the bus anymore.”
Those were Expedia employees Saurabh Sardeshpande, Yelena Leibman and Bill Busch.
Expedia says 75 percent of its employees actually live on the East Side. But that could change. Sarah Gavin is a spokesperson for the company.
Gavin: “We have a really young talent base here at Expedia. So there’s a lot of people in Seattle already. And in general, as we bring on more and more young techies, Seattle’s where they want to be anyway.”
But what does that mean for the people and the businesses left behind?
John Slavick works in the showroom for Classic Pianos.
Slavick: "This is the Bosendorfer Model 225. It has more than 88 keys, it has four extra keys at the bottom."
It takes over a year to build one of these pianos. It costs about $130,000.
Slavick says he’s sold pianos to Expedia employees. But he’s not worried about the future.
Slavick: "Expedia’s a drop in the bucket compared to Microsoft and their employees here. And we’re right next door to Medina. And so this is an affluent area to say the least."
Slavick understands that young techies might prefer Seattle’s character. But he says Bellevue’s special in its own way.
Slavick: "I prefer cleaner streets and no graffiti. And no crime. And that’s what you get out of Bellevue."
Experts say other businesses will appreciate those qualities too. Some say Expedia’s departure might even be good for Bellevue.
Paul Sweeney’s with the Broderick Group, a real estate company helping lease out Expedia’s old space. He says Bellevue’s been so dominated by a few big companies, that there’s been little room for smaller companies that want to grow. There just hasn’t been enough office space.
Sweeney: "Right now, not including the new construction that’s coming, there’s nothing in Downtown Bellevue."
Now, things are shaking up. Rents should dip a little.
Sweeney says Microsoft probably won’t swoop in and lease Expedia’s old building because Microsoft isn’t growing much these days. That means Expedia could be replaced by an ecosystem of smaller, growing companies.
Sweeney: "You know, it just hopefully will contribute to the diversification of the Eastside."
But not everyone is happy about Expedia’s departure. Carl Bennett runs the Panhandle Barbeque, a food cart about a block away from Expedia headquarters. He says he’ll miss those hungry, young international Expedia employees.
Bennett: "They have certain things that they like. One floor might like the Frito Pie."
KUOW: "Frito pie, what’s in that?"
Bennett: "It’s got Fritos, chili, two blends of cheeses, jalapenos and onions."
KUOW: "And barbecue too?"
Bennett: "And barbecue."
Bennett says Expedia employees praised his business online and sort of made it locally famous.
Bennett: "They are responsible for our business growing. Because they would tell their friends, and then they’d come, and on Fridays we’d get to-go orders where they’re taking it home, and so I’m definitely going to hate to see these guys go."
That’s the thing. Even if all the experts say Bellevue will be OK, 3,000 local employees are being ripped from one community and deposited in another. And though they might prefer Seattle, and that glittering Amgen campus on the waterfront, those employees have had an impact here in Bellevue. And they will be missed.