Weyerhaeuser's old campus is five times bigger than Disneyland. So what should it become?
It’s hard to miss when you drive south on I-5: Weyerhaeuser’s iconic headquarters building, in the middle of a huge meadow with a lake out front.
Weyerhaeuser abandoned all that when the company moved its headquarters from Federal Way to Seattle two years ago. And now, everyone seems to have a different vision for what this land should become.
One developer envisions an office park in the trees, maybe with a zipline. Another hopes to preserve an award-winning historic building by building warehouses on the edges. But others want more of the grounds to remain open to the public, like a Central Park for Federal Way.
In 1971, Weyerhaeuser turned some of its old timberland into a massive, kingdom-sized corporate campus in Federal Way. It was more than five times larger than Disneyland.
Like Disneyland, there were things to do and see. There’s a famous Bonsai Garden, a Rhododendron garden, trails and a pond with fountains. There's also a grand meadow where, every year at Christmas, Weyerhaeuser would land a helicopter delivering Santa Claus.
And at its center: a castle. Kind of. With its ivy-covered roofs, the Weyerhaeuser headquarters building it looks like it grew right out of the meadow.
“The coolest thing was the building itself,” recalled Peter Orser, who used to work there. He was one of Weyerhaeuser’s CEOs.
When people would come to meet him there, he’d warn them about the geese that nested on the roof. They liked to attack visitors.
"So there was often a discussion of how to conduct yourself when you’re being stared down by Papa Goose," Orser remembered.
But when Weyerhaeuser left, people started carving off pieces of the property.
A developer named Mike Raskin took over a sliver of land once occupied by the company's finance department, along the woodsy perimeter. He wants to rebrand it as an office park in the trees.
“In fact, we’re thinking of creating a treehouse – an actual treehouse, right across the parking lot there – where you could have a meeting, and perhaps even there’ll be a video screen on a tree 15 feet in the air," Raskin said. "My guys are actually talking about how fun it would be to have a zipline."
Members of the public, have a different focus - keeping large parts of the campus as open space.
They’ve organized a group called Save the Weyerhaeuser Campus.
“We kind of want to make this out to be our New York Central Park,” Save the Weyerhaeuser Campus member Lori Sechrist said.
And what to do with the castle at the center, with the ivy and the geese?
Big buildings from the 1970s like that are expensive to maintain. The windows are single pane glass, which means the space probably costs a lot to heat and cool. And there have been surprises.
“We knew there was asbestos in the building," said Dana Ostenson, executive vice president of IRG, the California developer that bought the property. "We didn’t know quite how expensive it would be."
IRG owns the lion's share of Weyerhaeuser's old campus: over 400 acres of it. It wants to carve off about a quarter of the land for industrial buildings that are served by hundreds of trucks every day.
There’s a huge need for that kind of development down here, near the freeway and between the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.
Ostenson said he plans to put up five buildings, but hide them behind the foliage. He says putting the buildings behind trees will help preserve the park-like feel of the place, including the Bonsai garden, the meadow, and many of the trails.
Peter Orser, the guy who used to run part of Weyerhaeuser, says as cool as that old campus was, it probably can’t stay all in one piece.
“I think as our world grows, it creates different demands on property,” he said.
All those demands are leading to some conflict: The biggest is between Save Weyerhaeuser Campus and the developer IRG.
Other parties are speaking up, too. The Puyallup Tribe cares about the creek that runs through the property. It turns out the headquarters building functions as a dam, slowing the creek to form the pond in front of the headquarters building. And the state cares about the traffic.
So when you pass the famous headquarters building on I-5, and see it there standing in its field, it may look like a peaceful kingdom. But really, it's more like "Game of Thrones."