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Thursday, May 25, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Safeco says headquarters to be in downtown tower

Seattle Times business reporter

Safeco has chosen 1001 Fourth Avenue Plaza — the old Seafirst Bank tower — in downtown Seattle as its new headquarters, and will relocate its Northwest region offices from Redmond to the Second & Seneca building downtown.

The insurance company will lease 424,000 square feet in downtown as part of Chief Executive Paula Rosput Reynolds' strategy of leasing rather than owning office space.

Reynolds took the helm from Mike McGavick in January and quickly reversed his plan to build a second office tower near the insurer's current headquarters in the University District. She says the new plan will save money and give Safeco greater flexibility for allowing more workers to telecommute and pursue other virtual-workplace options.

Next year, about 1,100 people will move to the former Seafirst Building, which will be renamed Safeco Plaza.

About 800 workers will relocate this year from Safeco's Redmond campus to Second and Seneca, known to some as the "Ban Roll-on Building" because the top resembles a roll-on deodorant ball. The move comes about two years ahead of schedule because of financial incentives from Microsoft, which plans to close on its acquisition of Safeco's Redmond campus this month.

Another roughly 500 Safeco employees in Redmond will move to leased space in Bothell and the U District. Safeco plans to put its 537,000-square-foot U District headquarters complex on the market in the next couple weeks.

The new Safeco Plaza, where the insurer will lease 284,000 square feet, is an aluminum-and-glass-encased tower that's sometimes called "the box the Space Needle came in" because it's slightly taller than the landmark. It fills a city block across from the Central Library.

Opened in 1969, it was designed by Seattle architects NBBJ and was the city's tallest building for 16 years. Last year, it was bought for $162 million by the Texas developer Hines in partnership with the California Public Employees' Retirement System.

Equity Office owns and manages the Second & Seneca Building, where Safeco will lease about 140,000 square feet for its Northwest region office.

Patrick Callahan, senior vice president of the Seattle region for Equity Office, said that space is available because Washington Mutual is moving workers into its new downtown headquarters building.

Safeco's move downtown will fill about 70 percent of the space being vacated by WaMu, he said.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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