State Farm has made it official, at least to employees: It plans to expand its operations into downtown Tacoma as soon as the leases are signed.
In an email to its DuPont employees, State Farm confirmed its plans to open the new offices late this year. The email, dated Tuesday but received by most employees Wednesday, also assured employees that the company plans to continue to use its DuPont facility, and it cautioned that references to the number of potential employees in Tacoma are "purely speculative."
"Because of the nature of lease negotiations and agreements we do not disclose locations before agreements are executed," read the memo to employees, obtained by The News Tribune. "In this instance, plans were in place to communicate with you as soon as this was done, but publication of this information has forced us to discuss this decision before we were prepared to."
The email goes on to confirm the location of State Farm's planned Claims Initial Loss Reporting and Auto Express operation in Tacoma. It's unclear what work will continue to be done in DuPont, where more than 1,000 people work now.
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"Our plan is to continue to use our DuPont Operations Center as outlined in our recent facilities communications," the email reads. "In regards to staffing, there have been no final decisions made as to the total number of employees who will be housed in the Claims ILR and Auto Express operation. Any numbers referenced now are purely speculative."
For months, Illinois-based State Farm and two Tacoma building owners have been negotiating. German billionaire Erivan Haub's family trust owns the Columbia Bank Center. Ilahie Holdings, a subsidiary of the large Seattle-based holding company Saltchuk, owns the former Russell headquarters, which has sat empty since Russell moved out in 2010. Russell's lease was effective through November of this year, and Ilahie and Russell finalized an early termination in the past few months. Russell gave up control of the building March 1.
The space in the Columbia Bank Center was taken over by DaVita when Russell announced it was leaving. DaVita announced last year that it was moving those operations to Federal Way. Because 909 A St. has been empty for almost three years, and the space State Farm wants in the Columbia Bank Center will soon be available, it's unclear what might prevent the deal from closing.
Those with direct knowledge of the negotiations, including real estate brokers and economic development officials, won't comment. City officials on Wednesday referred all comments to State Farm.
Downtown business and property owners, though, were abuzz.
"This is a game changer for downtown. An absolute game changer," said Dan Putnam, one of the owners of Pacific Plaza and of engineering firm PCS Structural Solutions. If the former Russell building "was filled with small tenants, it could have taken three to four years to fill."
"This could give downtown the ability for future development," he said. "There's a trickle effect for everything. Related companies like to be near quality companies. When you say State Farm, you think of quality."