Gates family, employees celebrate opening of new campus

Jun 2, 2011

More than a thousand workers at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have moved into their new campus across the street from Seattle Center. Celebrations are planned tonight (Thursday) and this weekend. Foundation leaders say they want to be more visible to the public.

(A public open-house is this Saturday, from 10am-4pm. Advance registration is required, here.)

If you've driven nearby, you know the new campus is not just visible.  It’s hard to miss -- with its big, modern buildings, full of glass, sprawling in the shadow of the Space Needle. 

Martha Choe, the foundation’s chief administrative officer, says the campus is meant to symbolize the scale of its ambitions and its local roots:

"We have taken on some extremely big and challenging goals: Eradicating polio, making sure every teacher in America is effective, helping transition millions of African small-holder farmers out of poverty. And so we wanted this building and campus to be emblematic and to reflect those bold goals, and the optimism we have in our work."

Bill and especially Melinda Gates had a hand in the design and location, in the heart of city. The architects say they started with a traditional office complex design, but Melinda wanted to make more of a statement about the family’s local roots – and its goals of fighting disease and poverty. The buildings are shaped like arms reaching out to every corner of the world. 

The foundation says it has also given nearly a billion dollars to a variety of causes in Washington state, said David Bly, who's in charge of the foundation's local giving:

"We have frankly a very diverse series of investments, into almost anything that affects the lives of families and  children. It could be food banks, it could be workforce developmont, it could be housing stability. It's hard to run into a nonprofit in the local community here that hasn’t at some point had a relationship with us."

Topping the list is fighting homelessness in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, which has a $100 million commitment. Another recent initiative focuses on schools in southern King County, with a goal of doubling the number of students who go to college.