Google plans to nearly quintuple its presence in Colorado with the construction of a new, four-acre campus in Boulder.
The project, which was recently approved by Boulder’s City Council, includes three, four-story office buildings with all of the usual Google luxuries, including fitness centres, cafeterias, and a large underground parking lot.
The new campus will increase Google’s Boulder workforce from 340 employees to nearly 1,500.
That huge jump has some Boulder locals worried about the future of their city. An influx of high-salaried tech workers could worsen problems Boulder is already having, like traffic congestion and a shortage of affordable housing.
“Prices are rising. We are becoming less and less affordable to lower and middle income. We’re also seeing local businesses that have been here for decades being priced out,” City Council member Suzanne Jones said to the New York Times. “It puts a finer point on this issue of, where are we headed? Attracting big business is great, on the one hand, but it will be part of that change on the other.”
A set of nearby apartment buildings seems like the perfect spot to accommodate the incoming Googlers. Still, many worry that these high-paid workers will eventually look for housing beyond the immediately surrounding areas, leading to an explosion in home prices like that seen in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
“Many of the eventual 1,500 employees and their families won’t choose to live in the monolithic apartment complexes that are right next door. Many of these high-paid techies will want houses with yards,” Boulder resident Judy Amabile writes in a letter to the Daily Camera, the city’s local newspaper. “They might drive: to work, to drop off kids at school, to grocery shop, to dine out on Pearl Street. Google’s expansion may well exacerbate rather than mitigate our affordable housing and transportation problems.”
The new campus will be located just a block away from the bus station currently under construction at Boulder Junction. When the city council approved Google’s project, it also asked that the company provide incentives for employees to use public transportation rather than drive to work. The campus will have only 600 parking spots, less than half the number of employees who will be based there.
Another concern voiced by residents and the city’s planning board regards the appearance of the buildings themselves. Google’s campuses tend to be rather contained environments, with luxurious amenities that employees can enjoy behind closed doors.
The new campus will be built in one of Boulder’s busiest commercial areas, but it won’t have any ground-floor retail space. It’s not exactly inviting.
Four stories is also significantly taller than many of the other buildings in the area.
“It will be a very nice place for the employees, but, as far as addressing the public realm, especially the streetscape, I think it falls short,” planning board member Liz Payton said during a site review earlier in December. “I don’t think this is coherent, in that it is this very insular campus, but not relating to the context around it very successfully.”
Google will construct a path winding through the campus itself, with the hope that it will keep the complex relatively open to the community.
And some argue that a growing tech presence in Boulder would be a positive influence on the community.
Scott Green, site director for Google Boulder, emphasised the impact tech workers could have on the city’s innovative sector, citing the engineering team’s work on apps like Google Earth and Google Drive. There could be increased recruiting from the University of Colorado nearby.
The Google Boulder office also has sales and marketing teams.
“These are critical projects, and they’re big projects. They’re growing, and staying still is not really an option. We’ve grown quite rapidly, and we expect to continue to grow,” Green said to the planning board in December. “Our identity is tied to Boulder. We want to be in Boulder.”
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