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August 11, 2015

Developer hires 3 architects to give First Central Station variety

  • Robert Hardy says the area around Yesler Terrace and First Hill is “the most fascinating new neighborhood in Seattle.”
  • By NAT LEVY
    Journal Staff Reporter

    Courtesy b9 Architects, Weinstein A+U and Build LLC [enlarge]
    This massing study for First Central Station shows about 370 apartments in three buildings.

    Three different architects, three different buildings and about 370 apartments: That's Robert Hardy's plan for First Central Station.

    The site is at 1203 E. Spruce St., on a block bounded by 12th and 14th avenues, and East Spruce and Fir streets. It is near Seattle University, Yesler Terrace and First Hill.

    The block is zoned for low-rise development, but Hardy wants six-story buildings, which requires a contract rezone from the city. About 12,000 square feet of retail and 220 parking spaces also are planned.

    Hardy initially hired b9 Architects to design the complex. Bradley Khouri, principal and founder of b9, said he and Hardy agreed that having several architects would add some variety, so Hardy brought in Weinstein A+U and Build LLC. Each firm will design a structure.

    “We will see three structures that feel like they are knitted together because of the dialog we will have throughout the process,” Khouri said, “but they won't be the same.”

    Other team members are Karen Kiest Landscape Architects, Malsam Tsang Structural Engineering and PanGeo.

    Hardy said excavation could begin late next summer and the structures will be built over about 16 months.

    An early design guidance meeting is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday at Seattle University, 824 12th Ave.

    Hardy said he and his team have been meeting with local groups for the last year to make sure the project fits into the neighborhood.

    One top priority for the neighbors is open space, Hardy said, so a midblock path is planned for pedestrians and bicyclists with multiple entrances from Spruce and Fir. An open space will be in the center of the complex.

    Khouri said the team wants ground-floor units for families to face the open space.

    The team changed the location of the parking garage entrance from Fir to Spruce at the request of Washington Hall, which is on the same block. A 30-foot setback on the east side will create a buffer between Washington Hall and First Central Station.

    Hardy is also working on getting a park in the neighborhood. Local groups have been trying to build a park for years but it hasn't happened. Hardy said he will contribute $1 million toward acquiring land and constructing a park.

    “There will be dollars to produce the park,” he said, “not just dollars to acquire the space.”

    Hardy wants to encourage retail that supports the neighborhood. He plans to offer “percentage leases” — where the rent is based on sales — for a portion of the space to help a creative retailer get started. Hardy said he wants neighborhood groups to help pick the retailer.

    Transportation is also part of the design, and the midblock path will provide a shortcut to the future First Hill Streetcar stop at 14th and Yesler.

    Hardy said his plan to build dense housing near transportation can help with affordablity and take advantage of other projects designed to improve the neighborhood.

    “It's important for all of us to recognize the investment the city has made,” Hardy said.

    First Central Station will likely have an affordable housing component. Through the city's Multifamily Property Tax Exemption program, it could have up to 80 units — about 20 percent — set aside for people making less than 80 percent of area median income, Khouri said.

    This is the biggest project Hardy has done, and one of the biggest in this neighborhood in a long time. Hardy said over the years he has developed more than 800 housing units through various entities, including 76 condos called Pointe at First Hill.

    Hardy said the area around the site will be “the most fascinating new neighborhood in Seattle over the next decade” — thanks to his project and others: Spectrum Development Solutions' three workforce housing complexes, the streetcar and redevelopment of the 36-acre Yesler Terrace.

    He said the potential of this new neighborhood warrants spending the extra money on three architects, though he won't say how much the development will cost.

    It's not often, he said, that a developer has a chance to make such an impact on an area.

    “Our interest is in creating a project that is going to be looking to tomorrow — and working within the neighborhood context and history today as well,” Khouri said.


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