May 28, 2009

Ballard transforms into a hot spot

  • The community is becoming a destination, thanks to new mixed-use, condo, apartment and office projects.
    Special to the Journal

    Photos courtesy of Ballard Blocks
    The LA Fitness space at Ballard Blocks opened in March.

    The word is getting out. Retailers, shoppers and residents in other parts of Seattle are beginning to understand what the people who live in Northwest Seattle have known for years — that this is one of the most popular and livable neighborhoods in the city. Ballard, with its distinctive character and laid-back style, has always been an attractive and affordable place to live. Over the past few years it has developed a citywide reputation as a destination that offers great dining, lively entertainment, and a delightful selection of boutique-style shops and businesses.

    In spite of a recent redevelopment that includes urban condominium, office and assisted-living projects, the availability of amenities and services geared to the local population has lagged behind the growing demand. But that’s beginning to change as two national retailers have opened at Ballard Blocks, a new retail and office development at the north end of the Ballard Bridge, the city-side gateway to the community.

    Ballard Blocks is ideally positioned, along with several other established and emerging projects, to become an important part of the new energy that’s flowing into this neighborhood. Some of the others include: Ballard Landmark Inn, an independent and assisted senior residence with street-level retail on Leary Way; Ballard on the Park, an eight-story apartment and retail complex scheduled for completion this fall; Market Street Landing, an eight-story condo and retail complex at 15th Street and Market Avenue; and a cluster of five 100,000-square-foot office buildings that will be located along the working waterfront area of Salmon Bay.

    Community living room

    Ballard Blocks team
    KG Investment Properties II:
    developer and construction manager

    Clark Design Group:

    Ledcor Construction:
    general contractor

    Perbix Bykonen:
    structural engineer

    Real Retail:
    retail leasing

    CB Richard Ellis:
    office leasing

    Ballard Blocks is a LEED silver-certified development that is accessible by car, bus, bicycle and foot from the surrounding businesses and residential areas. Eventually, it will include two mixed-use buildings that face each other across Ballard Way, framing a large all-weather outdoor plaza that will serve as a gathering place for the people who come here to work, dine, shop, exercise and relax. When completed, the two interconnected structures will have 200,000 square feet of retail and 200,000 square feet of office space.

    Phase one of Ballard Blocks opened in March and contains 131,000 square feet of retail and office space. Its two major tenants — Trader Joe’s and LA Fitness — occupy just over 60,000 square feet, leaving 68,000 square feet of retail and office space for lease.

    It’s not surprising that Trader Joe’s and LA Fitness decided to open their newest Seattle locations at Ballard Blocks: The average household income of the surrounding residential neighborhoods is $79,826; and the population within a 5-mile radius includes more than 378,511 residents and the daytime population is 379,190. More than 70,000 cars drive past here daily. In the early evening, many of these are commuters on their way home from jobs in the city, making this a convenient place for stopping to work out at the gym and shop for groceries.

    From the moment it opened, Trader Joe’s grocery has been doing a booming business, attracting shoppers from all over the larger trade area. And the LA Fitness Signature Club, with its array of amenities that includes a glassed-in swimming pool offering one of the best aquatic views in the city, has been enjoying similar success and is now one of the company’s busiest facilities.

    Just this week, The Counter Custom Built Burgers announced it will open in September its first Pacific Northwest fast-casual concept at Ballard Blocks.

    New-school design

    Trader Joe’s has been a big draw since it opened in Ballard.

    As this part of town has become an increasingly popular destination, local residents and visitors have begun to compete for the limited parking that’s available in other parts of Ballard. But that’s not a problem at Ballard Blocks. In addition to 50 spaces on the adjoining streets, it has a parking garage with more than 500 parking stalls.

    At first glance, Ballard Blocks doesn’t look like the traditional shopping center. But this part of the city has become famous for introducing new ideas, bucking the trends and surpassing expectations. It’s original, unpretentious but stylish — the kind of place that’s attracting the new urban residents and shoppers. So although its outward appearance is a step ahead of the old-school suburban shopping mall, Ballard Blocks has been built and designed with retailers in mind: plenty of commercial loading access, prime street-level retail, and wide sidewalks offering spaces for outdoor dining and relaxation.

    Like many of the other new projects here, the architecture of Ballard Blocks reflects the flavor and character of the surrounding mix of businesses that have shaped and created the personality of this predominantly working-class neighborhood. Many of these businesses cater to the maritime and fishing trades that have been here since the city was founded; others include manufacturing companies, machine shops and other light-industrial uses.

    The fact that the newer retail services and amenities have been able to co-exist and blend so well with the existing businesses bodes well for the future of mixed-use development in Ballard. And the people who work and live here have responded enthusiastically to these new mixed-use developments, showing up in steadily growing numbers and making this one of the most promising new retail environments in the city.

    Kathleen Cain is a freelance writer and food enthusiast who frequently drives all the way across Seattle to shop and dine at her favorite Ballard establishments.


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