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October 5, 2006
It’s hard to deny the unprecedented development momentum currently reshaping Seattle’s ever-evolving South Lake Union community.
As one of the largest urban revitalization efforts under way in the country, South Lake Union’s redevelopment reveals how a bold vision for transforming an underutilized urban area can translate into tangible, far-reaching benefits.
With a portfolio of nearly 60 acres that offers a redevelopment capacity of about 10 million square feet in South Lake Union, Vulcan Real Estate is working to foster a thriving mixed-use community that blends a range of housing, lively shops and restaurants, new offices and biotech research space, attractive public parks and alternative transportation while still preserving the rich culture and history of the existing neighborhood.
Because successfully revitalizing an urban area means more than just new buildings and retail stores, Vulcan takes a holistic approach that guides its triple-bottom-line development philosophy. In addition to working to be financially successful, Vulcan also measures success by the positive impacts made on the community and environment as a whole.
Urban revitalization projects can fall victim to formulaic, one-size-fits-all development approaches that attempt to replicate the look and feel of outlying communities in a downtown setting.
In South Lake Union, defining elements of the past combine with the conveniences and design of today to provide a more memorable and authentic in-city experience an environment far more likely to attract and retain a critical mass of residents, workers and visitors.
Building upon its unique history, the neighborhood’s maritime roots play a key role in shaping future redevelopment. In addition to thriving restaurants and boating activities that already characterize the Lakefront District, a major renovation of the 12-acre South Lake Union Park is intended to create a more inviting waterfront amenity that will attract more people to the water’s edge.
New developments can also incorporate historic elements that create a more distinctive streetscape. For example, Vulcan’s Alley24 project in South Lake Union’s Cascade neighborhood a mixed-use development featuring high-performance offices, apartments and street-level retail integrates the historic Richmond Laundry facility’s brick facade into the design of its new residences.
Supporting a mix of larger national retailers and local homegrown businesses can also help foster an authentic experience that preserves the character and culture of the existing community. In South Lake Union, larger retail outlets such as Whole Foods Market will complement funky local shops and restaurants that will collectively appeal to a broader, diverse audience.
After decades of suburban sprawl, more people are beginning to appreciate the lifestyle benefits associated with mixed-use developments, which contribute to a livelier 24/7 urban lifestyle and provide the ability to walk to work, shops and restaurants, cultural hubs and recreational activities from home.
Several South Lake Union developments are contributing to this trend today, including Alley24, which recently opened its commercial portion to nearly 1,000 employees from NBBJ, Skanska and WPP, and also welcomed new residents into its eco-friendly apartments.
Several current and forthcoming Alley24 retailers, including Espresso Vivace, tottini, Urban Beast, Spa Blix, Mad Pizza and Southlake Grill, are part of a more vibrant, pedestrian-friendly atmosphere that has already visibly energized the neighborhood.
Providing a variety of housing options suited to a range of incomes and household types has also helped foster a more diverse environment. Vulcan is currently developing a variety of for-rent and for-sale residences in South Lake Union that attract a broad demographic characteristic of thriving urban cores everything from luxury penthouses to moderate and workforce housing.
Throughout the neighborhood, alternative transportation is also encouraged as part of a sustainable and pedestrian-oriented lifestyle. With the South Lake Union streetcar line already under construction and expected to begin operating as early as next year, a growing number of workers and residents in the area will enjoy convenient access to downtown and regional transit systems. In the meantime, car-sharing programs, charging stations for electric vehicles and bicycle storage facilities available at several new South Lake Union developments are already limiting automobile use in the neighborhood.
While sustainable buildings may still represent a relatively new concept for many developers, those who don’t move in that direction will soon find themselves behind the curve.
Higher initial costs can make green buildings a difficult sell to both developers and tenants, but the undeniable environmental benefits as well as enhanced employee morale and productivity are gaining wider acceptance and for good reason. Pleasant views, fresh air, natural daylight, the use of nontoxic building materials and the ability to control personal climate areas can all translate into considerable cost savings.
Embracing green building is particularly suited to cities such as Seattle, where a creative class of employers and workers are attracted to progressive environments that emphasize sustainable values.
With South Lake Union on the cusp of remarkable growth that promises to revitalize not only the neighborhood but also an entire region, a new model of sustainable urban redevelopment has cultivated a community that thrives on innovative ideas and creativity the cornerstone of any successful long-term endeavor of this scope.
Today and in the coming years, the fruits of this redevelopment effort are paving the way for an even brighter future in South Lake Union for generations to come.
Ada M. Healey is the vice president of real estate at Vulcan.