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July 19, 2018
Six months ago, there was a big drop in the number of cranes Rider Levett Bucknall counted in Seattle, and that raised some eyebrows.
Was it the beginning of the end for Seattle's construction boom? Evidently not.
RLB's latest count shows Seattle added 20 cranes, and now leads the nation with a total of 65.
The count shows 27 cranes working on mixed-use projects, 17 on residential buildings and 11 on commercial towers. Hot spots continue to be South Lake Union, Capitol Hill and downtown.
Emile le Roux, a principal at RLB's Seattle office, said the counts are a snapshot in time. When only 45 were counted six months ago that was likely because some projects were finishing and others hadn't got to the point where they needed a crane. He said RLB could see early construction activity back then, and knew more cranes were coming.
Taylor Mayfield, owner of Mayfield's Hoisting Service in Lynnwood, said his company is having another banner year. He said he thinks the crane count actually is higher than 65.
The state Department of Labor & Industries tracks cranes, too. It shows about 113 operating in the state, including 72 in Seattle, 17 in Bellevue, 10 in Kirkland/Totem Lake and seven in Tacoma. L&I's Seattle boundaries may be different that RLB's.
Mayfield's Hoisting has 27 cranes operating in the Puget Sound region, including three tower cranes at Onni Group's office project at 1120 Denny, and two at Kilroy Realty's 333 Dexter office project, both in Seattle.
“As soon as we take them down, we put them back up,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield said his firm is taking reservations for projects that will need cranes in four months. Customers used to be able to reserve them about two months ahead. No cranes are sitting idle at Mayfield's Hoisting.
Mayfield said getting a crane is easier if you have relationship with a supplier, but there's no shortage. More cranes can be brought in from out of state but that costs more, he said.
Mayfield said there is more competition from crane suppliers trying to get into this market, and that should keep prices stable for the near future.
The RLB report says the local forecast for the rest of 2018 is strong, but a small change in development plans by a major tech company could have a ripple effect on the entire construction market because the city is so reliant on that sector.
Le Roux said there are some big projects on the horizon that will need cranes: Microsoft's campus redo in Redmond, more offices for Facebook, major projects for Seattle Public Schools and Starbucks' plan to upgrade its Sodo headquarters.
Still, le Roux said construction seems to be nearing a plateau in the Seattle area.
He also is concerned about the effects a trade war could have on construction, which is usually the first sector to suffer when the economy turns down.
The 65 cranes are the most counted by RLB since it began tracking Seattle's cranes in November 2014, with an initial count of 51.
Benjamin Minnick can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.