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August 18, 2011

In Fremont, Skanska eyes a living building

Journal Staff Reporter

Skanska's first commercial development in Seattle could be a “living building” in Fremont.

The company has applied for permission to demolish a small commercial building to make way for a 5-story office project. A lot of work remains to be done on the project, which LMN Architects is designing.

No one is marketing the project yet because it's still too early, according to Lisa Picard, Skanska executive vice president, who helped open the company's development office in Seattle earlier this year.

Skanska is working with Susie Burke, president of Fremont Dock Co., which owns the site and would lease the land to Skanska.

The neighborhood is hot: Google is expanding there, and other tech and gaming companies are moving in. These companies are part of what Picard calls the neighborhood's “creative climate,” which is why Skanska would like to develop its first Seattle project there — and make it a living building.

Skanska does not have a tenant for the space, which would be about 120,000 square feet. Picard said there a lot of potential users in the market, but it's a matter of finding those that understand the benefits of being in a living building.

In addition to trying to find the right user, Skanska also is reaching out to the community because of the site's high-profile location near Lake Union at the foot of Stone Way North.

The community's first glimpse of the project could come at an early design guidance meeting, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 19 in University Heights Center at 5031 University Way N.E. The city's website does not list a meeting time.

Skanska's project would be part of the city's Living Building Pilot Program, which provides flexibility to meet the Living Building Challenge.

The challenge is a certification that the International Living Building Institute created to recognize buildings that meet the highest level of sustainability. Living buildings must generate all the energy they need through renewable resources, and provide and treat all the water they use.

Seattle has one living building: the Science Building at Bertschi School on Capitol Hill. Construction recently started on the second: the Bullitt Foundation's Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, also on Capitol Hill.

Picard said the flexibility of the city's program is critical to Skanska's project. Skanska could, for instance, build a larger structure or seek other design departures.

The city is limiting enrollment in the Living Building Pilot Program to 12 projects. Bullitt was the first to sign up, and Jess Harris, the Department of Planning and Development's green-permitting lead, said officials held a pre-submittal conference with Skanska last week.

Skanska has not yet formally applied, and no other group has either.

When Skanska opened its development office here, the company said it will self-finance projects, which Skanska USA Building will construct to meet LEED gold or higher standards.

If the project goes forward, Fremont Dock Co. would help relocate tenants in the existing building. Tenants range from a kite shop to a water testing lab. The latter would not be easy to move, said Burke, who added that relocating any established tenant can be difficult.

Even so, she thinks the Skanska project would benefit the neighborhood. “Anything that's good for the Fremont community, I'm going to do it,” Burke said.

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