December 9, 2004

Don Milliken


Firm: Milliken Development Group

Position: President

When British-native Don Milliken came down from Vancouver, B.C., to the Puget Sound area 10 years ago scouting for his first U.S. urban space to develop, he bucked local notions that his style of retail development wouldn't work.

To start with: underground parking, in an urban setting, at a supermarket? It may seem common now, but it was unheard of at the time.

Milliken found his site and proceeded to build the Marketplace at Queen Anne, a two-level retail center that spans a full city block in the lower Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle. His plan and presentation to George Bartell, who owned a successful drugstore across the street, was met with rave reviews and Bartell signed a 20,000-square-foot lease. Larry's Market responded in kind and anchors the popular center with a 48,000-square-foot store.


Not bad for an initial foray into the Seattle supermarket arena. "My background is in building regional malls, shopping and retail neighborhood centers," said Milliken. "I saw a demand in Seattle for supermarket space in urban settings. And you're just not going to find 5 to 10 acres of empty space sitting around this city."

With parking at a premium, he got creative. There are a total of 229 parking spaces for shoppers at the Marketplace, both underground and on an upper level surface lot.

On the drawing board at the same time as the Marketplace was the award-winning Harvard Market, located in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. Serving a densely populated area, this urban concept is a mixed-use of retail and residential, with a 46,000-square-foot QFC supermarket, a 15,000-square-foot Bartell Drugs store and an additional 25 shops. Again, the parking dilemma was solved by constructing ample underground and surface spaces.

Q&A with Don Milliken
Q: If you could own any property on earth, what would that be?
A: A major cash cow in London — for my family.

Q: Looking back on your career, what business deal still makes you smile?
A: The Marketplace at Queen Anne — everything went right and it kept me in Seattle.

Q: If you had to choose your next career today, what would it be?
A: Running the creative side of a marketing/advertising company.

Q: What's next on your leisure reading list?
A: "Split Second" by David Baldacci.

Q: What is a little known fact about you, something that would surprise people?
A: I seriously considered becoming a professional mountain guide.

These two projects were zoned for residential and Milliken was approached by several local developers to build housing on top of the retail clusters. "It wasn't my original intention," he said, "but we did incorporate condos in the Harvard Market and the concept has evolved and led us to developing more true mixed-use projects."

Don Milliken is president of Seattle-based Milliken Development Corp., a group of companies he founded that develops mixed-use projects in the Pacific Northwest. With over three decades of retail development experience, mainly in Canada, he has developed just under 40 projects, totaling over $800 million.

After graduating in 1972 from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Milliken cut his retail real estate teeth at Devco Properties in Calgary, Alberta, by renovating, expanding and leasing neighborhood shopping centers. In the late 1970s, he joined Vancouver-based Daon Development Corp., where he served as senior vice president of shopping centers.

Milliken set out on his own in 1987 to form Milliken Development Corp. His primary home is in Vancouver, where he resides with his wife, Debra, and their four children.

On his frequent trips abroad, Milliken studies the European way of life and brings innovative ideas home. His projects parallel the dense urban centers Europeans have thrived in for centuries. He said people crave a sense of community, comfort and accessibility these days.

"There are a multitude of motives for the allure to urban living from empty nesters, the traffic-weary, single workers that are remaining unmarried longer and people simply looking for sociability," he said. "Density spawns commerce — retail, restaurants and cultural attractions — and eventually you have a vibrant and attractive neighborhood."

Another source of inspiration comes from Vancouver, a city that consistently receives accolades for its stylish and practical livability.

TriBeCa, Milliken's mixed-use complex in uptown Queen Anne, is the consummate model. The $27 million project is home to a 35,000-square-foot Safeway supermarket, several retail shops and 51 condominiums and townhouses. There is secure parking for residents and over 2,000 businesses within walking distance. It has created a community where there was none, akin to a village, where necessities and luxuries are close by.

Seattle was a propitious move for Milliken. In February 1999, he received a call from Vulcan Inc. to discuss opportunities in South Lake Union. The Milliken "brand" had taken hold, Vulcan took notice, and plans forged ahead for a massive 550,000-square-foot, mixed-use development.

The Vulcan-Milliken partnership on the venture, named 2200, has the vision and scope to create the quintessential upscale urban center. Whole Foods Market and a 160-room, five-star boutique hotel by Pan Pacific Hotels and Resorts of Singapore are the anchor tenants. Three towers of 261 condominiums will be constructed atop two floors of retail and restaurants. A major art installation is in the plans, along with a European-inspired courtyard in the heart of the $200 million project.

2200 is under construction at Denny Way and Westlake Avenue, immediately north of downtown Seattle, with opening scheduled for late 2006. It represents the largest development to date in Paul Allen's resuscitation plan for South Lake Union.

"This neighborhood is going to explode in the next five to 10 years," said Milliken, looking down at the construction site from his nearby office.

There are two other projects in the Milliken mill, both applying the company's progressive urban principle: one in Bellevue and one in Kirkland.

Avalon on the Square, in downtown Bellevue, is a mixed-use concept consisting of 350 luxury apartments and 20,000 square feet of level retail space. A 55,000-square-foot Safeway store will complete the center, slated for completion in autumn of 2006.

A mixed-use, 40,000-square-foot redevelopment in Kirkland is scheduled to break ground in late spring of 2005. After a competitive RFQ process, Milliken was selected to participate in the project consisting of 85 condominiums, a US Bank branch and 30,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

Orchestrating these projects requires a fair amount of creativity, something Milliken seems to have in surplus. Anticipating and actualizing what people want, along with the marketing aspect, is a fascinating process for him.

"I like to plan ahead, keep the pipeline full," he said.

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