October 6, 2005

Seattle checks into the hotel-condo market

  • OK, we're still not the Big Apple, but hotel-condos are a telltale sign of a maturing city.
    R.C. Hedreen Co.


    Over the past decade, Seattle's downtown core has undergone significant growth, and the steady drum of jackhammers and constant flow of construction workers has become part of the norm for the workforce.

    One of the emerging trends in the real estate sector is a surge in downtown hotel-condominium developments. Olive 8, Madison Tower, the Pan Pacific Hotel at 2200 Westlake, as well as the condos at the Four Seasons, all plan to offer urban living sweetened by hotel-caliber amenities and services.

    In highly developed cities like New York, Chicago and Miami, the concept of residential living atop full-service hotels is not new. The Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and other luxury brands have been capitalizing on the phenomenon for many years. While Seattle's fledgling hotel-condo community doesn't exactly mean it's close to becoming the next Big Apple, many see this kind of development as a telltale sign of a maturing city.

    Coincidentally, it's not just Seattle, as a city, that's growing up. The shift away from single dwelling ownership to multifamily city living is in part due to aging baby boomers. As a result, the downtown condo market is no longer expected to be dominated by first-time home buyers.

    Image courtesy MulvannyGC Architecture/Gluckman Mayner Architects
    Olive 8, a hotel-condo project in downtown Seattle, has been designed with unusual elements, such as blue glass, that allow light to reflect and refract in different ways.

    Many empty nesters don't need the space they once did, and are gravitating toward a simpler lifestyle. There's piqued interest in exchanging the big house, yard and commute for nearby theaters and restaurants, with hotel and spa services just an elevator ride away.

    What's more, while people in their 50s and 60s are attracted to the idea of a transitional lifestyle, which sheds the responsibilities of owning a house, they're not necessarily ready for a retirement campus lifestyle. In the hotel-condo environment, there's comfort in knowing that a full staff and a myriad of services are on hand if needed — amenities not available to the average homeowner.

    Second and third homeowners are also common consumers of this product type. Many are locals that can afford both the house and an urban retreat, or out-of-towners wanting a second home for summer use or a place closer to their relatives.

    In any case, Seattle is on its way toward a surge in the development of hotels with condominiums above. And, if presales are any indication, this is a trend that will keep growing.

    Such growth and new development will undoubtedly have a dramatic impact on Seattle's skyline. As the city becomes more metropolitan, many other positive changes are on the horizon, including the emergence of new downtown neighborhoods.

    Changing our style

    What's next for Seattle given its new urban renaissance? How do we bring sophistication and diversity into the real estate mix during such rapid development?

    The Puget Sound is generally known as a conservative region when it comes to private sector design and architecture, but the days of precast concrete and glass high-rise boxes should be behind us. Seattle developers have a real opportunity now, and in the near future, to put meaningful style and design into their projects.

    The team working on Olive 8, a hotel-condominium project at Olive Way and Eighth Avenue that is scheduled to break ground next January, has enlisted renowned New York architect Richard Gluckman to work in collaboration with local architecture firm MulvannyG2.

    Among others, Gluckman's portfolio includes the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Helmut Lang Flagship Store in New York City and Museo Picasso Malaga in Malaga, Spain.

    Under the direction of Gluckman and MulvannyG2, one of the main goals of Olive 8 is to enhance the skyline through its design — a sleek, fairly homogenous glass skin that stretches tightly over the structural frame of the building. This bold, glassy exterior, treated with several types of glass fritting combined with elements such as blue glass fins, will allow natural and artificial light to reflect and refract in a number of ways. The intent is to create a façade that promotes movement within, particularly around the lower level podium, which contains active areas such as the fitness center, health club, spa and pool as well as the hotel's restaurant and lobby.

    Lately, distinctive architecture has been seen primarily in local government buildings like the Seattle Central Library, whose architecture and design was recently applauded in The New Yorker. In Seattle's private sector, however, developers have been less adventurous with regard to architecture and design.

    There's no doubt that Seattle will continue to grow and evolve into a more dynamic city over the next several decades. Our city is relatively young, however, and in addition to creating buildings, development teams have an exciting opportunity to help build and define Seattle's burgeoning architectural personality.

    David Thyer is president of Seattle-based developer R.C. Hedreen Co., which has shifted its focus to luxury hotels over the past decade.

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