December 7, 2007

An urban village emerges on Seattle’s First Hill

Opus Northwest


The greatest cities in the world all have diverse neighborhoods with dynamic personalities — Seattle is no exception. Over the past decade, a few of our emerging neighborhoods have received a lot of attention while others have quietly emerged as true urban villages. One such neighborhood is First Hill, home of St. James Cathedral, Seattle University and stately mansions built more than a century ago. For years, First Hill has been the base for some of Seattle’s finest medical facilities, earning it the nickname of Pill Hill. But as Seattle’s downtown business core extends over Interstate 5, which has traditionally been First Hill’s western border, the base of this historic neighborhood is changing dramatically — and the results have been impressive.

Urban pioneers are laying the foundation for this new neighborhood, which is literally extending the central business district into First Hill. More than 2,000 new condominiums and apartment units are planned for First Hill. Already, there’s more of a 24/7 feel to the neighborhood, and it’s exciting to watch.

Interestingly, many suburbs such as Kenmore, Burien and Issaquah are creating urban villages because residents want one-stop places where they can live, work and play. Although First Hill already exists in an urban core, it, too, is making the transformation into an urban village.

Here at the base of First Hill, everything — including the city center — is within walking distance. New retail shops are opening. New apartment buildings are being built. And there’s even a new upscale grocer at Eighth and Madison, called M Street Grocery, which serves as a visual anchor for the emerging neighborhood.

Images courtesy of Opus Northwest
M Street Grocery, an authentic neighborhood store, anchors the base of First Hill.

Spurring the transformation ever further are stakeholders such as NBBJ’s Bill Bain, Opus Northwest and Harbor Properties, all of which are lobbying City Hall for pedestrian-oriented improvements to Madison Street over the freeway. Our collective vision is to enhance the experience and accessibility of the Madison Street corridor that links the CBD to First Hill and to create an architecturally pleasing gateway at the entrance to downtown Seattle. In fact, the city has already announced plans for substantial pedestrian and streetscape improvements along Eighth Avenue.

At Opus Northwest, we have strong confidence in what is going on at First Hill. That is why we chose to develop three major projects in the neighborhood: M Street, 7th & Madison and 1200 Madison.

The 17-story M Street provides 220 high-end apartments as well as 40,000 square feet of Class A medical office space. M Street is home to Pacific Medical Centers, which is leasing nearly 7,000 square feet of space for its new Diagnostic & Wellness Center for Women, and M Street Grocery.

During the summer, we broke ground on 7th & Madison, a 205,000-square-foot Class A office building adjacent to the Madison Street exit of I-5. This nine-story building will serve as a gateway to Seattle’s CBD. Designed by NBBJ, 7th & Madison offers approximately 8,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space.

Our project at 1200 Madison began as a medical office building with 50 residences. When neighbors expressed concern about increased traffic, Opus responded with a new plan that the neighbors embraced. The project design currently includes more than 225 apartments and live/work units, plus a fitness center and rooftop entertainment space. Construction is projected to begin next year.

Fortunately, we are just one of several development companies investing in First Hill. Together, we are bringing new life to one of Seattle’s first and most esteemed neighborhoods.

Harbor Properties is building an 81-unit apartment building at Eighth and Marion. Named after Seattle’s first and only female mayor, Bertha Knight Landes, the seven-story building will have 3,850 square feet of retail space and 72 below-grade parking stalls.

The 7th & Madison project, with 205,000 square feet of office space, is being built adjacent to the Madison Street exit of I-5.

Levin Menzies is developing a 25-story, 285-unit residential tower and a nine-story building with 25 residential units at Eighth Avenue and Seneca Street. The buildings will offer parking for 315 vehicles and 1,300 square feet of retail. The developer plans to build a bridge to Freeway Park, creating another connection to downtown’s business core.

The retail in Harbor Properties’ Landes and Levin Menzies’ projects, coupled with that of M Street and 7th & Madison, will provide 30,000 square feet of restaurants as well as a variety of services and desirable amenities.

Other development is in the works as well. All three of the major health-care players on First Hill have either announced or are moving forward with expansion plans.

Presbyterian Retirement Communities Northwest is under construction with a $100 million, full-block senior community. The Skyline at First Hill project, bordered by Eighth and Ninth avenues and Cherry and Columbia streets, includes support for restoration of the historic Trinity Church, Seattle’s first Episcopalian parish. Horizon House, an assisted-living continuing care retirement community, also is working on a $68 million expansion.

All of this new construction and expansion is laying the foundation for a vibrant new neighborhood that will serve as a true extension of downtown. Eventually, workers and residents in the CBD will stroll over to First Hill to dine and shop.

This is good news not only for First Hill, but also for the rest of Seattle’s downtown core. Cities thrive best when there are economic engines that spur growth.

Scott Herrmann is a real estate director for Opus Northwest. He leads the team that is developing 7th & Madison, an office and retail building on Seattle’s First Hill.

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