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September 10, 2009

Bravern developers mastermind a high-flying project

  • Balancing act brings together high-end retailers, office and residential towers.
    Schnitzer West


    Understanding what customers want, then delivering it, is what successful companies do time and again. A perfect steak, beautifully tailored clothes, a more meaningful way to use the Internet — these are a just few examples of how industry-leading brands at The Bravern meet their customers’ desires and deliver value daily.

    How did Schnitzer West attract this collection of world-class tenants to The Bravern? We focused on the customer.

    Find the right location. Part of the investment discipline and due diligence at Schnitzer West is to study every available data point to understand a property’s potential value.

    It was clear from the outset that the site would appeal to office tenants. Adjacent to Interstate 405, the transit center, the Meydenbauer Convention Center and City Hall, it offered the most visible and accessible location in downtown Bellevue.

    Photo by Rodrigo DeMedeiros
    Retail shoppers wanted the shops to have a pedestrian scale, with outdoor public spaces, a gracious arrival experience and varied architecture. This scene is from an adjoining public space in one of the office towers.

    The research also pointed to strong support for a retail component. The location, at the corner of Northeast Eighth Street and 112th Avenue Northeast, is surrounded on the greater Eastside by an affluent community that is home to Microsoft, Paccar, Expedia, Symetra, T-Mobile USA, Costco, Puget Sound Energy and significant regional offices for General Electric and Key Bank.

    In a comparison with the 12 top upscale retail destinations in the country, The Bravern’s marketing area ranks fourth in both household income and in the percentage of household incomes above $100,000.

    Analyze the potential market. Based on the available demographic and psychographic data, it was clear that multiple uses could be successfully delivered at this location — and that the right combination would optimize our investment potential.

    To pinpoint optimum uses, we studied the retail, office and residential markets. We discovered unmet demand in all three. With the shortage of available office sites on the Eastside, we determined that downtown Bellevue would capture a disproportionate share of absorption in the coming cycle.

    Significant upscale retail sales were escaping the area to locations like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Palm Desert, Calif., because no upscale shopping venue existed. Finally, there were limited choices for the luxury condominium buyer on the Eastside, especially with the right bundle of amenities.

    Ask the customer. Before we embarked on design, we commissioned a variety of focus groups in each market segment to hear directly what they liked, what they didn’t and what they believed was missing.

    Retail shoppers were seeking elements from Europe — a scale that was oriented to the pedestrian, outdoor public spaces, a gracious arrival experience and varied architecture.

    The office tenants wanted greater electrical and HVAC capacity for ever-changing equipment needs, a way to comfortably accommodate more people per square foot in order to reduce costs, and convenient access to transit, parking and meeting facilities. Homeowners wanted full-service amenities without sacrificing privacy or convenience.

    After multiple rounds of study, we embarked on a design tour to find examples that best represented what the customers told us they wanted. We brought back thousands of design photos, which were categorized, then reviewed with yet another round of focus groups.

    From that, we distilled down the landscaping, architecture, plazas, furnishings and other details to ensure we were creating what the ideal shopping environment, office space and residential experience. Armed with clear direction, we began design, with every decision tied back to what the customer wanted.

    Assemble an “A” team. The simple fact is, no organization can know everything. So we assembled a team of experts.

    More than 50 stakeholders participated at various levels in the delivery of The Bravern. Each firm was carefully selected, often after a national search to find the best talent.

    One of the biggest challenges we faced was the balancing the ideal program elements, planning dimensions, structural design and architectural elements that each component demands and deserves.

    Led by our investment/development teams, our designers and key contractors devised plans for merging these multiple (and often competitive) uses in ways to maximize the customer experience across every dimension. After studying several options many times, we finally settled on an approach that has produced an exceptional result.

    Let the customer be the judge. The Bravern’s customer-focused strategy has already met with early success.

    With Microsoft’s execution of the lease in June 2007 for the entire 750,000 square feet of office space, we achieved our goal of attracting a world-class entrepreneurial company (with strong credit).

    The flexibility and responsiveness of our team allowed Microsoft to tailor the buildings to accommodate their broadest range of uses, from general office to heavy electrical-consuming applications, and provided the infrastructure to accommodate their changing needs for years to come.

    Neiman Marcus, a market leader in fashion retail, signed their lease in June of 2006, cementing the value of the location and shopping environment for other great brands like Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Anthropologie, Ferragamo and Sur La Table.

    Wild Ginger, John Howie Steak and Artisanal headline a collection of award-winning restaurants that was a cornerstone request of shoppers and diners in the market.

    With 85 percent of the retail leased at opening, The Shops at The Bravern is already perceived as a fashion leader in the market. The Signature Residences have been well-received, selling 25 percent of the units during the first few months of availability.

    Outperform expectations. As we open The Shops at The Bravern on Sept. 12 and welcome our first residents to The Bravern Signature Residences in January of 2010, the customer remains our primary focus.

    It is our goal to exceed every expectation through an unmatched caliber of personalized service. We believe our future success will be built on the same foundation that brought us to this point: by delivering what the customer wants at the right location through sound investment discipline, diligence and the right team.

    Tom Woodworth is the senior investment director at Schnitzer West.

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