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September 11, 2015

Vulcan still has 4 million square feet to go, and that's just in South Lake Union

  • Vulcan's VP of real estate, Ada Healey, says it wasn't too many years ago that a prospective tenant asked her ‘Why would I ever move to South Lake Union? It is a wasteland.'
    Journal Staff Reporter

    Lest anyone doubt Ada Healey's value to Vulcan Real Estate, the company practically named a building after her. Or maybe it was just a coincidence.

    Healey, vice president of real estate for Vulcan, told members of Commercial Real Estate Women Seattle & Sound yesterday that the name of Vulcan's 208-unit apartment project in the University District will honor Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace. She's known as the world's first computer programmer.

    “Ada was not going to be the name of the project,” Healey insisted.

    The complex will be called Augusta instead.

    Vulcan owner Paul Allen used to do computer programming on the Augusta site, at Northeast 41st Street and Roosevelt Way Northeast, with fellow Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

    But Healey's influence is easy to see, maybe even right out your window. Since joining Vulcan in 2001, she has helped oversee the transformation of South Lake Union from a place to drive through into what looks like a new city within Seattle.

    Healey described Vulcan's South Lake Union portfolio in the early 2000s as a seedy mix of properties that included a strip club, a Hooters restaurant and a porn shop.

    She said an early prospective tenant “looked at us and said, ‘Why would I ever move to South Lake Union? It is a wasteland.'”

    You know what came next.

    Vulcan has developed 5.6 million square feet in 26 new office, biotech, residential and mixed-use projects, primarily in South Lake Union, including Amazon.com's 1.7 million-square-foot corporate campus.

    Next on tap for Vulcan: complete a pair of 12-story, 317,000-square-foot Amazon office buildings at 325 and 400 Ninth Ave. N. The buildings are Vulcan's first to take advantage of the 2013 neighborhood rezone, which allows taller buildings.

    The six-story, 272,000-square-foot Allen Institute for Brain Science is also nearly done.

    Vulcan is also doing pre-development work on the Arbor Blocks for a pair of five-story office buildings on Eighth Avenue North; an 18-story office building at 111 Westlake Ave. N.; a 41-story, 464-unit residential tower at 110 Ninth Ave. N.; and a 264,000-square-foot office building at 609 Fairview Ave. N.

    The company is considering a “refresh” for Chandler's Cove, the dock and marina along Fairview that has several restaurants and marine-related businesses.

    Healey said Vulcan still has at least another 4 million square feet on 20 acres it can develop. The company is also looking for opportunity all over Seattle and neighboring cities, including Bellevue, Redmond and Mercer Island.

    Vulcan has lately turned its attention to Yesler Terrace, where it's developing 650 market-rate and affordable housing units on three parcels.

    Seattle Housing Authority is the master developer for the 30-acre redevelopment, which could someday have up to 5,000 housing units, 900,000 square feet of office space, and 153,000 square feet of retail and community space.

    Healey said that sustainability remains an important goal for Vulcan, though the company aims to be “on the cutting edge, not the bleeding edge.”

    Its developments have incorporated cisterns to capture water for landscaping and urban agriculture, and giant swales designed to naturally filter millions of gallons of stormwater runoff before it drains into Lake Union.

    Vulcan is experimenting with meeting Salmon-Safe standards, which are designed to improve water quality. Healey said the company is also intrigued by waste-heat recovery systems that can capture heat from dishwashers and washing machines.

    Looking back on the redevelopment of South Lake Union, Healey said she didn't fully appreciate at the time how helpful it was to have the support of the city's leadership. She singled out several former city officials, including Greg Nickels, Tim Ceis, Jan Drago and Grace Crunican, the former director of Seattle Department of Transportation.

    “The political environment is different today,” she said. “It's much more combative, not ‘win-win, let's find solutions.'”

    Vulcan has a “great” working relationship with Mayor Ed Murray and several of the City Council members, she said, “but the environment is very different today.”


    Jon Silver can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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