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August 9, 2018

Commuter Building may be demolished to make space for viaduct demo staging

  • Developer Martin Selig filed a new plan to regrade the block for contractors to use for parking and storage.
    Journal Staff Reporter

    Martin Selig is working with Perkins + Will to design an 18- or 19-story mixed-use tower for the site at 815 Western Ave.

    As the DJC first reported last summer, Martin Selig has eyes on the Commuter Building block, at 815 Western Ave. on the waterfront.

    Selig filed plans, with Perkins + Will, for an 18- or 19-story mixed-use tower on the site. The plans were updated last month, shortly after longtime tenant Dania left the building without explanation.

    Selig and the building owner didn't respond to DJC queries at the time.

    Now we know why Dania left. Selig has filed a separate new plan to raze the three-story Commuter Building and a four-story companion garage, which are both about 100 years old.

    The new filing states that the project involves “demolition of the buildings on the block that is bounded by Marion St., Western Ave., Columbia St, and Alaska Way for the purpose of providing space for the contractors responsible for demolishing the viaduct. The entire block will be demolished and regraded for parking and storage.”

    That contractor is Kiewit, which recently won the $94 million contract to remove the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The job also includes decommissioning the Battery Street Tunnel, regrading Aurora Avenue North and reconnecting the street grid in South Lake Union.

    Kiewit and WSDOT have yet to announce the schedule and phasing for that work, but Metro has indicated it wants the Columbia Street viaduct ramp removed early — possibly as soon as this winter. Columbia will then become a new two-way bus arterial, leading directly to the ferry terminal.

    The often altered Commuter Building isn't in the Pioneer Square Preservation District, and isn't a landmark. Based on past landmark board decisions, it seems to have scant chance of being landmarked.

    Tenants include Windermere Real Estate (founded by the Jacobi family, which owns the block), MoxiWorks and the Forge Lounge, which faces the Marion Street pedestrian bridge to the ferry terminal.

    SDOT plans to replace the bridge with a temporary structure, and is aware of Selig's redevelopment plans.

    Mike Ager, who co-owns the Forge with a fellow firefighter, says, “We've been talking over the years” with the Jacobi family about possible redevelopment. “I wasn't surprised. I was expecting it. They're free to cancel the lease at any time. They've been great landlords. They've been kind enough to allow us to operate right up until the drop-dead deadline” for possible demolition.

    But Ager and business partner Jeff Hammock don't know when that deadline might be. Selig, not the Jacobis, will likely become their new landlord. A demolition permit will come sooner than a master use permit for a new tower.

    For that reason, Ager says of the seven-year-old Forge, “Enjoy it while you can.”

    Ager lives in Pioneer Square, making it easier to manage the bar when he's not fighting fires. “I need to be close.” And he understands the development value of viaduct-free waterfront parcels.

    “We're not trying to stop progress,” he says. “Let's face it — the building's facing the wrong way,” meaning that the Commuter Building's unfavored back side, to the west, will soon become its good side.

    Could Ager move the bar to a new Pioneer Square location? “We love it here. We would look at whatever new opportunities are present at that time. If the Forge goes away, we'll reevaluate.”

    The challenge for small businesses, he acknowledges, is that older buildings offer cheaper rents. And new buildings, like the renovated Maritime Building next door, and Selig's planned tower, will charge much higher rents.

    “If you're small and independent,” he says, “you're nothing. It's brutal.”