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Brian Miller
Real Estate Editor

July 1, 2021

On the Block: Will the last church to leave Seattle turn out the lights?

Walsh Construction has begun the long-anticipated demolition of University Temple United Methodist Church, at 1415 N.E. 43rd St. in the University District. Dickson is the demolition subcontractor. The board of the aging, shrinking congregation made the decision to sell over three years ago, then later partnered with American Campus Communities on the redevelopment plan. The church will have a new home, designed by Weinstein AU, in some kind of condominium arrangement, in the podium beneath two student-housing towers.

GGLO is the architect for ACC, a REIT based in Austin, Texas, which bills itself as the largest student housing enterprise in the U.S. After the demo is done on the corner of 15th Avenue Northeast, the plan is for 23- and 14-story towers, with the taller of the two on the corner to the north. They'll have about 933 beds — the standard metric in student housing — along with amenities and some underground parking. U District Station will open this fall, a few steps west; and students at the University of Washington should also be back in full force this fall — all presumably vaccinated by then.

Rendering by GGLO/photos by Brian Miller [enlarge]
Before, during and after. University Temple will have a new but much smaller home within the planned student housing development.

When I spoke to the church board three years ago, it said that membership totaled about 1,200 when the building was new, grew a bit in the postwar years then declined to about 140 congregants in 2018. Dave Rothrock and Doug Barrett of Meriwether Advisors advised the church on the property disposition. The actual transfer into a new LLC hasn't yet been recorded by the county.

University Temple had said it couldn't afford the upkeep or seismic work for the neo-Gothic building, which was designed by John Graham and completed in 1927. (There was also an addition 30 years later.)

It wasn't a lovely building, but it was familiar. It complemented the UW's campus Gothic vibe — and anchored a row of churches along 15th and near. But look north, and there's another crane at the corner of Northeast 50th Street. That's where Peak Campus last year demolished University Christian Church for the 441-bed Theory U District, now under construction.

And while it doesn't have high-rise zoning, just north of University Temple is University Congregational United Church of Christ, with almost an acre on the corner of 45th. One can only wonder at its current congregation size — and development potential.

That's not listed for sale; nor is the nearby Christ Episcopal Church, with a corner property zoned up to 320 feet. A few steps west on Northeast 47th Street is Cross & Crown Church (formerly University Baptist), also with the same zoning — and also not listed for sale.

Seattle was once very well churched; from Arthur Denny forward, there was an early settler's determination to quash the sin out of a gold-rush boomtown that was full of men (not women), gambling, brothels and vice. As the city grew more respectable and married, churches sprang up all over the city.

That includes the Central Area, where African Americans were confined by redlining and racially restrictive land covenants. Yet only this week Mount Calvary Christian Center sold part of its property at 23rd and Union, where new apartments are planned. Mount Calvary and other historically Black churches face the same dilemma — declining, older members (some of whom are also moving to south King County, where Mount Calvary intends to relocate).

High on my story list of churches-into-apartments is First Presbyterian, an unloved concrete Brutalist-style 1960s edifice immediately east of the freeway, just above downtown. Seattle Presbytery already has a master-use permit to demolish the full-block complex. That mostly vacant 1.4-acre property has high-rise zoning, and is being quietly offered for sale. One local hotel developer quietly stepped away from the deal — in part because of the pandemic's impact on the hospitality biz.

A few ticks down my story list is Plymouth United Church of Christ (formerly Plymouth Congregational), also downtown, also a 1960s eyesore, also with high-rise zoning and also mostly vacant but for a childcare center. That half block is too valuable not to reach the market — someday, sooner or later, when a broker's knock at the door is finally answered. The wrecking ball won't be far behind.

Back in the U District, city records indicate that all the necessary building permits are near for ACC and Walsh. The team also includes Magnusson Klemencic Associates, structural engineer; STG Design of Austin, interiors; Intertek PSI of Portland, geotechnical engineer; Bush, Roed & Hitchings, surveyor; and Glumac, MEP engineer.

Got a tip? Contact DJC real estate editor Brian Miller at brian.miller@djc.com or call him at (206) 219-6517.

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