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Nat Levy
Real Estate Reporter

August 6, 2015

Real Estate Buzz: Putting light rail maintenance yard in Bel-Red could mean big opportunity for TOD projects

Courtesy Sound Transit [enlarge]
One concept being studied by Sound Transit could create up to 3.4 million square feet of new space around the proposed light rail maintenance site.

Bel-Red is expected to be the center of Bellevue's next wave of growth and development. Wright Runstad's 36-acre Spring District is leading the way, with housing, office, retail and a new light rail line coming.

When Sound Transit began to focus on the neighborhood as a possible site for a light rail operations and maintenance satellite facility, that was not happy news for some city leaders, property owners and others.

The agency has picked a preferred alternative: the 28-acre site is bounded by the Eastside Rail Corridor on the west, 120th Avenue Northeast on the east, state Route 520 on the north and Northeast 12th Street on the south.

Sound Transit has been talking with stakeholders and others about how to mitigate the impact of a maintenance base on the area, and has studied some transit-oriented development ideas. One concept shows a two-phase project that could add as much as 3.4 million square feet of new development.

Now Sound Transit wants to see if there's interest in turning this concept into reality.

Late last month, the agency sent out a request for expressions of interest from developers, architects and contractors. Responses should be sent to Steven Johnson, Sound Transit's senior design and constuction contracts specialist, at steven.johnson@soundtransit.org and are due by 4:30 p.m. Aug. 14.

Sound Transit is looking at several different ways to deliver the maintenance facility and accompanying TOD. One is to pick a master developer to do it all. Another option is for Sound Transit to use a design-build contract for the maintenance facility and bring in a developer to coordinate with that team on TOD projects. Or Sound Transit also could build the maintenance facility and find a developer later.

“It's a bit of unique situation to have a light rail maintenance facility that might also have residential or mixed-use commercial development on site,” said Don Billen, Sound Transit's director of project development.

Johnson added, “Because it's such a unique situation, we thought we should go out to the industry first.”

Sound Transit officials made it clear in an interview last week they are not asking for proposals. They want to see if there is interest in this type of project and whether firms have the capacity to pull it off.

With light rail expanding in all directions, Sound Transit plans to add 96 new light rail trains. That exceeds the capacity of the current maintenance facility in Sodo.

Sound Transit has few options for siting a new maintenance facility. It must be a flat site with about 25 acres, and along a light rail line. Sound Transit identified four possible locations — three in Bellevue and one in Lynnwood — before choosing the Bel-Red site as its preferred alternative.

A final decision has not been made on the site. The environmental analysis comes out this fall, and after that Sound Transit's Board of Directors will make the final selection.

Sound Transit hasn't set a construction start date for the maintenance facility. Officials said 2017 is probably the earliest, which would mean completion in 2020. Developers could start work on TODs after it is done. Billen said the goal is to finish TOD projects before East Link light rail opens in 2023.

“(There will be) over two years available to a developer to do their TOD work before trains even begin running,” Billen said.

Red Lion unpacks Hotel RL in Baltimore

Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corp. has opened the first Hotel RL, its new Northwest-themed brand. But it's not in the Northwest; it's in downtown Baltimore.

Courtesy Red Lion [enlarge]

Red Lion said in a press release it turned the 10-story Keyser Building in Baltimore's Inner Harbor into a 130-room hotel. The building is on the corner of Calvert and Redwood streets, and was constructed in 1905 as office space.

The lobby has a seating area called The Steps, which Red Lion said is designed to feel like a Northwest coffee house. There is space for live entertainment and interactive talks that eventually could be broadcast to other Hotel RL locations.

Red Lion said it borrowed from the airline industry for the check-in process. An app allows people to check in on their phone, pick a room and download an electronic key.

Hotel RL doesn't have a typical front desk; instead greeters with tablets are stationed throughout the hotel. Guests who want a physical room key can get one at a kiosk in the lobby.

The hotel designer is Pulse by Gettys, a division of the international design firm The Gettys Group. Jackson Thilenius, senior design director for Pulse, said the concept “is geared to meet the changing needs of today's traveler, with innovative spaces that are not only functional but also encourage interaction and communal gathering.”

As part of the opening, Red Lion also launched Project Wake Up Call, which it says is an effort to raise awareness and funding for homeless people through photographs, some taken by amateur photographers who are homeless. Red Lion said it will launch the program in every city where it opens a Hotel RL.

Hilton Bellevue rehab is done

The Dow Hotel Co. has completed a $12 million renovation of Hilton Bellevue at 300 112th Ave. S.E.

Work focused on the 10-story building's 353 hotel rooms as well as the lobby, restaurant and bar. Three new banquet and meeting rooms were added, and the existing meeting space was upgraded.

The hotel now has 22,000 square feet of flexible space that can hold up to 2,500 people. There is a 34,000-square-foot exhibit hall suitable for car and boat shows.

Rooms got new beds, furniture and wall-mounted TVs, as well as upgraded bathrooms.

“Bellevue has grown tremendously over the years, becoming one of the nation's most prestigious cities in which to live and work, and the Hilton Bellevue has grown and changed along with it,” said Murray Dow II, Dow Hotel's founder and president. “This full renovation brings the hotel to like-new status.”

CR Architecture + Design of Cincinnati and Meri Meis Associates of Moorpark, California, designed the renovation. Frazee Inc. of Orlando and FDR Construction of Vista, California, were the general contractors.

Got some interesting news for the Buzz? You can reach Nat at nat.levy@djc.com.

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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