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Nat Levy
Real Estate Reporter

September 17, 2015

Real Estate Buzz: How a bike ride helped me learn to love SLU

Real Estate Reporter

Much of our perception of a place depends on how we get around.

I just spent a week visiting Boston and Washington, D.C., and I now prefer Boston over D.C. for one reason: It is so much easier to go places in Bean Town without a car.

I spent less time worrying about getting around and more time enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes. Boston's subway system, one of the oldest in the nation, served my needs much better than its D.C. counterpart. Bikes were the most reliable way for me to get around our nation's capitol.

Seattle's transit system can be a breeze or a bummer depending on where you want to go. Traffic here is terrible, and parking can be tough to find.

I can't speak for anyone else, but lately I try to avoid driving in the city. Bikes work for some people, but I've always shied away from them in the city because its dangerous without separate lanes.

Photo by Nat Levy [enlarge]
Marc Gearhart of Holland Partner Group said people from out of town usually have a car when they first move into Holland’s buildings, but a lot of those cars get sold after people get the lay of the land.

All these thoughts were on my mind Tuesday as I joined 20 people on a bike tour with Urban Land Institute Northwest. Here was my chance to see Seattle through a cyclist's eyes — but in a group. There's safety in numbers!

The tour went around Fremont and South Lake Union — areas that are pretty bike-friendly — so I wouldn't really get the full picture. But one thing I did get was a new appreciation for South Lake Union.

I've mostly traversed the land of Amazon by bus and car, and found it to be pretty difficult. But on a Pronto bike you can zip from Amazon to the Dexter corridor, or from Dexter to Fremont. Sidewalks are wide enough for bikes and pedestrians in many places, and it is one of the few major neighborhoods in Seattle that is mostly flat, except for Denny, of course.

Bike lanes along Dexter are heavily used by commuters, and the city plans to add bike lanes on Westlake Avenue North.

I won't turn this into an appeal for everyone to commute by bike because I don't even own a bike. Tuesday was the first time I have ridden one in Seattle in about four years.

But I can see the benefit for the real estate industry. If it's easy to get around by bike — or bus — people will be less likely to own cars. If they don't have cars, they don't need parking — and that's a huge savings for developers.

Holland Partner Group is doing a lot of new development along Dexter. Marc Gearhart, development director for Holland, said people today are looking for ways to get places without a car. Look at the number of parking stalls being built in apartment projects. Before the recession, most new projects in the Dexter corridor averaged about one stall per unit, Gearhart said. Newer projects are down to about .75 stalls per unit and some have no parking.

Holland has built about 1,000 units in the Dexter corridor since 2010, and has another 1,000 on the way. Its most popular units are open one-bedrooms with about 600 square feet.

Gearhart said about 70 percent of its tenants are men, and most of them came here from somewhere else — the East Coast or foreign countries — to work at tech companies. Their starting salaries are between $90,000 and $115,000, he said.

“The great news for the neighborhood is there are incomes that support really strong rents,” Gearhart said. “Units are going to continue to get smaller and rents are going to climb.”

Residents coming from out of town usually have a car when they first move into Holland's buildings, but Gearhart said a lot of those cars get sold once people get the lay of the land.

High-end housing isn't the only thing being built in the Dexter corridor. Holland is constructing an office building at 1101 Westlake Ave. N. as part of Westlake Steps. The shell and core will be done in December. Gearhart said it's one of the only places with more than 100,000 square feet available, so he expects it to lease up quickly.

Holland tries to offer unique amenities in its apartment projects, and it is extending that to its office space. The office tenants in 1101 Westlake will be able to use racks to store their kayaks and take them out on the lake for a break or after work.

There will be some affordable housing on Dexter as well. Bellwether Housing is working on a 71-unit project at 1511 Dexter Ave. N. for people making less than 50 to 60 percent of area median income. Bellwether wants to begin construction late next summer and open in fall 2017.

Alyssa Mehl of Bellwether said the grade change on the site is among the biggest challenges. Another is funding. The $24 million project will use numerous funding sources, including $10 million in tax-exempt bonds, $7 million from Seattle's Office of Housing, $6 million in low-income housing tax credits and $1 million from Bellwether's Impact Investing program, which asks private investors to contribute to affordable housing for a 2 percent return.

As Mehl spoke to the bike tour group Tuesday her team was finishing an application for city funds that was due the next day. She had to skip the post-tour happy hour and get back to work.

Last stop on the tour was Touchstone's complex called NorthEdge. The four-story, 208,000-square-foot office project is fully leased to Tableau Software. The core and shell will be complete in May, said Gary Lin of Touchstone. Soon after, Tableau will begin work on its offices.

The building will have a public rooftop with views of the lake — accessible by a public elevator. There will also be plenty of secure bike parking, Lin said.

October will be busy in Bothell

Two big projects that are reshaping downtown Bothell are set to open next month.

Sneak previews for media are scheduled soon for the new City Hall and for McMenamins' renovation of Anderson School.

McMenamins' website says Anderson School is scheduled to open Oct. 15. McMenamins is renovating a 1930s art deco school into a 72-room hotel. Other buildings will house bars and restaurants, community space, and a first-run movie theater.

The developer also wants to have live music and events most nights. The team also plans to remove the roof from one building and refurbish the pool inside, offering free access to Bothell residents for at least 15 years.

Ankrom Moisan Architects is designing McMenamins' project, and a joint venture of Andersen Construction and Pacific Crest Construction is the general contractor.

Employees will start moving in to Bothell City Hall Oct. 24, said Barbara Ramey, a communications officer for the city of Bothell. The building will be open to the public Oct. 26, and a grand opening ceremony is planned for Nov. 7.

Crews broke ground on the 55,000-square-foot Bothell City Hall a little over a year ago. The new building will bring most city employees under the same roof. City staff today are split between City Hall, Dawson Building, and several portables and leased spaces.

About 120 people will work in the new building when it opens, but there is capacity for more.

An affiliate of Vulcan Real Estate is developing the City Hall. The Miller Hull Partnership is the architect, and GLY Construction is the general contractor.

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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