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Real Estate Editor
April 18, 2019
Cherry trees and selfie seekers, the first cruise ship docking on the waterfront, visitors dragging their truculent spring-break schoolkids through the market — all signs that summer tourist season is nigh.
And the recently opened State Hotel, at 1501 Second Ave., is ready to welcome those tourists.
In fact, developer Pat Foley of Lake Union Partners tells me during a recent tour, the 91-room boutique hotel is already doing quite well. “Generally speaking, we've been full.”
Several guests are parked in the lobby while we chat, and the 75-seat Ben Paris restaurant and bar is doing a brisk early lunch trade. At one table I note a doting grandmother and grandchild; it's not just businessfolk and hipsters who are sleeping and dining here.
“We're more of a lifestyle hotel. Everyone's welcome,” says Foley.
His firm redeveloped the mostly vacant old building in a venture with investors including John Oppenheimer, CEO of Columbia Hospitality, which operates and manages the hotel.
Foley says the building — purchased in 2015 for a little over $5.3 million — wasn't in bad shape, “not falling down.” The Eitel Building was constructed in 1905 – 1906, and had been mostly medical and dental offices above retail until the 1970s, when the upper floors emptied out. (During better times, it housed a Bartell and the original Ben Paris, which later gave way to a wig shop and nail salon.) But the roof, Carnegie steel columns and main timbers were intact.
The gut renovation — by Exxel Pacific, with Weinstein AU as architect — didn't reveal any nasty, costly surprises, says Foley. Demolition opened up the entire west wall of the structure, and was probably the greatest challenge. After that came all new building systems, elevators, a complete seismic retrofit, etc.
Rooms average around 250 square feet — compact but not claustrophobic. Furnishings are slim and tidy. Sliding barn doors keep the compact bathrooms private.
Vida designed the interiors and developed the brand concept. Portland artist Kate Blairstone designed the custom wallpaper, which varies on each floor. The eighth floor is a new addition, with only eight rooms and a setback to make it nearly invisible from the street.
Apart from the prominent, west-facing mural by Shepard Fairey, most of the State's abundant art is local — with a booklet inside each room that profiles the artists and their subjects. In the lobby, I was immediately struck by a delicate drawing of Erin “Tiny” Blackwell, the Seattle street kid immortalized in the 1984 documentary “Streetwise” and Life magazine photos by the late Mary Ellen Mark. (Her husband, Martin Bell, directed “Streetwise.”)
Ironically, Foley hadn't seen the doc when the project began. “It was one of those unexpected things, one of those hidden treasures.” The wife of Foley’s partner Joe Ferguson discovered “Streetwise” during the planning; she and the partners have since befriended and assisted Blackwell. Foley explains that the portrait is by Blackwell's daughter, Keanna Pickett, who with her mother and other siblings was invited to the hotel's opening party. It’s been a long journey for Blackwell, who with her cohort once scrambled for drugs and tricks around Second and Pike, when such activity was far more common in the area.
It's a still sad reminder of how that stretch of pavement has long been challenged with crime and neglect. Foley says that Blackwell “remembers walking around the building; it was just a dump.” While the hotel art collection is far broader than that one topic, Foley says, “We wanted a way to honor the legacy and life of those street kids … a way not to paint this as sad.”
Reflecting on those bygone days, says Foley of his own college years, “I probably walked past here. I remember seeing all the street kids.”
Still, the hood is changing fast. Looking down from the hotel's small eighth-floor terrace (for guests only), Foley and I survey some of those changes. The Target is always surprisingly crowded, especially compared to the old J.C. Penney that it — and the Newmark condominium above — replaced. The Hard Rock Cafe, whatever you think of it, has a long lease and isn't going away soon.
Kitty corner to the State is Urban Visions' new West Edge apartment tower, with its ground-floor retail filling up. (The projected restaurant on the eighth floor still looks to be vacant and unleased.)
To the west, at First Avenue and Pike, Stellar Holdings is planning to build a 14-story hotel on the corner where the Green Tortoise building now stands. To the east, that old seven-story parking garage won't be there forever. (Its restaurant, Ludi's, was formerly The Turf, an icon of older, seedier times.) Next to the garage on Second, Pinnacle Plus Development is planning two high-rise condominium towers.
Density breeds density, which keeps downtown hotels and restaurants full. At street level in the State, the handsome, tall-windowed Ben Paris is run by general manager Reid Kendall, chef Quinton Stewart and bartender Abigail Gullo. The mural is by local tattoo artist Kyler Martz.
With the State up and running, what else is on Lake Union Partners' plate? Permits are near for its almost full-block, 433-unit project at 2301 E. Union St. — now called Midtown Public Square. Foley says W.G. Clark Construction should begin work in July. Weinstein is also the architect for that complex.
His firm will sell its interest in a 242-unit project proposed at 4716 Rainier Ave. S. in Columbia City. Rainier Pacific Properties continues to own the land, and permits have been issued.
Grand Street Commons, on 3.2 acres in the Rainier Valley (but with no official address), is two years off. Environmental cleanup is now underway, partly funded by the state Department of Ecology. About 700 units are planned in that venture, which also includes Mt. Baker Housing Association and HAL Real Estate.
Foley and partners Joe Ferguson and Tyson Feaster “are always looking around” for sites and opportunities, he says. Other projects are currently underway in Portland, Salt Lake City and Denver.
Got a tip? Contact DJC real estate reporter Brian Miller at email@example.com or call him at (206) 219-6517.