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Real Estate: Crib Notes by Joe Nabbefeld

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Crib Notes
By Joe Nabbefeld

January 21, 2016

Crib Notes: Lots of Zest these days along Union Street in one of Capitol Hill's cool new hot spots

Special to the Journal

News flash: We're reporting live from Capitol Hill's new District 14. Down in the trenches of fast-track urban renewal, tech-millennial-style.

It's a dangerous assignment, as always. But we'll brave all the 2 percent lattes, craft beers named Zest and Cheer, yogis, artisanal pies, designer sidewalks and locavore kale soup to bring you the first look at yet another brand new neighborhood that just popped out of the ground. We'll also look at what it might all mean as similar transformations sprout all over town.

Okay, we'll try to get to that bigger picture right after knockin' down another 12-ouncer of Zest. Here at the cool new brewery named — what else — Optimism.

Photo by Alex Garland [enlarge]
Olson Kundig designed the new Optimism Brewery in a 95-year-old building on Broadway.

So what's District 14? Well, Crib Notes made up that name. We'll see if it sticks. Katniss Everdeen came from District 12, right? District 13 was taken too, as a segment of some deranged Seattleite's garden. This new district is the 1400 block so District 14 seems obvious.

Time travel back even just a few months. District 14 didn't exist. The seeds were there in the form of about six big, quarter-block-each construction sites circled by chain link fencing. Before that, this stretch of Union Street from Broadway east to 12th Avenue and Madison was just a place to walk through quickly — or avoid — on your way to the super-happening Pike-Pine Corridor. District 14 was a place to park. There was a dingy, low-rise thrift shop, a greasy former car battery store-turned-hot dog emporium, empty car dealerships and other forgettables.

Oh, and the magnificently named cheap, little, scrappy apartment building named the Undre Arms.

Think of a much smaller South Lake Union before Paul Allen and Vulcan. Back when SLU was dusty boat supply stores, a pink-elephant car wash and a car towing lot with a “Toe Truck” mounted above it. Back when Amazon.com wasn't even a glimmer in Allen's eye.

When the Great Recession abated in Seattle at the end of 2011, Amazon was going wild. Folks who study these things could see big — BIG — growth coming. So they bought up any and every development site in all the hot locations to put up 6-, 7- and 8-story residential buildings with retail and underground parking.

Bankers wouldn't let them build condos, so the units are all rentals (so far). Pike-Pine — with three universities nearby, and Amazon and downtown within walking distance — is the hottest of the hot spots. Capitol Hill for decades has had half the apartment vacancy rate of the rest of Seattle.

It makes sense that the Pike-Pine area around the Undre Arms would have so many “sites” come to think of it. Sip of Zest. They have space at Optimism for not one, not two, but three food trucks.

Today those six gleaming new apartment buildings provide at least 600 units — and many of us would not even want to try paying that high rent. How high? Two beds, two baths in 1,225 square feet (that's big) in the Broadstone Infinity extravaganza on Union between 10th & 11th goes for $5 less than $4,000 per month, according to BroadstoneInfinity.com. That's $3.22/square foot/month for the geeks who track that. Seems to be at the higher end.

“Where you live is a reward that stimulates the senses and excites the mind. Broadstone Infinity is just that — a brand new collection of stylish apartment homes offering sleek modern interiors and thoughtfully designed, high-quality amenities,” says promo material on the website. The page is titled “Long Live The Hill.”

Those rents tell you what “the demographic” is. Look around: Here at Optimism with the Crib are 200 fresh-faced, happy millennials. Age thirtyish it seems. Crib feels he must be the oldest fool in here, but just as happy.

Optimism is beautiful. And shocking. It's a full block long, 30-foot-high ceilings, a gorgeous sea of concrete floor — may I lie on this concrete?! The most-unisex bathroom you have ever experienced. A lushly appointed, fenced-in area for children to play. Watering stations for dogs. Pizzas also are welcome or any other food you want to bring. Or just hit those food trucks in the center court, across from the gleaming silo farm of stainless steel tanks for beer making. Can I lie on this floor UNDER one of those tanks?

Been to the Willy Wonka Coffee Shop (aka Starbucks' gorgeous Reserve rostary) just down the street in Lower Pike Pine yet? Optimism is the Willy Wonka of beer breweries. It also appears to be quite the business model since it takes no more than about three employees to serve me and my 200 new friends. The space seems at most half full with my 200 friends.

Been to the Chuck's Hop Shop on Union over the hill at 20th? Optimism is Chuck's on steroids for the American Express crowd. 5-star Chuck's.

You're starting to get the picture. Mmmm this Zest is nice. Maybe I should get Unicorn next.

Equally intriguing, if not more, is Metier. It's another BIG, wood-and-old brick coffee shop that sprang up where Lifelong AIDS Alliance's Thrift Shop used to be. Maybe a portobello-pesto sandwich with that Unicorn?

Metier has a coffee shop, restaurant, yoga studios and high-end clothing. And top-line Italian bicycles for sale, with a massage studio and physical therapy studio. They sell wine, beer and a very good bourbon. There's kettle bell weight lifting and red ropes that let you hang from the ceiling while doing inverted push-ups under the watchful eye of a personal trainer.

All that in one spot at Metier, and we kid you not, despite two Zests and one Unicorn. Plus gorgeous locker rooms with towels, showers.

This spring Metier will blast out the front and replace seven parking spaces with sidewalk seating. Metier put in some of the world's largest skylights, up there about 30 feet from the indoor seating. Downstairs is a bike repair shop with the world's most expensive bike parts. Need some BlueTooth-controlled gear shifters for your Colnago?

Who paid for all these tenant improvements? Which red wine were they drinking? Are there enough young fitness folks up there in the Broadstone, Evolve and Viva apartments to make this work?

Crib bravely totters along the block between Optimism and Metier to see. Yep, there are definitely people here at Metier. One employee is at the espresso bar folding towels for the showers.

There's almost no free parking but will that hinder recouping this major investment? Metier surely needs more than just the millennials here in District 14. Will others bike in? Car2go and Uber in?

But lest the Zest and then Unicorn cause us to forget, Crib Notes is a residential real estate column. What does this all mean to Seattle housing?

This is the Creative Class incarnate. Richard Florida, the economic development professor who coined that term, said cities that prosper in this cycle will be those that appeal to the Creatives, meaning the folks who work in front of screens by day then want to get out on foot, or two wheels, in the evening to socialize, eat, play and relax. Then walk home.

As go the creatives, so goes our residential real estate market.

Well, it's time to grab that car2go right over there that some millennial just finished with... Better yet, I'm calling Uber.

(Editor's note: This story has been changed to correct the size and name of beer served.)

Joe Nabbefeld is a Realtor with Windermere Capitol Hill. You can reach him at www.RealSolutions.biz. He was the DJC's commercial real estate editor back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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