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Shoppers, retailers both flocking to downtown Seattle
By SUSAN ZIMMERMAN
The highlights of 1998, most notably the opening of the new Nordstrom flagship store and Pacific Place, have brought a renewed interest in downtown Seattle. Downtown Seattle is one of the most talked-about cities in the United States with the realization that has taken place over the last three years.
By the end of this year, downtown Seattle will have added approximately 1 million square feet of new retail since the opening of the Meridian complex (Niketown, Planet Hollywood, Cineplex Odeon) in 1996.
Pacific Place was a catalyst for much of this activity, adding over 325,000 square feet of retail anchored by General Cinema, Barnes & Noble and five restaurants. Add to that the new Nordstrom, the remodeled I. Magnin Building with the 38,000-square-foot Old Navy store and Gene Juarez Salon.
At 4th and Virginia, Bed, Bath & Beyond built a new store of 60,000 square feet. Bed, Bath & Beyond is the beginning of big box retailers who will choose downtown Seattle, as well as more retailers which will build multilevel stores to minimize occupancy costs and utilize prime retail space.
Rainier Square has added Louis Vuitton, a showcase store at the northwest corner of Fifth and University. There will be other changes to Rainier Square with the recent announcement of St. Johns Knits taking space at the northeast corner of 5th and University. Directly across the street, the Four Seasons hotel has space and hopes to find a new retailer for that corner location as well.
One of the key blocks in downtown Seattle that will most likely announce a new retailer in the upcoming months is the OShea Building located at Fifth and Pine. Currently occupied by Jay Jacobs, this location is definitely at the 50-yard line of retail in downtown Seattle.
Work has already begun on the former Nordstrom building, known as the Seaboard Center. This project will add 100,000 square feet of new retail to downtown. Retailers eyeing this location will be forced to take more than one level to share in the coveted ground floor space. Fifth Avenue has always enjoyed an excellent retail address and will continue to do so with the re-tenanting of this premier location.
The Convention Center expansion will also add new momentum to downtown Seattle with its proposed hotel and retail. The legendary restaurant Hard Rock Caf is rumored to be a component of the Convention Center retail. The new hotels planned and under construction throughout downtown will help maintain our ability to attract conventions, with conventioneers and guests patronizing our retailers.
Why are all of these changes taking place? For the first time, downtown Seattle is seen as an extremely viable 18-hour city, with the number of new retailers and the added entertainment venues throughout the city. The interest in downtown Seattle from the suburban consumer has increased because of the nature of downtown shopping, uniqueness of the shops and enjoyment of the restaurants.
The restaurants have been extremely successful and will continue to be, thanks to the activity generated by movie theatres and live entertainment venues, including the ACT, Paramount and Fifth Avenue theatres and the new Benaroya Seattle Symphony Hall.
The increasing number of people who want to live downtown is enhanced by the desire to be part of an active urban environment. The new stadiums, both Safeco Field and the new home for the Seattle Seahawks, will keep people downtown.
Another reason for the focus on downtown is our close-in neighborhoods. These communities all have places to gather such as coffee houses and neighborhood cafes. However, the majority of shopping for apparel, home furnishings and retail products is done in the downtown core. Our neighborhood districts do not have the square footage available to attract the retailers in close-in areas such as Queen Anne, Madison Park and Magnolia.
Downtown is open, outdoors and feels vibrant due to the increased number of people downtown shopping, eating and socializing. Look into the millenium for continued change and activity. We are lucky to live in such a great city.
Susan Zimmerman is a broker with Kidder Mathews & Segner specializing in retail properties.
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