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Safeco Field


Safeco Field
June 17, 1999

Stadium just part of big changes coming to SoDo

Journal Real Estate editor

Much attention has focused on the two new professional sports stadiums going into the gritty neighborhood south of downtown. There's even been talk that Seattle's SoDo area will evolve the way Denver's LoDo has.

LoDo is that city's Lower Downtown area where Coors Field is located. The neighborhood's taxable sales almost doubled in 1995 when Coors Field opened.

But that part of Denver was deserted before Coors Field was built. Construction of the baseball stadium was an urban renewal project in an area targeted for redevelopment.

In SoDo, the transformation began in 1976 when the Kingdome opened, and development of office space and housing is occurring on a large scale in other neighborhoods.

Real estate experts here say Safeco Field's impact won't be as large as Coors Field's. Seattle's two new stadiums will account for $925 million in development out of a total $2.4 billion in public and private investments planned for the area. But much of that $2.4 billion is going for transportation improvements which, experts say, will have a bigger impact on the area.

On the lengthy list of new projects is the renovation of Union Station into the region's mass transit hub, where bus service will meet light and commuter rail lines. Five office buildings totaling 1.1 million square feet are planned around the station. Estimated cost: $250 million.

Two other projects add or improve key transportation infrastructure. The state is preparing a 20-year, $176 million expansion of Colman Dock and planning has begun for the $150 million upgrade of Highway 519 (South Royal Brougham Way) to improve vehicle access between Interstate 90 and the waterfront.

Developer Frank Stagen, whose firm Nitze-Stagen helped launch the redevelopment of SoDo, says the influx of new people will bring "cataclysmic changes" to the area, creating a new southern anchor to balance Seattle Center to the north.

Dennis Forsyth, the NBBJ principal who led the team that designed Safeco Field, thinks that in 30 years downtown will expand south to Southwest Spokane Street. He envisions high-end loft condos going into old warehouses next to the industrial tenants already there.

Which brings up the turf battle between those who favor industrial uses vs. those who are promoting more commercial uses. Forsyth thinks compromise is the key: "They both ought to win."

Commercial real estate broker Rick Osterhout says change for SoDo is inevitable, but he believes it will not be as swift or dramatic as what occurred in Denver.

Bill Vivian, vice president of development for Gull Industries, is one of many people working to maintain the industrial character of the neighborhood. Industrial interests are on guard to see that the area does not become too full of brew pubs, t-shirt stores and residential lofts.

For SoDo, change will come north, east and west of the football/soccer stadium, but not south of it, Osterhout said. One of the biggest impediments to change is the lack of housing. Without an infusion of new residents there will be few new restaurants and retailers.

The Pioneer Square neighborhood plan calls for 2,100 new housing units. Vulcan Northwest, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's umbrella company for his various enterprises, could provide about a quarter of that.

Vulcan wants to use the north parking lot of the Kingdome for a mixed-use development of up to 445,000 square feet, with between 400 and 550 units of market-rate housing, with the potential for some being moderate-income and affordable units.

The size depends on how much space Vulcan can use, and that's up to the county and the state Public Stadium Authority which will own the football stadium and exhibition hall. King County has granted Vulcan the right of first refusal to buy the north half of the lot, and the stadium authority has granted the company an option to buy the south half, if parking and staging areas for the stadium and exhibition hall can be provided elsewhere.

Larry Martin, Vulcan real estate adviser, said the company wants to develop both halves to create "a truly livable neighborhood."

Like Osterhout, Martin doesn't think redevelopment of the neighborhood threatens the Duwamish industrial area because there is so much redevelopment and development capacity in the International District and Pioneer Square.

But conflicts will come in trying to balance the housing goals of Pioneer Square with the employment growth of the Duwamish area. The city of Seattle's comprehensive plan calls for the creation of 10,600 jobs in the neighborhood. (A Duwamish Planning Committee study indicates current trends will create only 7,300 jobs.)

The committee's plan opposes a controversial rezone for the former WOSCA Shippers Cooperative site from industrial use to downtown use. The 8-acre parcel was bought by Martin Smith Real Estate Services and the developer has proposed a mixed-use development, with some housing.


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