This view looks north toward Lake Union from
John Street, with low-rise Fairview providing a contrast to the
sprawling Amazon.com buildings to the west. But two large projects are
planned for this year, which may be just the beginning of changes to
If you want to see what South Lake Union looked like before Vulcan, before Amazon, take a walk down Fairview Avenue North.
But youâ€™d better do it soon.
Fairview, one of South Lake Unionâ€™s principal thoroughfares, has
remained largely untouched so far by the areaâ€™s dramatic transformation.
With a few exceptions, it still looks much as it did 30 years ago â€” a
collection of older warehouse, light-industrial and low-rise office
buildings, many of them now empty.
The five-block corridor contrasts sharply with the sprawling
headquarters campus that Vulcan Real Estate has built for Amazon.com a
block to the west, and the hundreds of new apartments in the Cascade
neighborhood a block or two to the east.
But now Fairview, too, appears to be on the brink of big changes.
At least two large projects â€” a 13-story office tower and a 489-unit
apartment complex â€” are expected to break ground in 2013. They could be
just the start.
Altogether, developers have proposed projects along Fairview with a
total of 1.5 million square feet of office space â€” as much as downtownâ€™s
76-story Columbia Center.
Theyâ€™re also working on plans for at least 270 more apartments. And
three big properties, all candidates for redevelopment, are up for sale.
â€œItâ€™s ripe for change,â€ said Lisa Picard, senior vice president with
Skanska USA, developer of the 13-story office tower. â€œIt definitely has
an opportunity to become a real spine for the city, an active, vibrant
Most of the office projects in the pipeline are taller than zoning
now allows. Skanska and other developers are betting the City Council
will approve Mayor Mike McGinnâ€™s controversial South Lake Union rezone.
It would raise height limits, now 65 or 85 feet in most of the
corridor, to 160 feet for offices and 240 feet for apartment towers.
Some neighbors contend thatâ€™s too much, at least for some locations. A
decision could come in the next few months.
But John Pehrson of the South Lake Union Community Coalition, one of
the rezoneâ€™s fiercest critics, agrees Fairview wonâ€™t remain as it is for
long. â€œThere are definitely opportunities for growth here,â€ he says.
Some new projects
Fairview hasnâ€™t been entirely ignored by developers. Thereâ€™s a newer
project at either end of the corridor â€” the 12-story Mirabella
retirement community, where Pehrson lives, at Denny Way; and the
five-story Fairview Research Center office/ lab building at Mercer
But the newest building on the blocks between them, a vacant
floristsâ€™ warehouse, is 35 years old. And most of the neighboring
buildings are decades older.
Picard and Seattle Planning Director Marshall Foster say Fairview
didnâ€™t get much attention from developers until recently because Vulcan,
South Lake Unionâ€™s largest landowner, was doing most of the building â€”
and its properties were to the east and west.
â€œEssentially, those areas had to mature first,â€ Picard says.
The Fairview corridorâ€™s extra-large blocks â€” up to 2.5 acres â€” also
gave developers pause, they say, as did the protected historic buildings
and environmental contamination on some properties.
Attention is focusing on Fairview now, in part because much of the
rest of South Lake Union already has been redeveloped, says Kenny
Dudunakis, a senior vice president with apartment brokerage Hendricks
â€œTheyâ€™re running out of space,â€ he says. â€œAnd everybody wants to be in South Lake Union.â€
Thereâ€™s something brewing now on almost every block fronting Fairview. Hereâ€™s a roundup:
â€¢ Skanska expects to break ground this year on its
320,000-square-foot 400 Fairview office project, on the east side of the
avenue between Harrison and Republican streets. Construction could
start without a signed tenant, Picard says.
The 13-story buildingâ€™s ground floor would feature a
25,000-square-foot â€œmarket hall,â€ an indoor-outdoor retail space â€”
inspired by Capitol Hillâ€™s Melrose Market -- that would be geared to
Picard hopes it will become the neighborhoodâ€™s shopping hub.
â€¢ Two other developers, Touchstone and Walsh Construction, are
seeking permits for office projects on the west side of Fairview with a
total of four 11-, 12- and 13-story buildings.
Touchstoneâ€™s full-block development would be huge â€” 800,000 square
feet â€” but groundbreaking may be a year or more away. First the
developer must remove tons of contaminated soil, a legacy of the
industrial Troy Laundry that operated there for nearly 60 years.
Another complication: The 1927 laundry and another building on the
property are protected historic landmarks. Touchstone approached city
historic-preservation officials last month about tearing down all but
the brick facades to allow easier and safer excavation.
â€¢ Chicago-based Equity Residential has said it plans to start
construction this year on a seven-story apartment complex on the block
between Fairview, Minor Avenue North and John and Thomas streets.
The proposed rezone would allow a 240-foot apartment tower on the
half-block fronting Fairview, but industry observers say a shorter,
wood-frame building that would be less expensive to build probably still
pencils out better than a high-rise.
â€¢ BioMed Realty Trust of San Diego, owner of the Fairview Research
Center, won city approval a year ago for a seven-story,
105,000-square-foot office/lab addition at Republican Street.
The company didnâ€™t return a call seeking an update on the project.
But the two-story office building that now occupies the site is vacant â€”
the tenant moved out last fall â€” and BioMed is seeking a demolition
â€¢ The Seattle Times Co. put its two big blocks on Fairviewâ€™s west
side up for sale early last year, and a deal may be in the works for at
least part of one.
Dallas-based Mill Creek Residential Trust filed a preliminary site
plan last month for a seven-story, 270-unit apartment project on the
north half of the block where the Timesâ€™ mostly vacant former
headquarters now stands.
The second Times block, on Denny Way, is now mostly parking lots but
potentially is the corridorâ€™s most valuable property. The rezone would
permit office buildings up to 240 feet and apartment towers up to 400
feet tall there.
â€¢ The older buildings that line the west side of Fairview between
Harrison and Republican, across from Skanskaâ€™s 400 Fairview, also were
listed for sale nearly a year ago. Apartment development seems likely;
the listing agents are leading apartment brokers.
â€¢ Finally, the city Transportation Department, which bought
three-quarters of an acre at Fairview and Harrison in 2006 for the South
Lake Union streetcarâ€™s garage, says about half that property â€” the
frontage along Fairview â€” is surplus to its needs, and probably will be
marketed to developers in a couple of years.
Thatâ€™s a lot of potential development, says Pehrson of the South Lake Union Community Coalition â€” in some cases, too much.
A 400-foot height limit on The Seattle Timesâ€™ parking-lot block is â€œover the top,â€ he says.
Touchstoneâ€™s office project is too big, too, he says: â€œItâ€™s a massive building. ... It looks like a wall.â€
And if the height limits along the east side of Fairview are raised
to permit projects like 400 Fairview, Pehrson says, the new buildings
will tower over five- and six-story apartment buildings a few feet to
the east: â€œThat isnâ€™t very good planning.â€
But city planners say their proposals for Fairview are in keeping
with surrounding zoning. And they say the rezone aims to let the street
redevelop and lure new employers to the area while also protecting the
corridorâ€™s most distinctive features.
Those include a tiny, Seattle Times-owned park with big trees at John
Street, and historic landmarks including the Troy laundry and
80-year-old former Times headquarters.
The rezone legislation would allow developers of those properties to
build bigger office buildings if those features are preserved.
Until now, Foster says, Fairview â€œhas been the boundary between two
distinct parts of South Lake Union, between the [mostly residential]
Cascade neighborhood and the hub of major employers like Amazon, Group
Health and others west of Fairview.
â€œWe want Fairview to be a great street, a zipper that connects these distinct areas.â€
Originally published January 5, 2013 at 8:00 PM | Page modified January 6, 2013 at 9:17 AM
By Eric Pryne
Seattle Times business reporter - Seattle Times