Mixed-use project for Safeway site

When the Safeway at the north end of Broadway closed last fall, the street was hit with something of a double whammy. Along with the old QFC, which relocated into the redesigned Broadway Market a few weeks prior to Safeway's closing, the vacancy took many by surprise and helped contribute to something of a retail no-man's land. North Broadway business ended up being cut off from the rest of the district by the blank walls created by two large former supermarkets.

While it's not as if bulldozers are waiting for a traffic light to turn green, efforts are underway at the former Safeway site that could lead to its development sooner rather than later. And the Seattle City Council's recent decision to raise the allowable building height along Broadway from 40 to 65 feet has greatly influenced what kind of project the property's owners will pursue.

The property was purchased in May by Bellevue-based commercial developers Schnitzer Northwest. The company, formed in 1997, had been involved with discussions about the site since last fall.

Schnitzer has developed more than 2 million square feet of commercial real estate in the Puget Sound area in the last five years. The company's property management group manages an additional 7 million square feet of property in the Pacific Northwest. On the housing side of the equation, Schnitzer plans to develop 1,200 residential units in the next six years.

While the upzone gives Schnitzer far more flexibility, senior investment director Mike Nelson said that the company's decision to buy the Safeway site did not hinge on the city council's decision.

"Safeway had marketed the site late last year and we got involved then," Nelson said. "We were aware of the upzone proposal and supported it, but we had made our decision to buy it well before the council voted. The property worked for us either way."

Nelson added that had the vote been no, Schnitzer would have renovated the existing building to suit the needs of whichever client chose to rent it, most likely a single, larger retailer. He added that Schnitzer receives regular requests from people interested in renting the old supermarket building.

But as a result of the upzone, Schnitzer intends to put up an entirely new building, one Nelson hopes improves Broadway's fortunes. He spoke well of the property's location.

"Broadway has several different feels. The north end is different from the south. We felt the north end has a more residential feel. We look at our project as a logical transition on Broadway. This is a logical place for a development," he said. "I'm not sure we would have been interested in the site had it been five blocks south."

Time frame

The project is still in the early, conceptual stages. A mixed-used building is planned, with ground level retail along Broadway, topped by five stories of residential units. Along the 10th Avenue East side, the building will consist of four stories of residences. Roughly 150 units are planned, with the mix of units to be determined. Whether the units are to be sold as condominiums or turned into apartments is another decision to be made in the future. It's also way too early to have a sense of what kind of retail tenant or tenants might occupy the ground floor. Nelson did say that his company receives commercial inquiries with some regularity.

While it's too early in the process to commit to a time frame, Nelson said that his company is operating under the working assumption a groundbreaking will take place during the fall of 2006, and that the new project will be complete in the next 30 months.

In the short term, the company plans to hold focus groups to give a sense of the design it will pursue. Schnitzer will comduct community meetings during which designs will be presented and input sought. Dates for both are not established, but Nelson said he expected them to take place later in the summer. Within the next 45 days there will likely be an Early Design Guideline meeting. During the winter, the project should be presented to the to the Design Review board. Fliers will probably be distributed throughout the neighborhood when specific dates are established.

"Our goals are no surprises," Nelson said. "What the community has to say will have a great effect on the final project."

Nelson added he is aware of the heated debate surrounding the Broadway upzone. He spoke at the city council hearings and heard the many voices who spoke in opposition of raising Broadway's ceiling. He noted the point of view among many that giving more height to prospective developers lacked a public benefit. But, he said, the benefit comes in the form of better and more invigorating projects.

"This is a more attractive district for development. Broadway is going to get better," he said. "Our project won't solve Broadway's problems by itself, of course. But I think it can be a catalyst."

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at editor @ capitolhilltimes.com or 461-1308.

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