Seattle's Biggest Players: Real Estate Boom to Continue in '16
There hasn't been a real estate boom in Seattle like the current one in living memory, especially with its special focus on Downtown. But with booms naturally come headaches, such as congestion and a nagging sense that the boom just might end suddenly, said the speakers at our Future of Downtown & SoDo event recently.
The sense that the boom is a bubble is more of an emotional response to the growth since the recession, rather than an assessment based on the market's fundamentals and projected job growth, our speakers noted. Over the last 20 years, 67,000 housing units and 88,000 jobs were added citywide; the projection for the next 20 years are 70,000 housing units and 115,000 jobs added citywide, with the heaviest concentration of both Downtown. Snapped: Equity Residential first VP Bradley Karvasek.
Even so, it's no exaggeration to say Downtown (and potentially parts of SoDo) is being remade, the speakers said. Currently there are 106 active development sites in the CBD, 63 of which are residential. That's a record, supported by the mass influx of people into the Puget Sound region, and more specifically into Downtown Seattle, which now has a worldwide reputation as a place to be. Here's the City of Seattle's Center City strategic coordinator Gary Johnson.
In fact, the most serious risk the Downtown market now faces, especially in residential development, is there will be too much of the same kind of product—that is, high-end multifamily developments—concentrated in the CBD, the speakers explained. A balance across the spectrum of multifamily is a hard thing to achieve, but it would mean a healthier market in the long run. The Schuster Group VP Holly Gardner.
Another very real problem for Downtown Seattle is congestion, the speakers said—especially in how difficult it is to go the distance between Downtown and I-5. The City of Seattle, along with the Downtown Seattle Association, developers and others are actively working on ways to ease congestion. Some questions still to be answered: Should all of the streets have bus lines? Should there be a new tunnel under Downtown, maybe for buses and trains? How will the evolving streetcar system help? Urbis Partners principal Jim Allison.
One thing panelists agreed on was travel in single-occupancy cars in Downtown Seattle isn't the way of the future. The accessibility and reliability of other kinds of transit are now a main consideration among companies wanting to locate or expand in the Downtown market. "That's a becoming a driver of the conversation," as one panelist put it. Cairncross & Hempelmann attorney Nancy Rogers, who moderated.