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Is Seattle Ready For 'The Big One?'

Without beating around the bush, Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt development attorney Joe Stockton asked the question that has been on the minds of Seattle residents: How prepared is Seattle for the big earthquake forecast to shake the city sometime in the next 100 years?

The answer: It depends on the building.

Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt's Joe Stockton, Pine Street Group's Matt Griffin, Abbott Construction's Doug Klein, LMN Architect's Mark Reddington and Nitze-Stagen's Peter Nitze discuss earthquakes and more at a recent Bisnow Seattle event on Construction and Development.

The question was posed to a group of panelists at Bisnow’s Seattle Construction and Development event, which was held at the Four Seasons Hotel Seattle on May 9.

Nitze-Stagen CEO Peter Nitze was the first to respond to the question and he pointed out that preparedness includes a lot of things, such as infrastructure and emergency response preparedness.

A major quake along the Seattle Fault could cause 1,700 deaths and the loss of 28 to 30 buildings, he said.

“From a design standpoint, the new buildings are designed with a high standard for seismic activity,” Nitze said.

However, many buildings were built before the seismic code requirements, which began around 1950.

Retrofitting a building to meet current seismic code is expensive.

“It’s a challenge,” Nitze said. “Public funds are limited. We need to come up with creative solutions.”

Pine Street Group principal Matt Griffin was realistic about prevention efforts.

“I don’t think we [as a community] will focus on this until after we have a disaster,” he said.

Currently, anything to do with building is expensive due to labor shortages and material costs.

“We are a victim of our own success,” said Griffin, referring to the labor shortage. 

Abbott Construction Regional Director Seattle Doug Klein said young workers are lured away from the construction industry because they think you can make more money in other fields such as tech. The competition for workers is so fierce that many construction companies participate in programs that bring awareness of the career into high schools to show them the opportunities.

“You can make a good living in construction,” Klein said. 

Associated Earth Services' Matthew Miller, Martin Selig Real Estate’s Jordan Selig, Polaris Pacific’s Josh Nasvik, Blue Rooster Development’s Kevin Conroy and Swinerton’s Gary Chubb discuss Building in America’s Innovation Capital at Bisnow Seattle’s Construction and Development event.

The panel also addressed the new Seattle waterfront plans, comparing its effect on Seattle to that of Central Park on New York City.

“This will be our Central Park,” LMN Architects partner Mark Reddington said. “This connection to the water will transform the way we think of this city. It has been in the works for 15 years.”

Once the Alaska Way Viaduct, which blocks the city off from the waterfront, is demolished at the end of this year, the city will be starting with a clean slate.

“The difference is going to be extraordinary,” Reddington said. “It will transform the way we think of our city. The waterfront will turn into our front porch.”

Reddington is optimistic that the Seattle City Council will approve the Seattle Waterfront Local Improvement District, which will assess property within a certain area and raise $200M.

The complete cost of the improvement is expected to be about $1.3B, part of which will be funded by philanthropy.

“I believe people will rally around this very inspiring vision,” he said.