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Seattle's CRE Leaders See Opportunity In Waterfront Plans

Urban Visions founder and CEO Greg Smith predicts the new waterfront park will have a transformational effect on the city.

“Finally we will have a place along our beautiful waterfront to live, work and stay,” he said in a keynote address at Bisnow's The Future of the Waterfront last week. “Great cities have a thriving residential base. When the waterfront project is complete, we will have a 3.2-mile trail along the waterfront that runs from the Expedia campus to the stadiums.”

Urban Visions founder and CEO Greg Smith discusses the benefits of Seattle's future waterfront park.

While the city already pulses with its own kind of eclectic energy, Smith predicts the new park will make it even more inviting.

Smith worries, however, about the lack of available space left in the city’s “urban island” for development to occur. He sees SODO as the next logical landing place for future development, but that area is tangled up in industrial zoning with no signs of changing.

As the waterfront park comes online, one of Smith’s major concerns is safety as Seattle’s homeless population continues to explode. For the waterfront park to become the city jewel that many are hoping for, it needs to be safe. If the city isn’t careful, the homelessness problem could put a damper on that idea, he said.

Seattle has seen a sharp spike in homelessness over the last few years. Violent attacks on pedestrians have increased as well. This spring, a homeless man attempted to throw a female pedestrian off a freeway overpass in the commercial district, according to a KIRO 7 report. Another homeless man recently stabbed two people mid-morning in the downtown core, according to a report by the Seattle Times.

Pike Place Market Executive Director Mary Bacarella shares the concern about safety. While she said she is thrilled about the opportunities the waterfront park presents for the market and its surrounding neighborhood, the lack of public safety threatens to overshadow it all.

Bacarella and Seattle Aquarium CEO Bob Davidson both believe the park, if managed well, will bring a much-needed facelift to the entire downtown core.

LMN Architects partner Mark Reddington, Seattle Aquarium CEO Bob Davidson, Pike Place Market Executive Director Mary Bacarella, and Cairncross & Hempelmann attorney Matt Hanna, who moderated, discuss how the market and an aquarium will fit into and boost the waterfront park experience.

When the aquarium opened 42 years ago, it sat in a lonely place, Davidson said. It was separated from the rest of the city by the noisy, elevated Alaska Way Viaduct. While it attracted visitors, locals mostly avoided the area. The aquarium is now expanding near the Pike Place Market entrance to greet parkgoers with another aquarium option. The expansion will include a 325-gallon shark tank that has a public viewing area visible to everyone, not just paid aquarium guests.

“It’s important that as we design these public spaces we get community input,” LMN Architects partner Mark Reddington said. “We are creating a waterfront for all that is inclusive and invites everyone to be here.”

City of Seattle Office of the Waterfront Director Marshall Foster said it is hard to fathom what the waterfront will look like when it is complete.

“This is going to be an unbelievable transformation,” he said.

Martin Selig Real Estate owner Martin Selig, who remembers when the Alaska Way Viaduct was being built, has already begun to capitalize on the commercial real estate development potential.

Martin Selig Real Estate owner Martin Selig, City of Seattle Office of the Waterfront Director Marshall Foster, Pine Street Group principal Matt Griffin, Friends of Waterfront Seattle Executive Director Heidi Hughes and Cairncross & Hempelmann’s Matt Hanna, who moderated

In September, Selig purchased an older office building for $44M at 800 Alaskan Way. Selig plans to build a 17-story mixed-use tower that includes 300K SF of office space, 25K SF of retail and 150 housing units. The new building will overlook the renovated park and have panoramic views.

Pine Street Group principal Matt Griffin believes this will be a game-changer for the city.

“The waterfront will be our front door and gateway to the city,” he said. “Why would you ever turn your back on this? I’m quite excited about it. It is being done on such a grand scale.”

Recognizing that it needs to be done on a grand scale, and done well, is critical to the project’s success, Reddington said.

“Years from now, no one will know who built this and the work that went into it,” he said. “But we will leave behind this legacy for all to enjoy for generations to come.”