Why the Waterfront Will Change Everything
In our life, we've used the word "transformative" three times. To describe the Internet, Mad Men, and Nutella. Yet, in one morning last week, at our Future of the Waterfront event, panelists couldn't get enough of it.
Urban Visions CEO Greg Smith says the transformation of Downtown Seattle hasn’t really even started yet: “It’s a giant canvass ready to rock ’n’ roll. The Alaskan Way Viaduct coming down, the new transit infrastructure, the convention center expansion, Amazon’s new campus—are still in process.” The changes are happening just in time to give Seattle a critical competitive edge in employee recruitment. (Remember when just saying "Home of Macklemore" was enough to get employee's attention?) Ten years ago, he adds, the zoning wasn’t there to do the development in South Seattle, but now it’s in place—and it’s going to encourage growth like South of Market in San Fran.
Hudson Pacific Properties SVP-Pacific Northwest Drew Gordon, whose company holds a Pioneer Square portfolio, says it’s a neighborhood whose time has come. He compares the removal of the viaduct to the removal of Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, which was a major step in the reconnection between a downtown and its waterfront. Planners in Seattle have learned from that. Drew also says that the nexus of public transportation is one of the strongest aspects of Pioneer Square.
Unico Properties VP Andrew Cox sees the waterfront as a secular movement, and his company’s tried to be an early advocate for the change. There’s going to be tremendous growth in Pioneer Square, he predicts, including new retail and restaurants, now that all the elements are in place to promote such growth, including zoning. He cites 200 Occidental as a transformative development.
Callison principal Michael Lee, whose firm specializes in designing mixed-use developments, says the removal of the viaduct will offer tremendous redevelopment opportunities, but the process won’t be simple. “Historically, the buildings had their backs to the waterfront,” he says, and so the design challenge is, how do you repurpose those sides once the viaduct is gone? (Will those sides of the building still have to maintain their beach bods?) Still, the structures all have rich characters, and whatever the ingenuity required, it’ll be worth the effort.
Seattle real estate mogul Martin Selig was on hand for a few informal (and contrarian) comments about the viaduct to the crowd of 350 at the Four Seasons. Maybe, he suggests, there could be an alternative to tearing it down. “My thought is to create a High Line out of the viaduct—all of a sudden you have a park stretching along the waterfront that people could take advantage of,” he says. The financing would be easy, he adds—if there’s money to take the viaduct down, there’s money to renovate it.
Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt shareholder Larry Costich, a real estate and land-use attorney, was one of our moderators. Before practicing law, Larry worked as a civil and environmental consulting engineer. He called the redevelopment of the waterfront not only a transformative event for Downtown—and Pioneer Square and South Seattle—but for the entire metro area.