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Seattle Considered Gateway City, Just Needs To Fix That Pesky Traffic Problem

Seattle has had a good economic run over the last decade thanks, in part, to tech giants like Amazon and Google. Cranes and construction are everywhere. Offices, apartments and plenty of ground-level retail are filling up every square inch of space in the downtown core.

Many are asking: How long can these good times last?

Seattle's recent boom may be set to come to a close, but it has all the seeds planted for a successful future.

A slowdown may be inevitable, but citizenM Managing Director Ernest Lee believes Seattle has set itself up for strong long-term growth.

“Seattle is an emerging gateway city,” said Lee, who will be a panelist at Bisnow's Seattle State of the Market event Nov. 13.

Seattle’s gateway status prompted international development firm citizenM to create its first Seattle-area hotel in South Lake Union, scheduled to open in mid-2019. Seattle’s high-tech environment fits with the company’s business model, which caters to the international business traveler.

South Lake Union is turning into a 24/7/365 neighborhood, and that is the kind of environment citizenM patrons are looking for, Lee said.

Through its urban planning efforts, Seattle has planted the seeds for the future, he said. By rezoning light industrial areas into communities rich in retail, office, residential and hospitality, the city is creating an environment where talent will want to work and employers will want to be.

“We see this in cities all over the world, and it works,” he said. “Seattle is full of talented people and an innovative and business-friendly environment.”

South Lake Union is bustling at lunchtime, with thousands of employees milling around.

“It’s starting to remind me of downtown Manhattan,” Lee said.

CitizenM is building its first Seattle hotel in the South Lake Union district because it considers Seattle an emerging gateway city.

Though the stage is set, the city still needs to practice mindful growth.

“You need balanced growth or it's like trying to unwind a difficult knot later,” Lee said. “Think higher and more dense. Allow for vertical cities, not horizontal ones.”

Vertical growth makes sense, as the price of land is currently unreasonable.

“I can’t make sense of the land prices,” American Life CEO Henry Liebman said.

Liebman, who will also be speaking at the Seattle State of the Market event, is confident Seattle will weather the inevitable economic slowdown.

“I think all the major tech firms will want to have a presence in Seattle,” he said. “We may not grow as fast as we did, but I don’t think it’s over.”

The traffic, however, is a problem.

Transportation is a big issue,” Liebman said. “Transportation is part of a city’s competitiveness. We have to be able to get people and goods to the market. And that is becoming impossible to do.”

Liebman is not optimistic about the current light rail plan, which he thinks will soon be obsolete.

The problem with light rail is that riders have to be able to get to the rail to use it, he said. Liebman would like to see parking garages on Spokane Street and in South Lake Union. Those garages would link to trolleys that then take people throughout the city.

The city government is also a problem, Liebman said.

“The tax structure in the city is ridiculous,” he said. “That is making it hard for small businesses to stay alive in Seattle.”

Find out more about what is shaping Seattle at Bisnow's Seattle State of the Market event Nov. 13 at the Four Seasons Hotel Seattle.