University District in Transition [September Breakfast Recap]

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New Programming Committee Chair Chris Beza introduced the September panel about the quickly transforming University District. The new Link light rail station, neighborhood upzone, and UW Master Plan are key factors influencing the area, each of which is a substantial change. Together, they add up to some remarkable changes that will continue to shape the ever-changing University District. It was an insightful morning and the only thing that could have made it better would have been a cameo of one or two of the iconic musicians that have sung about The Ave over the years (maybe an idea for next year, programs committee?!).

The panel looked at what recent urban development means for the area today and in the near future. It was moderated by Julie Wukelic, Senior Principal of Hart Crowser, the “purplest” geotechnical company in Seattle, according to Julie. The U District Link light rail station, adjacent to the Ave (University Way NE) on Brooklyn between 45th and 43rd, will be the only station with development directly above it. How that needs to serve multidimensional needs in the context of retail, students, families, businesses and the community was discussed at length and the panel answered several questions from the audience.

Mike McCormick, AIA, Associate VP for Capital Planning and Development from the University of Washington, walked us through the university’s groundwork for the UW Master Plan and vision for the community. He underscored the fact that the university would like the developments to be collaborative and not disruptive, and really an “inclusive innovation district” that will address issues together, harnessing an environment of public and private sectors with mixed-use amenities for many needs and demographics of people. He gave some current examples of public/private partnerships successfully happening right now with the Clean Energy Institute and Population Health. The new Link light rail station will provide a new entry experience to the campus as well, with those people on foot, providing a unique opportunity for interaction and innovation. The UW is looking at the newest Master Plan as blurring the lines between the campus and the city. Take, for example, bringing the entrance of the Burke Museum to the street and aiming to create a large open green area near Brooklyn Avenue and throughout for public use. During the panel, Mike discussed the housing needs to be considered not only for students and the workforce, but also faculty. With the new type of experience at the light rail and the speed at which people can get to and from downtown, perceptions of the district will also change. At the end of the panel, he stressed the importance integrating the UW campus into the city and supporting the university’s mission to make the world a better place through research and education.

Mark Crawford, Executive Director of the U District Partnership, a 501(c)(3), talked to us about his role in the neighborhood. The partnership plays a role in making sure the area is clean and safe, has a hand in events, ensures the community is engaged, and helps bolster economic and urban vitality. The non-profit provides direct services, is community convener of numerous stakeholders, and acts as an advocate for anyone who lives in, works in and/or visits the U District. UDP is a great facilitator of transition and change for the area. Mark talked a lot about the unique business-owner demographics and what development could mean to them and to the relationships and diversity they bring to the table. He made the point that some of the business owners do not live in the area or even in the country, how property ownership is ever-changing due to short-term leases, and how this affects the overall economics and changes many see there. He described the three main areas of the district (campus to 45th; 15th to Target; and 50th to residential) and how different and diverse they are. He made the point that we often think about the U District as a poignant memory, how it was at the point in time that we ourselves spent there, rather than what it currently is.

Richard Loo, Director of Real Estate Development of Bellwether Housing, was also on the panel. As the largest non-profit in Seattle, founded in 1980, Bellwether’s focus is affordable housing (housing for those who make about $42K/year or less). They own 32 buildings and serve 3,200 residents in Seattle and own the Arbora Court in the U District, which has 134 units. They have four projects in development and look to innovative financing and consulting with other non-profits when working with their clients. Richard talked a lot about the unique fabric the Bellwether community brings to the table and how Seattle has been strongly supportive of the affordable housing initiatives. He had no opposition to the scale the new developments will bring and talked to the need for strategies for affordable housing at every stage of planning and that, no matter what, every neighborhood needs affordability. He made a point in response to one of the questions that gentrification could be the biggest challenge that will face the district as this all evolves.

Jake McKinstry, Principal of Spectrum Development Solutions, provided commentary to the notable factors facing the neighborhood as well. Spectrum is a mission-driven, for-profit real estate development and advisory company, focusing on workforce and student housing as well as healthcare and civic projects. Their community and sustainable-focused environments serve those making about $40-$80K/year. Jake talked a lot about the need to look at resources and planning together since today’s issues will not be tomorrow’s, stating “we cannot retroactively create affordability.” He pointed to benchmarks of current initiatives with zoning and multidimensional city-living goals (childcare, student needs, affordability, walkability, economics, etc.) in Vancouver that the U District can look to for guidance to look at things holistically. Columbia City is a neighborhood in Seattle that he also pointed to for a benchmark in how collaboration has been successful between various community stakeholders and a commitment to retailers, ensuring permanence and safety. He also talked about nationwide examples where cars were strategically removed from main streets, creating festival streets that ultimately benefited nearby colleges as well as surrounding retailers, housing and community.

Last, but not least, the 2019 Washington State chapter leadership was officially voted in on Wednesday morning as part of the Annual Business Meeting that preceded the panel.

2019 NAIOPWA Board
Scott Matthews, President
Tina Pappas, President-Elect
Tony Toppenberg, Past President
Cathleen Meyer, Secretary
Kris Beason, Director
Tyson Feaster, Director
Marco Navlet, Director
Clark Lindsay, Director
Ann Bishop, Director
Monty Kilcup, Director
Laura Ford, Director
Jeff Peterson, Director
Chris Broadgate, Director
Ed McGovern, Director
Marty Goodman, Director
Michael Nolan, Director
Travis Hale, Director
Joe Polito, Director
Nancy Rogers, Director
Kristy Alley, Corporate Director
Layne Alfonso, Corporate Director

This article was written by NAIOP Washington State and Marketing Communications Committee member Sarah D. Fischer of CallisonRTKL.

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