How Harvard Market got that way

When it comes to the history of Capitol Hill, we know more about the James Moore,  Roy Olmstead and Bertha Landes periods than what happened in the 1990s. Fortunately, we have the CHS comments to give us a picture of the recent past every now and then. With Seattle street food provider Marination Mobile selecting the Harvard Market for its new brick-and-mortar home, there’s been some discussion on the site on just how such a peculiar parking-lot focused structure ever came to be. Here’s one person’s account of how the development of the strange but (mostly) busting commercial center that is the Harvard Market came together. Take it away Motab:

I lived next door in the Firestation Apartments when the whole Harvard Market was planned. The original design was for only a few parking spots on the top level for the condos above Bartell’s (with the vehicle entrance through the “alley”). The rest was a roofgarden-like space with outdoor restaurant seating, food carts, play area for children, fountains, etc. The developers insisted that only high-end retailers would come into the development (Larry’s Market, Pasta & Co., La Spiga).

Soon that all changed. They scrapped the upper plaza design for a parking lot and added the second entrance on Harvard. In a move to keep Larry’s off the Hill, QFC offered them more $$ to go into the space, promising that it would be a new type of QFC–“just like Larry’s Market.” Pasta & Co. eventually pulled out as the developers failed to bring in similar tenants to draw the customer base they had been promised (it was replaced with a Subway sandwich shop).

The whole upper lever is poorly designed. If you look up from Pike Street, you see a whole row of windows. Instead of opening that space up to seating with active street views, they placed the rear service hallway there. All the businesses are oriented to a parking lot. If they had stuck with the original plan, that would have been fine. They could open up outdoor seating in a pleasant plaza setting. But as it is, it might as well be a strip mall on Aurora. In fact, one of the spaces (perhaps the one Marination is going into?) has NEVER been rented.

Hopefully Marination can make a go of it on the upper level. I certainly will give them a… read more y. Good luck!

Granted, Motab’s recollection of “the way things were” may not be the entire story. We’ll dig in a little deeper to see what else we can learn. But we’re betting there may be a few more of you with memory of its development or with knowledge to share in the meantime.

The lot pictured above has room for 77 cars while the parking garage below holds another 215.

According to this 1994 Seattle Times article about the Broadway Market being put up for sale, the Harvard Market was developed by a company called Milliken Development Corp.:

The announcement comes a few months after the news that Milliken Development Corp. of Vancouver, B.C., plans to develop a 91,000-square-foot retail project several blocks south at Broadway and Pike. The development, called Harvard Market, will be anchored by a QFC supermarket and is scheduled to open in December 1995.

According to this 2004 Daily Journal of Commerce article, the developer was also responsible for the Marketplace at Queen Anne development. The article describes the residential aspect of the plans for the Harvard Market that Motab described — but it seems to make the case that parking was always an important part of the plan:

On the drawing board at the same time as the Marketplace was the award-winning Harvard Market, located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Serving a densely populated area, this urban concept is a mixed-use of retail and residential, with a 46,000-square-foot QFC supermarket, a 15,000-square-foot Bartell Drugs store and an additional 25 shops. Again, the parking dilemma was solved by constructing ample underground and surface spaces.

These two projects were zoned for residential and Milliken was approached by several local developers to build housing on top of the retail clusters. “It wasn’t my original intention,” he said, “but we did incorporate condos in the Harvard Market and the concept has evolved and led us to developing more true mixed-use projects.”

Milliken has since helped Vulcan bring Whole Foods to Westlake, among other massive projects.

One interesting aspect at Harvard Market is that some of the businesses own their portion of the structure in a condominium set-up along with two residential units. Here’s the breakdown according to King County:

You’ll note some names from Seattle’s business world on the roster with David Jassny of Service Linen Supply and art gallery proprietor Greg Kucera on the door buzzer list.

It appears from county records the joint venture formed to develop the property sold off portions of the development for around $23.5 million over two years beginning in 1997.

That same year, the City of Seattle allowed the opening of a Burger King on the upper level of the development despite opposition from the community. 19 letters were sent into city planners about a change of use application required to allow the fast food restaurant — all of them in opposition to approval based on concerns around traffic, litter and smell. The city approved the change with conditions and Burger King moved in.

Fast forward more than 13 years to a new step in the lifecycle. We’re assuming there will be no letters of opposition to Marination Mobile.

8 thoughts on “How Harvard Market got that way

  1. I remember when it was a parking lot at that block before they built Harvard Market. Used to park there when going to Neighbours.

  2. I’ve lived near the Harvard Market since ’06. There are two spaces on the upper level that have struggled to find tenants. One, which has never been rented since I’ve been here, used to be the home of the UPS Store before they moved to the large space near the escalators. The other, which I think Marination will take, was most recently an acai berry smoothie shop.

  3. I’m not gonna lie, when the Burger King left, I was sad. It was the only reason I went up there.

    But, of course, Marination Mobile will be a great replacement!

  4. About a year or so ago the direction of travel in the middle aisle of the parking lot was changed, along with a reconfiguration of many of the parking spaces. More than 50% of drivers are still following the direction the previous arrows indicated, not the current ones, which creates situations where it seems natural to drive the wrong way (against the arrows) in the other aisles also.

    I haven’t seen any accidents yet, but there have been some close calls, and pedestrians are very vulnerable to cars that come from an unexpected direction. It also adds to parking delays.

    Drive and walk defensively!

  5. QFC recently did a crappy remodel of the store taking out good-looking flooring and putting in finished concrete. It looks like krap. The management company that’s now in charge of the Harvard Market isn’t any better than the last one they had and upkeep on the property is sorely lacking. Often more times than not the escalators are not working. Evidently they’ve not heard that you have to maintain them otherwise they’ll break down.

  6. That parking lot sucks for peds and the neighborhood. They should realize the community they’re in and rehab the project to infill the lot with more lively retail and outdoor spaces. Parking isn’t the solution (always) to boost retail – well-designed, thoughtful spaces are. Liz Dunn, where are you?

  7. I live next to the Harvard Market and while it is sort of a “strip mall” I do enjoy being so close to a QFC, Bartel Drugs, Chase, and our favorite: Tangerine Tree.

  8. Seconded! Fix and maintain your escalators and regularly pressure wash the lower level areas so it looks and smells CLEAN. Do that at least, management goofs.

    As for the surface parking lot atop QFC (etc.), let’s trade it for something nicer, please! Including more bike parking!