With Bauhaus — and Boulder — as backdrop, BMW developers want to work with Pike/Pine

The south will be saved (Image: CHS)

Perhaps the Bauhaus news could not have come at a better time for Peter Wolff, his brothers and his father, Arizona-based real estate investors who just plunked down $14.9 million for some 65,000 square-feet of Pike/Pine.

“We kind of expected a lot of resistance,” Wolff tells CHS about his family investment firm’s purchase of the old BMW showroom, lots and garages running along Harvard between Pike and Pine. “There was a huge process in Boulder that was very vocal that we just got finished with. The input the neighbors gave improved the project.”

Fresh from an experience with that long drawn out process of public feedback, push-back and, ultimately, approval for a mixed-use project in Boulder, Wolff says the Colorado situation has informed his latest big spend.

“It’s so early that we’re still grappling with [the overall concept],” he said trying to annunciate the 714 E Pike mixed-use project’s goals. “An authentic building — this will not look like a developer came to town and it will fit in. We will not be seen as a foreign object.”

CHS reported on the status of the previous development project planned for the BMW property in January when a foreclosure process on developer Pryde Johnson began. BMW left Pike/Pine in 2009 to move to a larger facility in SoDo but the building has stayed relatively active thanks to soccer-focused energy drink maker Golazo moving its headquarters into the old showroom in 2010.

Earlier this month, CHS broke the news of a development being planned to replace a handful of old — but active — buildings on E Pine at Melrose. We’ve followed up on some of the efforts underway to try to shape that development and preserve the neighborhood’s character. The Stranger took a stab at answering some of the big questions around the development in its latest issue — How did that happen? What can be done? The Stranger piece includes the BMW project in its rundown of the wave of development potentially washing away the remaining character structures of Pike/Pine. It also includes some incorrect information about the project that we clear up below. Meanwhile, if you are bummed about Bauhaus, apparently CHS is responsible.

With all of this as backdrop, the Wolff team has been meeting with community representatives and Capitol Hill power brokers like developer Liz Dunn to soak up as much Capitol Hill intelligence as possible — as quickly as possible — to help ensure that the new investment pays off.

This diagram provided by the developers shows the outlines of the parcels involved. A portion of the Harvard lot will be left as parking for adjacent facilities

“We knew we have to be sensitive. We knew we had to do something sympathetic with the neighborhood,” Wolff said. “After talking to her, we’re going to supercharge the ground floor.”

The purchase puts two structures, two parking lots and part of a third into play for an area that was at one time planned to be home to a 300-unit apartment building. It will not, as the Stranger worried, swallow up the former HG Lodge or Bill’s off Broadway. The Pho Le’s structure will also be left as-is making it all the more likely that the former Maharaja home and headquarters for many a Hill shenanigan will someday be a national historic landmark.

Wolff representatives said the new plans being drawn up by architects Weber Thompson will discard anything being planned by former developer and property owner Pryde Johnson. What is known at this point is that the project is planned to take advantage of the suddenly even more-maligned Pike/Pine Conservation district’s generous allowance for extra height in exchange for preservation of character structures. Wolff reps said they’re planning on a seven-story structure at the site in exchange for preserving the former showroom’s southern brick facade. The peculiar, curved entryway presents a unique design challenge.

“I love this site because it’s a little bit difficult because of the geometry,” Peter Wolff said. “Between that and the surrounding character facades we have a good chance to blend in.”

There will be no design challenge, however, from the northern garage wall along E Pine. It’s a goner. A representative for Wolff said the garage structure isn’t worth preserving though a 15,000 square-foot portion of the building could be used in the meantime to further “activate” the space with possible markets or pop-up type events.

The north shall fall (Image: CHS)

The pure bulk of a building large enough to fill the acquired parcels will also require a mid-block passage to break things up. “We’re aware of Linda’s deck,” said another Wolff rep about designing the project to fit into existing activities in the area and make sure the apartment dwellers of Pike/Pine future aren’t pissed off to live above one of the Hill’s classic watering holes.

There will also definitely be parking — typically a burning issue for Capitol Hill development and one of the worries at the heart of the situation around the Melrose & Pine development. Wolff reps said the unit to stall ratio won’t be 1:1 but they maintain the market demands the facilities. 

“If you don’t provide parking, it’s like saying you can’t have pets,” Peter Wolff said. “It’s a market condition.”

Beyond that, the project’s specifics are up in the air. Representatives are reportedly continuing their tour of Capitol Hill stakeholders and community groups. They’re also inviting feedback. A web site is planned (see UPDATE below) but, for now, you can email questions, concerns and suggestions to 714epike@gmail.com here’s an updated address: info@714EPike.com. In a few weeks, the paperwork process with the Department of Planning and Development will ramp up and put the project on track for a possible summer design review process. Construction? Probably not for at least a year after that. But it’s coming.

From feedback thus far — and especially testimony provided by developer Dunn — creating an active connection with Pike/Pine’s street-life has emerged as one key to the heart and soul of how the neighborhood works. The rest, Wolff said, is still being shaped.

“We’ve asked the architects to be less slick,” Wolff said. “We’ve seen how the neighborhood has matured a little bit over the years. We like the indigenous flavor to it.”

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21 thoughts on “With Bauhaus — and Boulder — as backdrop, BMW developers want to work with Pike/Pine

  1. Cheers and many thanks to Peter Wolff and co. for their sincerity in thinking about and listening to the neighborhood in the early shaping of this project. Their message and stated intent is one we should be celebrating (and demanding) of our developers.

  2. Every out of town developer coming down the pipe (including Scottsdale, Arizona based Wolff Co.) uses the crutch of “the market demands parking” as their excuse to destroy the neighborhood. It’s time we start talking about parking maximums.

  3. I completely disagree. I think we should leave the parking requirements as they are. There is nothing historically significant about any of these buildings. Leaving the cool brick entrance is enough. I say dig a HUGE hole and put in parking! Cars are NOT going away! Parking will make it a much more desirable project.

  4. So, let me preface this by saying I am not anti-developer or anti-density. I even think the Joule is a huge improvement over the old QFC/Bartell Drugs building.

    What I am getting from this article is that the developer will keep one wall of the existing walls, and in return gets additional height and density? I think to get these additional benefits, the design of the project needs to blend in with the neighborhood. Lots of brick, high ceilings, wooden beams, no corrugated metal siding, no dryvit stucco., etc. But alas, I don’t believe the Pike/Pine overlay can make those demands.

  5. …for the usual suspects who natter about preserving Capitol Hill demand that a car dealership take over the parcels. Perhaps the city could subsidize such a dealership?

  6. It’s nice to see that this is being considered. I think over the years we’ve commented on a lot of new development, and I believe that people see those that are concerned as obstructionists sometimes. That’s simply not the case. I think this block has HUGE potential if they just listen to the neighborhood. Capitol Hill didn’t just magically become the place it is today without any community input. THat’s what makes communities great. We can come together, offer suggestions, and simply help shape the world around us.

    Input is a good thing for businesses too. The more attractive the development is to the neighborhood, the more embraced it will become. If it fits in (not just aesthetically) and adds to the area, it could be a great new development.

    We’ve just got to remember, real estate groups, property owners, and developers don’t make neighborhoods. People do. Successful neighborhoods have variety and are convenient and are active. That’s it really.

    I sent in my email. Just be polite and offer suggestions. That’s a good first step.

  7. From my understanding the developer gets a height bonus for one section per character building saved. I’m not really sure how that shakes out but I don’t think the bonus will cover the entire area just for the BMW facade.

  8. I agree. NOT putting parking in is what destroys the neighborhood. If you seriously think the lack of parking will cause people to leave their cars at home, you’re naive. All it will do is make them drive around and around and clog the streets while they circle; or make them not come at all. Better to put underground parking and get the cars off the streets and stop competing for the dwindling remaining spaces. And seriously– do you really believe most of the people who can afford an apartment somewhere as expensive as these will be, won’t have cars? Not many. Wishing away the cars won’t make it so.

  9. I love living on capitol Hill. First moved here in 1986. Lived in “The Villa” at Pike/Boren. Was a hell hole back then. Capitol Hill has changed so much over the years. Just like Seattle has. I love it! I love watching the way things and people change through out the years. Keeps life interesting ;)

  10. Underground parking is a better use of space than stupid parking lots. That said, I totally disagree with you, Jim… I live on the Hill, own a condo, and even have a garage…but it sits empty, by choice! I chose to live on the Hill so that I would NOT need a car. I choose to continue to be car-less even though I could afford one, simply because the neighborhood, and my proximity to work, allows for it. Besides, I’d rather travel and eat well than spend all that money on gas, insurance and maintenance.

    What our community leaders and developers should be doing is making further investments in mass transit in order to make it easier for more people to get around easily. This project is one block from a future streetcar stop and a 5 minute walk from the future light rail. Many people will choose to live here precisely because they will NOT need a car. We should encourage that, rather than pander to the idea that everyone needs a car. If we build it (parking), they will come. Make it less convenient and people will, indeed, gravitate to other transit options.

  11. I didn’t say that plenty of people like yourself were’t carless. I think that’s great if it’s feasible for you. But this notion that “Make it less convenient and people will gravitate to other transit options”, I don’t entirely buy it. Maybe same quantity will, but a lot of them will just go somewhere else. And it’s not an “either/or” proposition– I am seriously pro-transit, and I take it all the time, I even vanpooled to/from work and never drove my car to work. But there are also plenty of times I contemplate heading to Cap Hill for eating and/or partying, and end up just ditching it or going elsewhere. And I’m not rare. I’m still totally pro-density, and pro-transit, but ditching the car won’t work for me, as it won’t for lots of people. Who really wants to take a bus home at closing time? And if the option is adding another $20-30 (minimum) every night for taxis, I guarantee you a lot of people will just stay home.

  12. JimS, I think building lots of parking actually draws MORE cars and traffic, instead of “taking cars off the road” like you claim. Look at the interstate system in LA…many people thought building freeways all over the city would keep cars from congesting the local roads, but it clearly got more people driving and made traffic worse throughout the city. Build it and they will come.

  13. I shuddered when I read the developers were from Scottsdale. It’s like Bellevue but much worse.

    This is their most notable piece of property in Arizona, on the south shore of Tempe Town Lake (a fake lake that disappeared one summer when a piece of rubber popped, true story): http://imgur.com/tNdrF

    (google maps link: http://g.co/maps/38n5w)

    a link to the The Wolff Company’s portfolio (try not to fall asleep): http://sites.axwc.com/awolff/property-portfolio/

    I like the things they’re saying, especially since they’re talking about a less than 1:1 ratio of parking to units –have any of you seen how much empty space is in the Joule garage?

    Since it’ll span from Pine to Pike, there’s space for plenty of units to be pretty well shielded from the noise of the area. I’m sure I’m not the only one who loves the idea of living near the heart of activity on the hill while keeping the luxury of being able to get a quiet night’s sleep. They seem quite sure they’ll be able to design something that fits the character of the neighborhood, and they’re already committed to saving the one piece of the BMW property worth saving (IMO). I’m very excited to see what they come up with.

  14. This debate should not center on “all or nothing”…either no parking at all, or excessive number of spaces….the latter would vary depending on where the development is located. I am in favor of instituting a maximum .75:1 ratio (less than 1:1)….this would allow those with cars to have a space, assuming that not everyone in a building owns a car….and would give the developer the option of even fewer spaces if the market does not demand them. But I also think that, somehow, the developer must be mandated to consider the parking situation in the surrounding neighborhood.

  15. I’m not sure I’m on board with saving this facade. It’s not anything remarkable, and it seems as if it’s been severely altered from it’s original design. In it’s current state, I don’t think it’s of too much importance to keep, all of the noteworthy details have been lost.

    I think if we, as a neighborhood, are going to push for preservation we should be highly critical of what should and should not be saved. I’m a little concerned that we will be missing out on opportunities for good, well executed, new buildings and simply end up with collaged messes.