You may think you’ve seen a wave of development on Capitol Hill — but you haven’t seen anything yet. Wednesday night, the 120 Harvard Ave E project takes its first step in Seattle’s public design process, unlocking a new phase for one of Capitol Hill’s most prolific real estate investors.
“In the most recent past. it’s been more of investment mode,” Ron Amundson told CHS during a tour earlier this week of the empty parking lot behind the Broadway Dick’s Drive-in where the 120 Harvard Ave E project will call home. “I’ve only sold one property in my career.”
But a new phase has begun. The Harvard Ave E property, squeezed in next to the Heights apartments to the north and backing the popular drive-in across the street from the future Capitol Hill Station, will be the first in Amundson’s portfolio of more than two dozen properties to be carried into the new world of redevelopment. Dick’s isn’t going anywhere. But the block is due for some major change.
“Capitol Hill has so much potential and now with Sound Transit… there is real interesting market data,” Amundson said. It’s a different tune for a man who initially opposed Sound Transit’s plans for a light rail station at Broadway and John.
Project: 120 Harvard Ave E map
The plan at 120 Harvard Ave E calls for a 40-unit “boutique” apartment building that will soar to seven stories thanks to affordable housing incentive zoning. Three levels of underground parking are included in the scheme. No retail is planned. The architect is Hewitt — putting David Hewitt at the helm of shaping yet another potentially iconic Capitol Hill development.
Units inside backdrop to arguably the most-visited food and drink experience on Capitol Hill will likely be a mix of one and two-bedroom apartments — larger than most spaces being planned in recent developments. The preferred scheme will require the design review board to grant a fleet of departures related to setbacks from the property lines to, the developers say, better integrate the project with its neighbors and position the building to present an appealing view from Broadway and the hungry throngs visiting Dick’s.
“Instead of competing with large buildings with smaller units, we’ll have larger units with more space to live,” developer Maria Barrientos told CHS when we talked with her about the development and its changing block last month. “It will be a building for people who live on Capitol Hill but need a little more room but don’t want to move away,” she said.
Amundson brought on Barrientos, developer of the Chloe and the Packard Building, to help him achieve his vision of a restored — not redeveloped — Capitol Hill. Even with something new, Amundson said he intends to stick to his old habits of buying, restoring and holding onto.
“I am sensitive to the neighborhood. Restoration is my passion,” he said.
Whatever Amundson ultimately adds to the waves of redevelopment changing the Hill, it seems the updates will be calculated and strategic. “It’s planned. Nothing falls into your lap,” he says of his accumulation of properties over the years starting in the late ’70s. “It’s not to play Monopoly and get the whole Boardwalk.”
But Amundson said he has acquired many of his properties with an eye toward combining and unlocking what he calls the “embedded value” of a good building on a good street in a good neighborhood. Most will be held. Not all will be developed. Some will improved. Others, like the old Hollywood Video building next to Dick’s that Amundson also purchased in 1989 will be overhauled and transformed into something new — in the brick building north of the drive-in, that will probably also mean apartments.
Across the lot, 120 Harvard Ave E is the long-time land owner’s first step in taking on this new phase of transformative projects — and, he intends, being part of the creation and holding the value of what comes next.
“Why here? Timing around leases. It’s a parking lot. Home run on location. Even in hard times,” Amundson said. “I’m not a merchant developer. I don’t sell.”
Other projects will likely follow. The most important will likely involve parcels Amundson owns in Pike/Pine on 10th Ave across from the Odd Fellows building. You know it now as Rancho Bravo and Everyday Music. Someday, Amundson and Barriento hope you know it as a new gateway development to Pike/Pine.
“We would love to redevelop that,” Barrientos said. “It’s this fabulous opportunity. It’s not on the horizon for short term. But once [the other projects] are up and running, it’s what we want.”
Barrientos and the land owner say they are both well aware of the importance that kind of location holds. Given that, even with the project somewhere years in the future even if 120 Harvard’s construction gets underway as planned next spring, they expect to begin meetings about 10th Ave redevelopment plans later this year. Amundson said he’s excited about the added opportunities the area’s Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District presents.
While it’s a community approach, don’t think Amundson isn’t looking at the process as a shrewd investor. In the end, his goal is to create his style of return on investment.
“There is a lot of embedded value,” Amundson said. ”You can’t create Capitol Hill.”