CHS Community Post | Capitol Hill business owners to Sound Transit site developers: Make it unique

Panel Members Left to Right: Karen True (Pioneer Square Alliance), Moderator Michael Wells (Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce), Binko Chiong-Bisbee (Kobo), Tracy Taylor (Elliott Bay Book Company), Michael Oaksmith (Hunters Capital), Linda Derschang (The Derschang Group), Chip Ragen (Ragen Associates), Tim Farrell (Tarragon).

Panel Members Left to Right: Karen True (Pioneer Square Alliance), Moderator Michael Wells (Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce), Binko Chiong-Bisbee (Kobo), Tracy Taylor (Elliott Bay Book Company), Michael Oaksmith (Hunters Capital), Linda Derschang (The Derschang Group), Chip Ragen (Ragen Associates), Tim Farrell (Tarragon).

2014_9 Broadway Retail Panel 2As a reminder, anybody can post to CHS. You can find our latest contributions in the CHS Community section. Posts of high quality and interest may be shared on the CHS homepage. Thanks to all community contributors for being part of CHS! CHS reported on the “transit oriented development” process at Capitol Hill Station here: Developers vying to build Capitol Hill Station housing+retail say properties are overvalued

By Michelle Hippler, Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce

Thursday, the Capitol Hill Champions hosted a Broadway Retail Panel Luncheon at the Capitol Hill Library where neighborhood business owners spoke candidly to the developers who will bid on the prime real estate above the Link light rail station on Broadway. The resounding message was that developers have to get it right, and that means thinking more creatively about the retail spaces.

The bottom line, as Linda Derschang (Linda’s, Oddfellows, Smith, et. al.) put it: what really created the thriving Pike/Pine corridor business district was the high rent on Broadway. Pike/Pine happened because “nobody small and new could afford Broadway anymore.” Fast-forward to 2014 and even she is nervous about signing a long-term lease for Linda’s Tavern on Pine where the rent is expected to triple within a few years and the landlord refuses to make any improvements. “Will the renters filling up all these new apartments come to Linda’s? Will all the indie rockers move away?”

All of the business owners agreed that developers play a big part in shaping the experience around their buildings. Non-descript buildings with huge (for Capitol Hill) retail spaces will largely attract chain stores with solid financial backing, something new and small business owners are short on. Developers at the early stage of planning can be smart about spaces that will draw the small, innovative and unique: adding communal areas for retailers (like shared bathrooms), making stores 35 feet deep instead of 90, and keeping the total square footage to 600 to 900. All this can keep rents down for tenants and still make the bottom line work for developers.

Taking a few extra steps to get the retail right can pay off in the long run, and local developers like Hunters Capital and Liz Dunn are two that have had good success by thinking more strategically early on. Tracy Taylor, manager at Elliott Bay Book Company, shared the story of the book store’s move up the hill from Pioneer Square and the integral role of the developer. “We couldn’t have done it if Hunter’s Capital hadn’t gone out of their way to get us in there.” Leaving behind the Pioneer Square tourist crowd was difficult, but what has happened on 10th Ave. around their space has helped draw that crowd up the Hill and into their store once again.

The idea of clustering a lot of micro businesses to make a larger destination rose to the top: Melrose Market, 19th and Mercer, the Chophouse Row project on 11th are all concepts that help emerging businesses get off the ground. Also, adding some design character–more wood and natural light, less silver panels and grills—makes for a warmer, more inviting space. Nobody wants what’s going on in Bellevue.

While Broadway is far from being dead—North Broadway has bloomed in recent years—the construction zone from Howell to John has been a real barrier between Pike/Pine and the businesses above John. With the streetcar and light rail commuters coming, it is essential that what gets built on top of this significant piece of land enhances the neighborhood. Maintaining the character that has drawn the developers, new residents and tourists in the first place is the ideal. The hope of the Capitol Hill Champions is that the developers in attendance at the panel yesterday heard that message loud and clear.

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5 thoughts on “CHS Community Post | Capitol Hill business owners to Sound Transit site developers: Make it unique

  1. Go Linda! I hope the developers truly listen and create spaces that work well for what the hill wants and needs. There is so much opportunity to get it right.

    • We’ve be ome more diversified in recent years. cI think the argument that the higher end restaurants are meeting the needs of the hill. As the hill becomes more economically wealthy (albeit probably with lesser disposable income due to increases in rent) I imagine the establishments that set up shop will strive for convenience or experience.

      The indie rocker vibe maybe gone already, just like the ‘gayborhood’ has morphed, and before that, the hippie enclave. Capitol isn’t, nor should it be, a static neighborhood. When Link light rail opens up, I’m guessing the demographics of Capitol Hill will start trending up even higher. I already think Seattle’s ‘funky’ neighborhood now is Georgetown, not Capitol Hill.

  2. I raise a glass to the suggestion of no silver metal or grills (and all corrugated metal). The last thing many residents want to see when exiting the station is an uninspiring building that looks like the rest of the shipping containers being built around here. Secondly, no parking. What an odd juxtaposition if some of the neighborhood’s older and more car-centric residents get their way in demanding parking garages; the latter would be above a light rail station, next to a street car line, adjacent to a bike lane and bus routes, and located in one of the most pedestrian-oriented and densest neighborhoods in the city/state. Perhaps use the millions spent on parking and use it for the material of the building.

    • There will still need to be some parking at this development….for the use of the residents who need a car for various legitimate reasons, and for the benefit of the customers for the new retail businesses. That said, I think parking should be kept to a minimum.