Central Co-op wants to be center of Capitol Hill Station development

New development will rise to 85 feet along Broadway -- a grocery store will be at the center of the mixed-use project. Will Central Co-op fill the space? (Image: CHS)

New development will rise to 85 feet along Broadway — a grocery store will be at the center of the mixed-use project. Will Central Co-op fill the space? (Image: CHS)

Capitol Hill’s homegrown food cooperative wants to return to its roots by doubling down in the the neighborhood with a new store in Capitol Hill’s future gateway development on Broadway.

Central Co-op announced Sunday night it is pursuing the anchor tenant space in the Capitol Hill Station “transit oriented development” — the four-site, mixed-use project that will surround the recently opened subway station. The yet-to-be-built building it could call home along Broadway between John and Denny is just two blocks from where the grocer got its start on 12th Ave in 1978.

“We are the only grocer that was born and raised in this neighborhood, and that means something,” said Central Co-op chief Dan Arnett.

Arnett tells CHS he has already pitched the idea to developer Gerding Edlen. The co-op says it has no plans to close its 16th and E Madison location, where it recently signed a longterm lease.

Central Co-op’s expansion aspirations were announced after it came out that Portland-based New Seasons Market was an early frontrunner to take over the anchor space. A Gerding representative told CHS they were in talks with New Seasons, but the company has not made any final decisions on a tenant.

New Seasons’ interest in the project prompted a group of unions and advocacy organizations to send a letter to the Sound Transit Board saying they were concerned with “an anti-union climate” at the stores and cited Seattle’s Metropolitan Markets or PCC Markets as better choices. PCC recently told CHS it has no plans to expand into Capitol Hill as the co-op focuses on opening in Madison Valley in 2018.

Central Co-op is a CHS advertiser.

Positioning itself as a more appropriate reflection of the neighborhood, a statement released by the Central Co-op said that “the space should be occupied by a truly locally-rooted business that has demonstrated its commitment to the community.” The Co-op says its workers are represented by four unions, entry level wage is $15.65/hour, and benefits include 100% coverage of medical and dental for employees who work 28 hours or more.

“I think we can bring a much greater value to this community than others,” Arnett tells CHS. “The train station could really be a beacon to invoke the flavor and history of this community.”

While PCC is making plans in Madison Valley, Arnett said the two cooperatives did discuss which of them would be a better fit for the Capitol Hill Station space. “Both organizations recognize that Central has its roots here and is in the best position to serve this neighborhood,” Arnett said.

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The Broadway TOD retail spaces are poised to be extremely high-trafficked sites given the thousands of light rail riders who are already moving through the block daily. The opening of UW Station and Capitol Hill Station has boosted light rail’s popularity to new highs as average weekday ridership estimates near 60,000 daily riders. The light rail station and the 3.1-mile U-Link subway line between downtown and the University of Washington via Broadway opened in March. For now, the TOD sites remain paved over and fenced-off empty space.

Once construction is complete, a supermarket won’t be the development’s only retail tenant. Plans for a retail “bazaar” at Site A-North, called The Market Hall, envision “a mix of local retailers, served by booths of varying sizes to accommodate the start-up entrepreneur as well as more established specialty retailers.” Gerding says it plans to work closely with the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce to select a retail broker and future tenants. The Capitol Hill farmers market has also long sought to be part of the development.

According to Gerding’s original timeline, construction for Site A is slated to start this summer and last through August 2017. Gerding expects the entire project will be open sometime in 2018.

Central Co-op members voted overwhelmingly last year to merge with the Tacoma Food Co-op and to shift the ownership model to give workers a greater stake in the company. Arnett said the Tacoma branch would stay open as well.

Central Co-op has been in operation on Capitol Hill since 1978 and recently signed a 20-year lease with another 20-year option on E Madison. In 1999, Central Co-op moved into the newly constructed building at 16th and Madison as the first and only commercial tenant in the space.

Last year Gerding Edlen was selected as the master developer of 100,000 square feet of TOD housing, commercial, and community spaces. Gerding estimates the project to cost $124 million for three sites. Capitol Hill Housing was tabbed to develop, own, and operate a fourth site — a seven story, 86-unit affordable housing building.

Grocery stores continue to be a thriving industry and a popular element for large developments in the area. In addition to the Capitol Hill Station development, a Whole Foods is set to anchor a 16-story mixed-use building at Broadway and Madison.

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31 thoughts on “Central Co-op wants to be center of Capitol Hill Station development

  1. As an aside, I’m kinda amazed they’re doing nothing with this space for the next year or so.

    Would be an awesome spot for food trucks on a Saturday night.

    • Food trucks at the Sound Transit site, great suggestion. It would be a temporary open air market with some crafts, book stalls, what have you. Why waste the space while the planning process drags on, when you could have some benefit to the public and to small businesses?

      Central Coop would be a great tenant – wonderful produce, a great fish counter, fine deli, and lots of local products. However, they would need to scale up their operations to run at supermarket scale (PCC has done this successfully). People complain about Central Coop being high priced, but really, they have a market basket of basic foods for sale at prices lower than anywhere else. They do have many products that are extremely high quality (therefore, high priced) but on basic foods they are actually quite inexpensive for good stuff. Also, personnel is much friendlier than they were in the distant past. It would really make the train stop special if they had a Central Coop there, maybe with food trucks and market stalls.

  2. One question. What did we all do before Capital Hill became just one, interrupted mass of restaurants and grocery stores? Did we just not eat? It was so long ago.

  3. We’ve always had our fair share of dining and groceries. In fact, we’re down one Safeway on the hill.

    When people are unhappy about lack of non-food/bar night club purveyors, they can be down in the retail core in 5 minutes now that Link is open. I think for a lot of retailers, we’re not distinct enough from downtown to open up shop on the hill, and we’re sandwiched between a thriving shopping center (U Village) and a strong downtown.

    • Omg yes this is so true! I always find it funny that the Co-op employees are supposedly such liberated employees and yet down the street at corporate Trader Joe’s, the employees seem happier and I get treated way better.

    • Give the coop another chance. Their leadership over the last five years has focused really hard on making sure staff treat customers with kindness and I’ve seen a tremendous change for the friendlier.

    • Totally agree with Chris. Maybe the surly employees were before my time, but my experiences at Central Co-op have always been pleasant…employees are more than helpful.

    • Hoping for New Seasons as well. Just being more local and being union doesn’t mean it is a better store for the community. Also, they can talk about being progressive, but it’s just another place run by a bunch of white guys when you get down to it. If they actually had a deep bench of women and people of color as decision makers, maybe I would be more inclined to support them over a store whose selection I like better, but they don’t, and I’m not.

  4. But there’s a co-op just up the street from here? They have good products but its pretty expensive comparatively .I can only afford to shop there pretty infrequently. Do we really need two? How about a proper housewares store or anything that carries products that aren’t already completely redundant on the hill?

  5. That original timeline for TOD construction is already completely shot. No design review has been scheduled, and a quick search of permit activity shows almost nothing except preliminary meetings and canceled permit activity due to non-payment. In fact, I haven’t even heard that ST and Gerding Edlen have sealed the deal. I suspect the developer is playing hardball in the negotiations since they know ST needs to look good by November for ST3. I’ve been awaiting some sort of update from Capitol Hill Champion but so far nothing.

    At this rate we would be very lucky to see construction started before Summer 2017.

  6. I hope that Central Co-op gets this gig. It’s a far better location than the Madison store, it’s a local company with a long history in Capitol Hill, and they are a union shop that treats its employees well, and they offer great produce and sustainable products.

  7. The Market Hall concept sounds remarkably like what the Broadway Market used to be before the Gold’s Gym took over the Landmark Theatre space and QFC took over the bulk of the remainder of the space.

  8. It’s what the Central Co-op promised when they were going to “expand” to the 16th Ave. location – that they had no plans to close the 12th ave. location. They fundraised with their members with that promise and then they immediately closed the 12th ave. locale when the new one was open. As a member since the 80s, I was very disappointed in how disingenuous they were with the promise, the fundraising, and that the experience had changed significantly from the old locale to the new. I have sense embraced the 16th location, and it took years for them to get their act together there, service and selection. I am not one to hold back progress. I just don’t believe the organization knows how to scale and I fear that this new place will not be successful and could spell their downfall in both places.

    • for what it’s worth, the leadership in place at the co-op is completely different now than when they opened the Madison store.

      I missed that they were planning to keep both locations open – I was assuming that they would just move to the light rail station – it’s a far better location, so that would make sense (but would admittedly be a bummer for those who live close to the current store).

    • It seems like they are very early in their bid and haven’t signed or made a deal with the developer yet, so I’m really curious to see what happens next. Opening a new store is risky but it might be riskier to do nothing since in the next few years both Whole Foods and PCC will be opening stores in the area.

  9. I really hope this is a New Seasons. I miss Rainbow on 15th and for whatever reason Central just hasn’t worked for me over the years (grocery selection, produce selection/freshness, semi bizarre staff interactions) – I know they fit the bill for many. But in my experience NS is good on selection and prices, for a natural store.

  10. I just don’t see how the market can support 2 new grocery stores within a mile of each other joining 2 existing stores in just about that same mile (the two existing qfc stores on broadway, plus a new Whole Foods and a new grocery at the transit station). That doesn’t include the qfc and safeway on 15th, the existing coop location on madison, the new PCC in madison valley. Some economist needs to run the numbers and see how this can possibly work out. Someone is not going to make it, and it will be the one with the shallowest pockets.

    I’d love a new market with a great produce section on broadway, and I’d love that market to have good labor policies and relations. If it is central, i don’t see how they can keep the madison location open because no one west of 12th and north of madison would travel up that way. The other thing to remember is that this location will have NO PARKING. So its catchment area will be far smaller than other groceries with parking.

  11. Have been to New Seasons in Portland and wished they had one in Seattle. A very interesting and fun place with lots of fresh food and deli. Seemed like Whole Foods without the attitude. Am disturbed that folks will try to pull out the union card as a reason to make the decision. The community and customers would likely be better and well served with a New Seasons. There are plenty of nearby coop options.

    • I think the community is better served by businesses that pay their employees decent wages and provide good health benefits. workers. It most cases it takes a union to secure these things for workers.

  12. Central Co-op is such an important piece of Capitol Hill and I really hope they get the spot here- a true co-op and not large chain co-op like pcc- central co-op will have a chance to hopefully expand it’s deli here and offer even more locally sourced, awesome goodness. such a shame the corporate sell out whole foods is coming to the hill, with so many changes in the neighborhood it is crucial that we continue to support local businesses exclusively- thanks central co-op you guys are the best!!

  13. The coop has been devoted to organic produce for years and probably does need additional space. New Seasons seems to be expanding into Washington and not necessarily organic. I have not shopped there. Comparisons to Trader Joe’s are interesting. Trader Joe’s is hardly organic and uses way more plastic wrap and packaging than does Central Coop. I do not shop at Trader Joe’s for those reasons. Occasionally, I purchase wine there.

  14. Because attempting to lease a space by turning things into a political issue through the press is a GREAT way to start off on the right foot with a potential landlord. /snark

    Regardless, its going to be quite awhile before any leasing decisions get made. Sound Transit is notorious in the real estate development community for being an absolute nightmare to deal with, and borderline incompetent when it comes to their surplus land disposition processes. Just look at their various surplus parcels in the Southeast along the current light rail. A small handful of nonprofits have built some affordable housing on Sound Transit land, in large part because the nonprofits are the only ones in a position to be patient enough to deal with ST.

    The entire RFP process for the Capitol Hill Station sites was bungled by ST the entire way, taking way way too long, with a completely opaque process, with evaluation criteria that were completely ridiculous – as evidenced by the fact that at the end of the day, ST was able to entice a grand total of three firms to make offers on the sites, with the rest dropping out along the way. (Seriously, when your RFP is giving points for the type of material selection for the railings on a proposed building or the concrete scoring pattern, you have COMPLETELY lost the forest for the trees.)

    There still isn’t a deal inked yet, and the current business cycle is well past its peak. Transaction activity on new deals has slowed significantly, with most of the development activity on the Hill at this point being projects already under construction that are pushing to get wrapped up and leased before the cycle fully turns. Meanwhile, expect ST to demand top dollar for the sites, as if this was 2014. And I expect Gerding Edlen to reasonably tell ST to talk to the hand, because they are now in position where the cycle is peaked and who knows that the next cycle is going to demand – apartments? condos? office space? Ironically, if ST could have gotten its act together, it could have RPF’d the sites years ago and entered into a development agreement with a firm or firms in 2014 for closer to top dollar. And shifted the risk from the taxpayers to the private developer.

    But alas and alack, while they can build their trains on time, ST is clueless when it comes to real estate redevelopment.

    • I will be extremely disappointed if this site languishes like the Triad/old public safety building site downtown.

    • All great points, and the Central Co-op has not presented any plan that makes this a feasible idea to even spend the countless amount of human resources to manage. My fear is that going big could make them fold. I don’t see how being bold like this fits into the mission and values of the organization.

  15. There are a few comments above wondering about whether the market can support yet another grocery on the hill; they are overlooking the new reality on the hill and SLU. There is only one grocery in SLU and the hill is rapidly gaining housing units and new residents. Residents who will happily avoid the open wounds that are the broadway QFCs.

    As far as the station market is concerned, it will have a much larger customer catchment area from the light rail. This built in customer base should help keep it afloat.

  16. I love the idea of a bazaar at one of the sites. I hope it’s a good economic incubator.

    The additional grocery store makes sense to me, I see a lot of bodies moving in.