‘Sellers’ market’ — The Ford Building, home to Elliott Bay Book Company, up for sale

Elliott Bay Book Company (Image: CHS)

Elliott Bay Book Company (Image: CHS)

With its neighbor already on the block for a potential sale, another centerpiece of Pike/Pine auto row preservation, culture, and arts is having its tires kicked by prospective buyers.

Word spread Wednesday that the Ford Building, the 97-year-old former auto row warehouse now home to Elliott Bay Book Company, the Little Oddfellows cafe, and upscale fashion retailer Totokaelo has been put on the market touting its “100% leased” status, its place as a “prime Capitol Hill retail creative space,” and its hosting of an “iconic master tenant” —

Jones Lang LaSalle is pleased to present the opportunity to acquire a 100% fee simple interest in the The Ford Building (“The Property”), a one-story building with two street level retail spaces, located in Seattle’s historic Capitol Hill submarket. The property’s location is walking distance to the city’s Central Business District, and a plethora of city destinations, including dining, retail, medical, professional, public transportation, Seattle Central Community College, Seattle University, the Northwest School, and Cal Anderson Park. The property has easy access to convenient transit and commuter options, only 1 block from the Capitol Hill Street Car stop and 2 blocks from the Light Rail station.

“This offering represents a unique opportunity to invest in a 100% leased property with a stable retail income stream and future development potential located in one of Seattle’s hottest and growing neighborhoods,” the pitch from the Jones Lang LaSalle real estate firm concludes.

If and when it is redeveloped, the building is eligible for Pike/Pine’s preservation incentives which provide potentially lucrative extra height and bulk bonuses for saving building facades of character structures.

Development opportunity aside, current owner Capitol Hill developer Hunters Capital says the building’s existing tenants are one of its greatest assets.

“We have thought long and hard about selling one of our buildings,” Hunters chief operating officer Jill Cronauer tells CHS. “We add value to properties and feel we have maximized the improvements in the Ford Building through restoration and implementing long term leases with strong retail tenants. It’s a strong sellers’ market and we would like to take the capital and reinvest in another property where there is room to add value.”

Offers on the prime 10th Ave property are due on February 27th.

UPDATE: We heard from Tracy Taylor of Elliott Bay who tells CHS that the call for offers didn’t blindside the retailer with Hunters Capital keeping its tenant in the loop on the sale plans. The developer “has been a great landlord and we are very sad that they will no longer own our building,” Taylor said. “They made it possible and easy for us to move to Capitol Hill and were committed to making sure the bookstore retained it’s character. We feel very fortunate that our partnership has been so positive and collaborative and we hope that we remain as lucky with the next building owners.”

UPDATE x2: Elliott Bay owner Peter Aaron tells CHS that he’ll miss “the best commercial landlord I’ve ever dealt with,” but that the bookstore is well positioned for any change of building ownership. Aaron said Elliott Bay is in the midst of a “long term” lease — “more than 10 years is what I’m comfortable saying,” Aaron said. The bookmonger also said he is “not looking at” any possibility of Elliott Bay buying the building.

As for his book business, Aaron said he and Elliott Bay management are looking at how best to expand the venture beyond 10th Ave with more online sales and a more robust effort around social media.

“On the one hand I feel good about what happens within the four walls… that’s our priority,” Aaron said. “We are also looking at ways that make sense to us to be available to be available to people beyond the walls of our store.”

UPDATE 2/23/2017: “The interest has been very wide ranging,” Lori Hill, managing director at the JLL real estate firm representing the listing, tells CHS. But if she had to make a wager, Hill said she would expect the eventual buyer to likely be a “high net worth,” personal investor attracted by the property’s mix of near-term rental income and long-term development potential. “It’s kind of viewed as a kind of a bulletproof value,” Hill said of a property like the Ford Building with existing popular tenants and in a neighborhood booming with ongoing development. As for any worries about future issues if things change and those popular tenants move out, Hill said being landlord to a legendarily popular local tenant can have a downside from a community relations standpoint. “I think Elliott Bay is mostly an asset for local-based buyers,” she said. “It’s a little bit of a Catch-22. The potential future upside helps.”

The bidding will join what could be a busy flurry of transactional activity for two of the most iconic buildings in Pike/Pine’s historical conservation district. Earlier this month, CHS reported on plans from Midby Companies to purchase and overhaul the 1908-built commercial building at 10th and Pine. CHS reported in November on the $30 million “buy, sell, or trade” offering of the property by developer Ted Schroth who acquired the building for $8.5 million in 2007. CHS wrote here about the transformation of Odd Fellows from a neglected but well-used home for arts groups and performance spaces into its current mix of a historic building filled with retail, food and drink, and offices. The Century Ballroom, the only arts organization to remain in the 100-year-old space after an exodus of tenants, is celebrating its 20th anniversary throughout February.

Hunters Capital owns at least eight major properties across the Hill and is currently at work on a seismic upgrade and overhaul to add a restaurant and rooftop bar project to the Colman Automotive Building at Pine and Bellevue. Along 10th Ave, it also owns the masonry 1000 E Pike Building home to Poquitos.

Hunters founder Michael Malone purchased the 10th Ave Ford Building in 1987 for $551,000, according to King County records. In 2010, the developer helped push Pike/Pine’s growth as an entertainment and shopping district to a new rung when he overhauled the old warehouse into a new home for Pioneer Square-born Elliott Bay Book Company. Capitol Hill architect and Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council leader John Feit wrote here on CHS in 2012 on the overhaul:

When Elliott Bay Book Company relocated from Pioneer Square, it was a significant victory for Capitol Hill. It was no easy achievement as its previous location in the Pioneer Square Historic District defined the character of the bookstore as much as the thoughtfully chosen volumes that graced its shelves. Such character was important to the book store owner, and was a prime driver during his search for a new space. Thanks to the adaptive restoration of the flexible Auto Row typology from automotive service to bookstore, we have a fine retail space whose character and authenticity is preserved. In addition to the code-required seismic upgrade, restoration strategies included restoring the wood trusses and skylights, which had been roofed over. On the facade, a historically accurate new window system was installed. This was done in addition to the more typical new bathrooms, modern telecommunications, lighting, and heating/cooling system upgrades. A fairly involved process, but with results that have created one of the best retail environments in all of Seattle. Yet the developer, Hunters Capital, could have easily demolished the building, and started afresh with a 6 story edifice. Besides a passion for old buildings, Hunters has found that such spaces create desirable and profitable retail spaces, which have a unique ability to attract discerning local retailers such as Elliott Bay Books.

While architectural preservation rules and incentives are also in place, the latest Capitol Hill offering comes as Seattle is still pondering similar programs that could protect longtime businesses or create incentive programs for fostering the arts.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the sales flyer says, the fundamentals are strong:

The Capitol Hill location attracts an abundance of iconic restaurants and retailers, and boasts a vacancy rate of 1.3% and an average household income of over $90,000.

If the price is right, a new era is ready to begin as the building approaches its 100th birthday.

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6 thoughts on “‘Sellers’ market’ — The Ford Building, home to Elliott Bay Book Company, up for sale

  1. The Elliott Bay Book Company is one of our best neighborhood assets. I hope they’ll be here long after I’m dead and gone. Margins in the book trade are super thin. I hope an ownership change of the building doesn’t make their business more challenging. It would be great if they could own their building, but that might not be possible.

  2. Yes, this is exactly the type of retail and businesses that add interest to the area. Much of the rest of the area really lacks interest for just browsing and general interest. Elliot Bay (especially) and Totokaelo (very nice) are central to the shopping and browsing experience in the area.

  3. Normally I don’t get too worked up about businesses as they do come-and-go with the whims of time and other forces. However Elliot Bay is a cultural icon and treasure for this neighborhood and indeed for this city.

    Every effort must be made to preserve this gem.