In Pike Motorworks, a look at the big things Pike/Pine’s preservation incentives have created — including a $128.3M price tag

There just aren’t many others like it. Another of the Pike/Pine preservation incentive boosted development projects has changed hands for a mostly unheard of sum. Pike Motorworks — built on the bones of the old E Pike BMW dealership and garages and now one of the largest apartment buildings on Capitol Hill — has sold for $128.3 million.

In the transaction, developer Arizona-based Wolff Co. has cut its ties with the neighborhood. In 2015, it cashed out of another preservation-incentive boosted project at 11th and Pine as it sold off the Sunset Electric development for $41.6 million to nationwide player ASB Real Estate Investments and its $5.7 billion portfolio spread across the U.S.

A similar new owner now moves in at Pike Motorworks as Boston-based TA Realty adds the property to its $28.2 billion in assets.


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The view from the Pike Motorworks courtyard

For most tenants of the Weber Thompson and Graham Baba designed 260-unit building, the change probably won’t make a major difference with the building’s mix centered around $2,500 a month-range one bedrooms. For others like incoming restaurant owner Shota Nakajima, the completed transaction means he can finally get to work opening his new Taku kushikatsu deep-fried skewer joint in the building.

The building’s commercial mix is centered around another rarity — a fully operational brewery in a mixed-use apartment building. Redhook Brewlab opened a few months behind schedule as crews worked to fit an eight-barrel brewing system and a pub into the space in 2017. Portland-born ice cream concern Salt and Straw joined the mix later that year. Other commercial tenants include design and fashion concern Arden Home.

In its exit from Capitol Hill holdings, Pike Motorworks developer Wolff cashes out after major investments under the Pike/Pine Conservation District’s incentive program. In 2012, Wolff paid $6.7 million for the poster-covered, empty building at the corner of 11th and Pine that eventually became Sunset Electric. It paid $14.9 million that same year for the old BMW property where it eventually developed Pike Motorworks —  just days before the property was slated to go to auction in a $9.8 million foreclosure. Now a footnote to history, developer Pryde Johnson faced foreclosure on both properties before Wolff swept in.

“It’s so early that we’re still grappling with [the overall concept],” Peter Wolff told CHS about his family company’s plans for the property.  “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.”

A dozen of so development projects have used the conservation district’s incentive program since they were implemented in 2009 with three now risen along E Pike. While the incentives have been tweaked over time, the conservation rules are based on a fairly straightforward premise: developers get potentially lucrative extra height and bulk bonuses for saving building facades or character structures in their projects. For preservation-minded developers, the incentives have made saving some of Capitol Hill’s auto-row past a feasible business decision.

The city code spells out very little specifics of what it means to preserve a “character structure” — though it does spell out what a character structure is:

Character structure” means a structure on a lot within the
boundaries of the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District that has been in existence for at least 75 years, thereby contributing to the established scale, development pattern, and architectural character of the area.

You can splurge for the 1,100 square foot one bedroom at just over $5,000 a month (Image: Pike Motorworks)

The requirements for qualifying for height and size bonuses for preserving character building elements are fuzzier, requiring the portion of the structure retained to be “sufficient to give the appearance of a free-standing building” and “all street facing facades of the character structure are retained.”

Pike Motorworks is the largest development to take advantage of the preservation incentives. It was also the most complicated. The brick-laden, semi-circle entrance to the former BMW dealership is one of the most recognizable features of Capitol Hill’s auto-row buildings. Developers saved the single character structure between Boylston and Harvard in return for adding entrance height bonuses across the jigsaw-shaped project. While height bonuses are supposed to be tied to the site of the retained structure, the East Design Review Board allowed developers to spread a third of their height bonus to other structures. The code departure also allowed for the a public courtyard that cuts through the middle of the block.

Only a block west, another example of the preservation incentives in the real world stands. AVA Capitol Hill incorporates four original character structures — the most of any development in the preservation district. In return, developers were able to build a bulkier building that had a new construction sitting more flush with the retained character structures than is typically allowed.

Two more giants from the program stand on the Hill. The Broadstone Infinity development — now known as the Infinity Apartments — that infamously inspired a re-working of the development incentives included in the Pike/Pine Conservation District rises at 10th and Union with 248 “residential apartment homes” and 13,000 square feet of commercial and restaurant space. Meanwhile, the Excelsior Apartments created 203 units on the block of Pine above Melrose formerly home to Bauhaus.

While most of Pike/Pine’s auto row opportunities have mostly been gobbled up, the city’s expanded Mandatory Housing Affordability program and upzoning may have also created the foundation for even larger incentive-boosted projects in the future with developers under the program now able to stretch to possible eight story structures under the updated rules.

Back in 2013, it looked like Wolff was set to add a third incentive boosted development to its portfolio as it went under contract to buy an auto row-era building at Broadway and Union. That deal eventually fell through. Today, you know the Great Western Auto building as Optimism Brewing.

Meanwhile, the preservation incentives remain in motion and the latest development under the program is set to open later this year on 11th Ave in what will be the most unique of the Pike/Pine Conservation District’s portfolio. The Kelly Springfield project won’t create new housing. Instead, the incentive-boosted project will use the extra space for more desks and conference rooms as coworking giant WeWork is set to open its first facility on Capitol Hill.

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3 thoughts on “In Pike Motorworks, a look at the big things Pike/Pine’s preservation incentives have created — including a $128.3M price tag

  1. I pay about $500 less for about 1000 more square feet just a block away. Yeah, my building is about 20 years older but I’ll take old and shabby over smaller and more expensive (yet new) any day.

    Why anyone would choose to live in one of these square rat cages beats me.

  2. I’ve always been really curious about the economics of commercial space in these buildings. On one hand, I’ve heard that building owners don’t care much to fill them unless they can get a pricey, long-term lease as they can make enough profit on apartments. On the other hand, I’ve noticed the commercial spaces in these buildings fill up shortly before a sale like this (e.g. Modera/Jack Apts sale), presumably to make the investment look better.

    It’s weird to see lots of empty retail get filled in just because the building is about to get sold. Seems to suggest we should have better incentives for these buildings to get retail tenants to help the neighborhood grow.

    Anyone have info beyond my speculation?

    • I presume that the city requires a certain % of mixed use for these locations – otherwise why bother with retail if you can do 600 sq ft fo $2500 as a rental.

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