With PCC announcing its plans to open a new downtown Seattle store in 2020, another potential player appears to be off the board to fill the key anchor tenant space in the Capitol Hill Station “transit oriented development” project slated to finally break ground this spring after a decade of planning. After a series of names attached to the project have either backed out or moved on, CHS has learned that talks have centered on a new, growing part of the region’s grocery and retail economy.
Capitol Hill Station master developer Gerding Edlen is finalizing talks with Han Ah Reum Mart, Inc. to fill the key retail space in the massively important housing, commercial, and community development set to fill a block of Broadway surrounding the light rail station, a person familiar with negotiations tells CHS.
The company’s H Mart stores are known for their Asian foods and home goods. The U.S.-based chain featuring fresh produce, meats, seafood, snacks and more opened in the University District last summer even as a long anticipated downtown Seattle project has remained on hold.
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In addition to H Marts, the company also operates G Mart — focused more on groceries — and Home and Home — focused more on the home goods end of things — variations of its stores with more than 60 locations across the country, plus another dozen in Canada.
Gerding Edlen has not announced any deal for the anchor tenant space publicly, a representative for the Portland-based developer said. A representative for H Mart tells CHS that the company is planning to open more stores in Seattle but we have not yet heard back about plans for Capitol Hill Station along Broadway. UPDATE 3/12/18: A H Mart representative said it is too early to confirm any specifics of plans to open more stores in “downtown Seattle” while Gerding Edlen partner Jill Sherman said there is a “potential tenant” but no further information she can share at this time.
The mixed-use project to create four seven-story buildings and a large public plaza above Broadway’s Capitol Hill Station is slated to break ground this spring — the latest plans are shaping up, now, for a May start of construction. Gerding Edlen expects the construction to take about 21 months putting the opening of the project in early 2020.
Along with 428 residential units – 41% of which (176 units) will be designated affordable housing — the project is creating thousands of square feet of commercial space. Filling that space with a core grocery store tenant has not been easy.
Sound Transit opened the U-Link extension and the new station below Broadway in March 2016. It has grown to serve around 7,000 riders a day at the stop. In August 2016, Sound Transit signed a 99-year lease with Gerding Edlen to develop the properties it had acquired surrounding the station.
Gerding Edlen was initially working with fellow Portland concern New Seasons to be part of the Broadway development but the company has struggled with expansion plans and labor concerns and remains committed to opening within a few miles of the light rail station at 23rd and Union in 2019. Another suitor dropped its bid last April citing cost concerns. Central Co-op had vied for the anchor tenancy above Capitol Hill Station but withdrew from consideration because of “a cost-per-square-foot that was much higher than anticipated.”
Other “top” grocery chains also pulled out, Brie Gyncild of the community group Capitol Hill Champion tells CHS, because of the high cost and strange configurations the retail space will require. “The space is odd, with the constraints of the station box, and it’s not that big, so it’s going to require a little creativity to make it work,” Gyncild said.
The Champion group, a joint effort representing the community council and the chamber of commerce, has shepherded the public development process around Capitol Hill Station with a community framework distilling information shaped over a period of years.
In 2013, the City Council, buoyed by the community planning, approved a development agreement allowing developers to plan for 85-foot tall buildings along Broadway in exchange for going above minimum affordable housing requirements. While there is no contractual requirement for developer Gerding Edlen to include a grocery store in the project’s retail plan, a store — especially one providing “natural foods” — has been a community priority through the process and was part of the developer’s winning bid for the project. The developer said it also intended to sign a 24-year lease with the Broadway Farmers Market to move the market’s location into the new station plaza. A representative for the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance that operates the market has not responded to our requests for updates on that component of the planning. UPDATE: “The Capitol Hill Farmers Market is going forward as planned and agreed upon with Gerding Edlen,” the Alliance’s Chris Curtis tells CHS. “We’ve spent lots of productive hours with their design team to ensure that we have a workable market layout on the Plaza and on Denny.” Curtis said the group is also planning to stage “a mini-version of the Capitol Hill Farmers Market” at the groundbreaking later this spring.
Capitol Hill and the Central District, meanwhile, continue to see an influx of grocery-related development and investment including two Amazon-related projects. The Amazon-owned Whole Foods grocery chain remains on track to open its store at Broadway and Madison in late 2018. Meanwhile, the company is quietly planning one of its new era Amazon Go-related stores on E Pike.
While it never came up in community forums through the years, H Mart seems like an ideal and creative solution for the Capitol Hill Station opportunity. It already operates six stores in Washington including the U District location and stores in Lynnwood, Tacoma, Bellevue, and Federal Way. The multicultural stores include day to day necessities with enough exotic surprises to keep things interesting. You can take a look at its latest specials at hmartus.com.
The ethos of the 35-year-old chain is also fitting for a walkable neighborhood surrounding a major transit hub. The “H” in H Mart stands for Han Ah Reum, a Korean phrase translating to “one arm full of groceries.”