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Safeway eyeing Capitol Hill store — and its huge parking lot — for redevelopment

Regional grocery giant Safeway is readying plans to redevelop one of the most prime plots of Capitol Hill land atop the Hill at 15th and John.

Capitol Hill’s “Store 1551” was left out of summer announcements about the company’s plans to develop new mixed-use projects on a handful of Seattle store properties and overhaul many of its area stores. But people familiar with its plans say Safeway has begun to organize community outreach strategies to help shape a mixed-use development to replace the giant store and parking lot at the top of E John. A new grocery would, naturally, be at the middle of things.

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Safeway officials have not yet responded to inquiries about any project on the site and a person working on organizing community outreach efforts declined to comment for this article.

This summer, the Seattle Times reported on Safeway’s “imminent plans” to remodel half of its Seattle locations and do “complex redevelopments” at three of them — at the U-District, Upper Queen Anne, and Magnolia stores. Add Capitol Hill to that list.

Acquired for less than $1 million in 1993 according to King County records, the 15th and John Safeway land is nearly 100,000 square feet of property dominated by the large grocery store and the larger surface parking lot. Competing with three QFCs within walking distance, Safeway #1551 has mostly stuck to the basics with few changes over the years. Meanwhile, the QFC at Broadway Market saw a recent facelift and another is planned for the company’s Harvard Market store.

The major changes envisioned for the E John Safeway won’t be the only major grocery related development along 15th Ave in coming years. In 2017, Capitol Hill developer Hunters Capital purchased the property home to the 15th Ave E QFC with longterm plans for mixed-use redevelopment.

Meanwhile, the area around 15th and John will also see more change across the street where Kaiser Permanente is planning a $400 million renovation.

In the summer of 2006, old timers might remember, Safeway marked another big change in the neighborhood when its Broadway store was torn down to make way for the Brix condos.

While imminent, any change on the Safeway side of things will be a long time in coming. There is currently nothing on file regarding any redevelopment permitting or design review planning with the City of Seattle. And, so far, there have been no publicly announced community outreach efforts that will precede formal reviews and comment periods.

But when the line does start moving, this part of Capitol Hill should be ready for the largest development in the neighborhood since the soon-to-be-completed work around Capitol Hill Station.

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32 thoughts on “Safeway eyeing Capitol Hill store — and its huge parking lot — for redevelopment

  1. Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t this location completely remodeled and/or rebuilt in the late 90s or early 2,000s? I think it’s possible that the parking lot used to be on the other side of the building. Not sure about that though, but I am pretty certain it had a major overhaul in the recent past.

    • Yep – when I moved here in 1994 that Safeway was an old ‘airplane hanger’ style building with a rounded roof and was set back so that the parking was along 15th ave. I don’t remember exactly when it was torn down and rebuilt, but I’m thinking it was around the same time that the Safeway at Madison and 23rd went in – so around 2004-ish.

      • That’s correct. I remember when they did their remodel but at the old North Bend store then they did their re grand opening. My mom got steaks for an awesome deal that night.

      • The rebuild was around 1998. I wasn’t paying that much attention back then, but as I remember, the neighborhood asked for a multi-use building with housing on top and for less of a blank wall along 15th Ave, e.g. other mini-retail spaces there. That’s how we got those “art display” windows along 15th… and not much else.

      • It’s been a Safeway since before the early 1980s when my memory starts.
        Lucky’s was at 14th and Pine. Thanks, Prost – I’d forgotten the name of it.

  2. Definitely a space in need of redevelopment, but I hope they manage to time so it doesn’t happen simultaneously to the redevelopment of the 15th QFC.

    I remember the old store, with the parking lot in front and the big old fashioned building. I don’t know how they managed to make the building the nicer that time and the parking lot just awful. I know the intention was to make 15th feel more pedestrian with the building against the street, but that back parking lot has always felt weirdly isolated and creepy.

    While we’re having a Hill old timers thread, didn’t there used to be an Albertson’s a little further down 15th? (or was it on 14th?) I know there was a store, I just can’t remember what kind of store it was.

    • When I moved here the grocery store at 14th/15th between Madison and Pine was a Red Apple – don’t know if/what it was previous to that. I think that one was one of the first to be replaced with a condo building – and it really wasn’t much of a loss….. it was pretty gross – you had to be very careful of anything you bought there not being way out of date or spoiled.

      • I think it was something else before it was a Red Apple, but it was never good. A far last choice, given the options nearby. Only the old Safeway on Broadway was as gross.

        That corner of 15th won’t feel any worse for having a taller building put there, since the current Safeway already made walking there much more claustrophobic.

      • I remember Rainbow Grocery! Great little shop, closed down several years ago, I think because of some dispute about the lease. Sadly, it sat untouched for over a month after the closure, and I watched all the vegetables near the front window slowly rot.

    • Oh… and I agree putting up that big, mostly blank wall on the Safeway building on 15th was just weird… It was actually a more comfortable place to walk when it was just along a parking lot..

  3. I live across the street from this particular Safeway and I am a huge YIMBY (yes in my back yard!!!). Every time I walk across their parking lot I think, “What a complete waste of space!” Put in some affordable housing!! While we’re at it someone needs to tap Key Bank (15th/E Thomas) and tell them to follow suit.

  4. This is great news. Obviously we’ll see what the details look like once the plans are in, because that matters a lot. But in general, redeveloping this site into mixed use retail seems like a huge win to me.

    Since the parking lot is huge and they’ll have plenty of room for the store, perhaps they could do some small storefronts along 15th, keeping the store while adding room for small business and making that stretch of 15th better for pedestrians.

    I love close by, and that would be worth and extra story to me, if anyone’s asking.

    I also continue to feel 15th is a great place to put some larger units for families, since that part of the neighborhood is more family oriented. Both affordable and market rate.

  5. This redevelopment offers a great opportunity to connect John st. to Thomas by bisecting the block. Those intersections at 15th are always a mess, especially with buses making back-to-back 90 degree turns in both directions. Sacrificing a small portion of the Safeway block would eliminate the tangle of vehicles and would remove one set of traffic signals- plus the size that park could increase. John and Thomas are basically a thoroughfare right now with an unnecessary kink at one of it’s most vital crossings, it only makes to fix this problem.

    This would involve a) a big company ceding its property to the public, b) The City of Seattle implementing rational road design, and c) the city adding new park space- and all of those things are virtually impossible. But hey, a boy can dream.

  6. Great news! I have been wishing/thinking for years this would make a great site for much new housing over a new Safeway and that can be a great addition to the neighborhood.

    And yes to the new store having additional small scale retail along 15th!