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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

New Condo at Broadway and Mercer

Posted by on March 22 at 12:13 PM

Sorry about the delay, but here are the drawings of the new condo going up at Broadway and Mercer, the one Erica and I spent most of the afternoon yesterday arguing about on Slog. (You can read yesterday’s debate by clicking here for Erica’s original post, then just scroll up to read the rest—and don’t skip the comments, as readers had tons to say.)

The site is currently host to an ugly, empty ex-Safeway and a large parking lot. Along 10th the present structure consists of a long, beige cinderblock wall. Here’s what is slated to go up:


Erica C. Barnett thinks the new condo building is ugly. I disagree. First, anything is better than a parking lot and a cinderblock wall. But beyond that, I think the building’s use of brick, the many storefronts on the Broadway side, and the mix of heights are all good features. I’m also for reviving that end of Broadway—yes, even if it means putting some condo owners on the block. Unlike, say, Pike/Pine, there are no loud bars, clubs, or music venues at that end of Broadway, and so nothing much for NUMBY—“not under my balcony”—types to complain about.

Anyway, there are more drawings of the building Erica and I were shouting at each other about yesterday. To see them click here, here , here, and here.

Then feel free to discuss.

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To hell with whether or not the building is ugly, they included a Smart Car in the drawing!!! Yay Smart Cars! They are too cute!

Hahahaha. Why does the last drawing have Miu Miu as a storefront? In Seattle? As if.

Not bad. One of the things my ex-New Yorker self never ceases to marvel at is the constant construction of new housing in Seattle.

BTW, you can get Miu Miu at Barney's

"Better than a cinderblock wall" is not the standard that I consider when demanding high standards for permanent structures in the city I love.

In a city like Seattle, we can be picky. Dan you think you like this trendy, easy structure right now, but those windows and the concrete facade (which seems to comprise 20% of the exterior of this building) are going to bug the crap out of you when they go out of vogue in ten years. For the love of god, all of hideous Belltown was "better than nothing" when the condos started going in in the late 80s.

This is progress to be sure, and the building gets the important stuff right (close to the sidewalk, narrow stores on broadway, increased density, etc etc). But I hope we'll demand better from builders in the future. It's just not good enough to sit there forever.

Confused, Dan... You say this is the Safeway, but then mention "cinderblock wall" which implies the old QFC (the Safeway at least had windows for transparency into the store.) The picture caption says "View of NW corner of Broadway and Mercer" which also points to the QFC as the site. Sad that we have to tell between multiple abandoned supermarkets on our busy Cap Hill street...

looks totally out of place. it's more a developer's declaration of intent, like martin selig's black glass tower across from the cinerama was a couple decades ago to belltown. maybe we should change the name of the neighborhood: first hill north?

anyway, questions about vacant lots and density beg the question of quality. it's not whether development should happen but what kind. and since the broadway and roy building has had a major retail space sit vacant its entire existence, who knows whether this one will escape similar problems? either way, i suspect the jade pagoda's days are numbered-- someday soon its owner will want to do the same...

by the way, since new york is our model: when is vashon island going to become more like staten island? or maybe coney island?

please, the only debate is how wide the sidewalks should be. I like them super wide. room for a row of trees and people (unlike the Ave, which in spite of valiant attempts by the city just doesn't have much room)

As long as those streetfront windows are real windows, into real shops, and those shops are RENTED, and not occupied by the real estate office for the condos upstairs, even if that means they have to undercut the new-building rental market by a ton, then it's OK. It is uglier than sin. But if the shop infrastructure is attractive, it'll be OK.

The inclusion of a SmartCar is absolutely maddening to me, because I WANT ONE and I'm not allowed to have one. You can't get them in the States; they're illegal. Yes, I know about Zap Motors, who have managed to sell, what, five of them? But they don't have the clout to import them properly.

NOTHING indicates the stupidity of US energy policy more succinctly than the inavailability of tiny cars, like Smarts, that are commonplace in all of the civilized countries of the world. Christ, they're safer than Ford Rangers!

The Safeway has a cinderblock wall that runs along 10th, on the backside of the building. The old QFC on Broadway also has a cinderblock wall on Broadway itself.

QFC didn't hold the patent on ugly cinderblock walls, Motown.

It's not going to win any beauty contests, but yes, it's definitely an improvement over Safeway.

Still, it has all the typical Seattle ugliness - completely boxy, stupid faux brick facade thingys.

If only it were more Pearl district, which typically looks more postmodern retro. At least that's a style - this is just a decorated box.

And while I also like the SmartCar - maybe all but SmartCars should be banned from urban streets! - I also appreciate the Parking entrance shown.

Appearance is subjective. Erica thinks it's ugly. Dan doesn't. So what. No matter what you build there, some people will think it's cool, some will think it's ugly. My only complaint is that it isn't two or three times as high, but that isn't the developer's fault.

Despite Seattle's progressive leanings, this is still a free country, more or less. The owner of the land is free to build whatever they want within zoning requirements. There is no practical way to legislate aesthetics, nor should we attempt to.

If you don't like it, you are free to buy up your own lot, and build something you consider aesthetically pleasing (within zoning restrictions).

One thing that worries me, besides the fact that it is indeed uglier than sin, is that it looks like the shops are really shallow. They should go all the way back to the halfway point between Broadway and 10th. Otherwise you'll never get any worthwhile tenants; you'll be lucky to get a sandwich shop or something that doesn't need a lot of front space OR back space.

God, does this city need New York's 28x100 foot plats or what?

The real problem with new buildings is, the rents are too high. They have to be to pay for construction. And high rents mean empty spaces. In this case, there's no old construction being replaced (the Safeway box is useless), but having a mix of old and new, with the emphasis mostly on old, is critical.
In most of the mixed-use plague that has descended on Seattle, the retail spaces go virtually empty, because there's no business that can afford the necessary high rent and still make money in that particular location. Most developers don't care; they just cost it out as if the "retail" portion just stands vacant forever. I think they ought to be REQUIRED to rent it out, even if it means charging $1 a month, just to keep the spaces filled.

Hoping for creative, interesting architecture in a city with Safeco and Qwest Fields is just dreaming.

And yes, you can legislate aesthetics; cities do it all the time. Try building something in SF without a bay or oriel window.

I personally like the existing ex-Safeway. I wish they would make it into a roller skating rink.

"There is no practical way to legislate aesthetics, nor should we attempt to."

Except that it happens all the time, and not just in preservation districts. In Seattle, I think it's called the design review board?

Wow, that's ugly. But so is that Kinko's thing down the street, so maybe it will blend in. My $.02 on the sidewalk is that skinny/wide all depends upon usage. Wide is great for a strolly, look-at-the-view promenade, skinny is fine for a busy urban feel. The question is whether the street-to-building transition happens inside or outside (i.e., it's hard to windowshop outside if people are running you over and if there's no room for a "decompression zone" inside, it's not inviting). Finally, the buzz is that Smart Cars will be here within a few months.

That Smart Car article is from 2004. It's Zap, in Santa Rosa. They're full of crap. They sold like one car on Ebay, and since then they haven't done squat. I think they're out of business.

The version of the Smart Car that Mercedes wants to sell here is the SUV version, not the FourTwo, which is just so fucked up I can barely stand to type it. It's NOT A SMART CAR.

They won't even sell the Mercedes A Class here, which is like a slightly bigger Smart Car, and smaller and groovier than any car in America except maybe the new Mini. And gosh, nobody would buy a Mini, would they? Grrrr.

Actually, it's no worse than most of the generic shit our urban landscape is vomiting up city wide.

But it's no better, either.

Sorry, Fnarf, I saw an article on smart cars coming to the U.S. about a week ago and just assumed MSNBC was reporting on that when I Googled. Silly me!

Anyway, ZAP isn't out of bidness. They're dealing with the EPA. Soon come.

Huh. Clearly the architect is thinking ahead to thirty or forty years into the future, when this building will be a prime candidate for conversion into a Shur-Gard storage facility...

All Zap produces is press releases like this one. It's not an actual article. They've only sold one Smart in the US. Most of their business is cruddy 25 MPH electric cars, and they can't even sell those -- the same ones stay up on their website for years.

The Smart Car gets BETTER mileage than the hybrids in most cases; the published figures for the Prius, for instance, is based on an ultra-careful driving style geared towards minimizing gas usage, which almost no one follows. Most Priuses get about the same miles per gallon as a normal econo-car. Rumor has it that when the EPA revises their MPG ratings (almost exclusively downwards), it's the hybrids that are going to take the biggest hit.

A piece of shit is prettier than a bleeding abcess, Dan. That doesn't make it aesthetically pleasing.

The thing looks like a giant block tumor on Capitol Hill's skyline. The empty store may be ugly, but this is a different, bulkier, sun-obscuring form of ugly. They can make a community friendly mixed used building that's smaller and meshes better with the Broadway strip.

And I don't know what you're talking about with there being no clubs or restaurants on that end of Broadway. There's the DeLuxe Bar & Grill, a Mexican Restaurant or two, and plenty of loud, bustling car and foot traffic even at night. It makes me wonder if you've even been in Seattle lately.

Neither the Deluxe nor the Elite spill noise out into the street in the way that, for instance, the crappy blooz bars in Pioneer Square do. They're unlikely to annoy the tenants much.

Perhaps judgement on the design of Broadway should be held until the building is actually constructed. The images that have been posted are very crude computer renderings. I think it is great that the developer is making an attempt to create a more upscale project. Not everything on Capitol Hill needs to be shitty and affordable.

A higher building would be even better. In Chicago people live in thirty story buildings and it doesn't matter what they look like on the street.

Once residents drive into the parking garage, you walk to the elevator and never even have to see the sidewalks.

Why make Broadway sidewalks any more inviting to the icky street people?

Mrs. X, you got a problem with an apartment that costs less than $1300 a month? And you wonder why people scoff at Belltown.

I visited Chicago. It was quite the sight checking out a luxury apartment tower, and then walking one block north and ending up in a ghetto neighborhood. Now, as for your question, Chi Kid, the idea behind building bigger buildings in the first place is to get more people to commute on foot. Putting in a parking garage and making the whole deal interior defeats the point of the whole exercise. Why not build it in Bellevue then?

And Fnarf, while it's quieter on average in that area than in most of Seattle, there's still enough noise to draw complaints from people trying to get to sleep at 10 pm, which could lead to complaints and mandates for said businesses to close early. Yeah yeah, why then would they live in a big city near a bustling street, but you know how people roll, especially if these apartments are going to be priced the way new apartments in Seattle have been priced lately. You may get that influx of closet suburbanites, because they'll be the only ones who can afford to live there.

Come on, it's not ugly, it's just dull. What planet are you people from? If you are expecting some random condo building to be designed by Rem Koolhaas or somebody, well, don't hold your breath.
And there is no such thing as a Smart Car, except a bicycle.

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