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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Amazon, Vulcan and… The Mariners

posted by on August 29 at 14:20 PM

There are apparently some fireworks going on in the negotiations between the mayor’s office and local developers such as Vulcan over the mayor’s plan to require rezones in urban centers like South Lake Union, Northgate, and the University District to come with strict guidelines about public benefits. That is: If a developer gets to build taller, the developer must provide public benefits like affordable housing.

Inside sources tell me specifically that Vulcan, which is focused on rezoning the industrial/commercial zone between Denny and Lake Union, have said that if the rezone doesn’t pencil out for them, their potential tenant,, may look elsewhere for its pending big move.

People are pretty mum about the negotiations—the city council is still out of the loop, and is waiting for the incentive zoning legislation to come down from the mayor in September—but I was able to talk to Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis today.

(Footnote: Ceis sounded like he was at the Mariners game with the mayor in the background scolding him for taking press calls. “Hey, there’s a ball game going on!” Ceis wouldn’t confirm being at a Mariners game; he said they were at a “public facilities inspection.”)

More important Ceis denied Vulcan was playing hardball. “No developer has played the tenant card,” he said. He also said that while the developers are making “the same old arguments” against public benefit incentives (“the deals won’t pencil out”), they don’t have much of a case given that the council passed a incentive zoning for downtown last year and “there’s no shortage of cranes there now. It worked,” Ceis said.

Calls out to Vulcan and Amazon.

RSS icon Comments


there is a 1.35p game today vs. the Angels at Safeco...

Posted by brappy | August 29, 2007 2:43 PM

Please keep on this story. This is pretty damned important.

Posted by Ryan | August 29, 2007 2:56 PM

I wish Paul Allan would give me some of his money.

Posted by monkey | August 29, 2007 3:02 PM

Looks like a case of Vulcan trying to squeeze a better deal for themselves by threatening that Amazon will leave Seattle otherwise. But it's highly unlikely that Amazon would leave for the 'burbs. They have a big recruiting advantage with smart young college graduates because they say "We're the fun tech company in a fun big city - not the boring suburbs. After all, you want to live in Belltown, not Issaquah."

They'd lose that if they left town for a soul-less office park. And they'd lose a big chunk of existing staff that like walking, biking, bussing, and railing their way to work every day. The thought of being stuck on 520 tends to make people reconsider their employment options.

Posted by amazonian | August 29, 2007 3:32 PM

Good one, Josh.

Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | August 29, 2007 3:32 PM

I second Ryan @2. Please!

Posted by Katelyn | August 29, 2007 4:19 PM

When I worked at Amazon I did hear vague rumours of a new campus out by Issaquah...ugh...

Posted by michael strangeways | August 29, 2007 4:48 PM

I wonder how Nickels and Co. is defining affordable housing. This could be a fight over what kind of tax breaks to give to people who don't need it, rather than a fight over whether to have such giveaways at all.

Posted by Trevor | August 29, 2007 5:17 PM

I'm actually privy to some of the city's plans and the takes of some of the developers...

The short story is that developers coming from out of town are ready to whip out the checkbook. For them, this is just a cost of doing business (esp for those from California). Most of the local developers are freaking out though.

(Of course these sweeping generalizations don't apply to everyone. Some local developers "get it." At least one NY developer has complained to me about having to pay a couple million dollars to the downtown bonus fund... on a project that probably costs $200million.)

BTW, the city's inclusionary zoning request is going to be very modest. Think something like 10% of the extra space the upzone allows. So if building heights double, just 5% of the entire building is affordable.

Smart developers should realize how pathetic this is, embrace it, let it pass, use the opportunity to talk about giving back... and then quietly celebrate the bullet they've dodged. Like the downtown bonus, without the fight.

Posted by Developer | August 29, 2007 11:04 PM

Oh, BTW, Vulcan is the fucking slimiest developer in town. They spend all their time corrupting the planning process.

Competent developers spend less time trying to change the rules and more time actually playing by them... and still make plenty of money.

Posted by Developer | August 29, 2007 11:10 PM

Actually, Microsoft, Expedia, Google and Yahoo are all expanding or relocating to Bellevue, so there's so shortage of high-tech in the burbs.

Posted by Dave W | August 30, 2007 12:31 PM

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