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Friday, September 7, 2007

Sabey Corporation: Good Developers, or Just Plain Crazy?

posted by on September 7 at 10:00 AM

If you haven’t heard, the 5 building, Rainier Cold Storage complex in Georgetown is getting a makeover. The Sabey Corporation purchased the 300,000 square foot site for $10 million last October and immediately reached out to Georgetown residents and business owners for input on the renovation.


Confounded and surprised by Sabey’s neighborhood-friendly approach to development, I contacted Jim Harmon, Sabey’s Senior Vice President of Investments. My first question: “are you guys crazy?” as seeking out community input generally means you’ll end up hearing a million different things from a million different people.

Harmon laughed. He told me Sabey got involved with Georgetown when they saw how organized the community was. Sabey didn’t have a fully realized plan for the site, so they asked the neighborhood for suggestions. “We walked into it not knowing specifically what we were going to do,” Harmon says. “People were surprised that we didn’t have a specific plan.”

Sabey recruited 8 neighborhood representatives from Friends of Georgetown History, a Georgetown merchants group and the Georgetown Community Council, and held monthly meetings to figure out a plan for the 5 buildings at the site.

During the process, Sabey’s structural engineers determined one of the buildings was sinking and would have to be demolished. The cold storage had frozen the ground underneath it, and when the freezer was turned off, and the ground started to thaw, the building started to sink.

Because of the costs associated with demolishing such a massive building, the site will be turned into an office tower. However, Harmon says “We don’t know what the design is going to be. Not glass and shiny fancy marble. It just wouldn’t go with the neighborhood.”

Sabey hasn’t determined what they’ll do with the other four buildings on site—one of which is occupied by Georgetown Brewing—although Harmon says residential units and ground level retail are a possibility. There are also preliminary plans to add some office space in the Rainier bottling plant, which is currently used by artists and craftsmen. The current tenants will remain, Harmon says, noting “to squeeze the artists out just wouldn’t be wise.”

Sabey should have a complete plan and a time line in the next few months.

Photo by Rick Moerloos via Flickr

RSS icon Comments


I didn't realize there were developers that still thought in terms like that. Oh, Vulcan, how you have jaded me...

Posted by Ryan | September 7, 2007 10:21 AM

Marble should probably be illegal in any circumstance, but a glass tower is surely better than any kind of crap they'll come up with that "goes with" this lovely old brick pile. Better to contrast and to not pretend. Gold socks go better with a black suit than dark blue ones do.

I just hope they don't tart it up too much. Leave the blackened grime on the bricks.

Posted by Fnarf | September 7, 2007 10:53 AM

this is absolutely wonderful. this is exactly what we want a developer to do. they are not only building to match the neighborhood, but allowing those who are already there and comprise the character of the neighborhood to stay. brilliant.

even if one building didn't have to be demolished, it's almost okay since they are saving the others.

when we complain about the loss of one of our favorite blocks on the hill, now you see why. it's not that we don't think developers should get to develop... but we care how they do it. are they going to build match the character of the neighborhood? are they going to displace the people, businesses or artists that bring life to that part of town?

i have high hopes for this project. i hope it works out great, and that they make a bunch of money (to encourage other developers to do the same).

Posted by infrequent | September 7, 2007 11:01 AM

cautiously optimistic that there is one smart, neighborhood friendly developer in Seattle....

at least Georgetown has one thing in it's favor...being situated amidst railroad tracks and directly under Boeing Field, it's a little too noisy to get too upscale...then again, I can see clueless yuppies moving in, then start bitching about the noise...

Posted by michael strangeways | September 7, 2007 11:22 AM

It sounds good, but bear in mind that it's not unusual for developers to say anything they like in advance of any written commitment, and gladly turn on a dime when it comes time to sign papers. Sabey's like a lot of local developers, where some stuff makes money, some doesn't; some land they keep and build on, some land they sell off once they've attracted attention to it; and sometimes they build what the neighbors thought, sometimes not. Where Sabey has always outshone other developers is in the PR arena. Good luck to Georgetown!

Posted by tomasyalba | September 7, 2007 12:04 PM

I've personally met with Sabey contacts including Jim Harmon on Georgetown issues. I've found them to be good people. I believe them when they say they want to be good neighbors of the community. Their goal to salvage and reuse building materials should also be applauded. I hope other developers learn to follow their lead in fostering good neighborhood partnerships. Check out their updates on this project.

Posted by I am a believer | September 7, 2007 3:44 PM

The neighborhood should really be applauded here. Those individuals are the ones who initated talks with the developer. The neighborhood knew a change was inevitable and actively took charge.

Posted by SP | September 7, 2007 5:06 PM

I will say that Harmon is a thoughtful and intelligent individual. He is also good at his community relations job. It is surprising to me that in Seattle developers have been some of the last to abandon the "hard ball" approach, which breeds a hellava lot of resentment. In this case, there are many more active people per capita than probably any other neighborhood in town (about 1500 residents), and considering the run for the money that folks gave SPU this past year, anyone making major changes in Georgetown has to negotiate with and include the neighborhood, or face real consequences.

Posted by t.p.n. | September 8, 2007 5:41 PM

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