SEATTLE-Vulcan Real Estate has made a huge investment in the redevelopment of Seattle’s South Lake Union district, contributing to the area’s revitalization with one of the largest urban redevelopment projects in the country. The firm was recently recognized at NAIOP’s Development ’13 conference in San Diego with a Developer of the Year award for its accomplishments at South Lake Union. GlobeSt.com caught up with Vulcan’s senior director of marketing and leasing to discuss what makes the firm’s projects distinct, how it remains innovative and its plans for the future.
GlobeSt.com: What makes your projects stand out from others?
Rob Arron: First of all, being nominated and winning is very humbling. Developer of the Year is a national award, and there have been so many strong, innovative developers nationwide. It was really quite humbling, and being in that room with all of our peers when we won was a wonderful experience for all of us at Vulcan.
We have lots of really good public and private partners, consultants and collaborators. With South Lake Union, we have a city and state that understood the vision and were very supportive in helping us reach our goals. We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we did without that. Internally and externally, we have a lot of very talented team members, and a special credit goes to Ada Healey, Paul Allen and Jody Allen for having the vision to get this done. It sounds corny, but it’s true—a lot of credit is due to all the different people we’ve worked with.
In terms of what we’ve done that I’m particularly proud of, South Lake Union is an interesting site. Geographically, it’s as central as you can be in the Puget Sound area, but it was somewhat underdeveloped. We had a pretty clear vision of what we’d like to see there, and we had clear goals, contributing to the success we’ve had there.
GlobeSt.com: How do you remain innovative?
Arron: We have a deep team and lots of different voices offer opinions on what we should do. We tried to bring an authentic, local brand that gives our area a more unique flavor. We’re also champions of sustainability from the get-go. Every building we build these days is typically LEED-Gold-Plus. We have been able to produce even better LEED results. We also really tried to focus on what we thought was best for the community and have collaborated with the community to bring what’s best to the area. In terms of residential, we’ve brought a range of options from affordable housing to luxury condominiums. In terms of retail, Amazon has been a major tenant, along with Microsoft, Tommy Bahama—we have a lot of innovative tenants. In terms of life science organizations, our area is one of the top research clusters in the nation.
We’ve also tried to bring in as many architects and contractors into the mix as we can, so we have a whole bunch of different thoughts and styles on how to do things. We have strong opinions ourselves, but we there are lots of good thoughts out there, and we listen.
GlobeSt.com: What are you working on for the future?
Arron: We still have the capability to develop another 5 million to 6 million square feet just within the South Lake Union area. A number of projects have broken ground, including a 400,000-square-foot project for Amazon, we just opened the Stack House Apartments, and we’ve also identified several sites and are in the predevelopment stage—we’re in the process of assessing the best use for those sites and we’ve started designing them.
Another really interesting project is the Chandler’s Cove area. It’s a waterfront site we’ve owned, and it currently consists of a number of restaurants and various smaller tenants, but it’s really a site that has the potential to be a lot more than it is, and we’re figuring out now how to make that better.
The Mercer blocks are another area; we’re going over major renovations there. And we also have a project in Issaquah, a 540,000-square-foot office building that Microsoft is vacating, so we have a 172,000-square-foot full building to lease. We’re looking for opportunities throughout the Pacific Northwest. We’re bolstering our acquisitions team and looking.
GlobeSt.com: Does the fact that you develop so many different product types make your job harder or easier?
Arron: It’s a little of both. We fortunately do have some flexibility on what we can build on a certain site. The art form is figuring out what the market is asking for and what the market will be. It’s nice having some flexibility and, on the other hand, it creates heated discussions because we have commercial and retail experts. It’s challenging to figure out what’s best. We also build a lot of mixed use—several uses within one project—and these are complicated projects. The good thing is we have choices; the bad thing is we have choices.