SEATTLE, WA-Since President Eisenhower got the ball rolling on the interstate highway system in the 1950s, Puget Sound-area development has followed, spreading out along the routes in a quest for bare and inexpensive ground. Now, however, with the highways choked with traffic and the cost of building suburban infrastructure soaring, the trend appears to be reversing.

“The highway system allowed easy access to cheap land. So, people abandoned the cities for the suburbs,” says Jack Rader, a man who has developed commercial real estate here since the 1970s and now manages CenterPoint Corporate Park in Kent. The suburban population growth has far surpassed the highway system’s ability to manage it efficiently, however, causing problems for commuters and ground transportation companies and generating renewed interest in urban living.

Land costs were what drew development out of the urban core, and they are now a major factor in pushing it back, says Rader, “The cost of building out infrastructure on new dirt (in suburban areas) is very expensive,” says Rader. “For example, out of what is spent developing in areas like Redmond and Woodinville (in the Eastside sub-market), the portion spent on mitigation fees is somewhere in the 25% to 35% range. What you’re going to see more and more is a push to make more efficient use of our land resources.” And that means moving development back toward the urban cores.

A prime example is the gentrification of Downtown Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood where developers are creating “live, work, play environments.” Though sales prices in the high-density residential projects are bumping around the $1,000 per sf mark, many who can afford it are exchanging their cash for convenience.

As for office development, although the city has been struggling to maintain its industrial focus, Rader expects the Sodo neighborhood near Safeco Field will eventually be filled with mid-rise office buildings. “It’s the best use of that land, and it’s going to be cheaper there than to take a project out to Snoqualmie (well east of Seattle) and pay for the infrastructure and mitigation costs.

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