[Photo by BUILD LLC]

The University District’s mixed-use Park Modern building recently turned ten years old, and the project offers a wealth of knowledge in Seattle’s current real estate market. Having weathered a decade’s worth of gray winters, a great recession, and the daily wear and tear of an urban environment, it’s an appropriate time for a performance review.

The Seattle building’s footprint was configured to optimize the small 7,500sf site, an area equivalent to 1.5 single family home sites. Two small, adjacent parcels had been purchased and combined, which allowed the project to have critical mass in scale as well as enough value for construction financing. Although a project of smaller margins, this type of bootstrapping may be even more relevant with today’s challenges of creating affordable housing using modestly scaled infill projects. As available City lots are becoming scarce, while the city’s population continues to grow, the Park Modern building has become a model of infill development.

Designed, developed, and built by BUILD LLC a decade ago for a $150/sf construction budget, the 4-story building provides 12 residential condominiums atop three commercial, ground-floor spaces including the Herkimer Coffee Shop, Tenpachi Salon, and the Gary Anderson Painting Studio. A secure underground parking garage also provides 14 parking stalls and houses all the building systems.

[Photo by BUILD LLC]

In order to create high-end, durable and elegant urban homes of varying scale and type, the design team struck a balance between customization of the interiors and a specification package that could be repeated across the 12 units. One of these strategies uses a common maple-veneer cabinet package outfitted with improved hardware and topped with matte-finish stainless steel countertops and integral sinks. The building systems were optimized by the inclusion of an innovative machine room-less elevator for minimal energy use, in-floor radiant heating, a durable shell of corrugated metal, thermally-broken metal windows, and protected pockets of sheltered cedar which provides a visual warmth to the building. Additional structural elements like the prominent full-height concrete wall at the front are intended to weather and patina over time. While the Park Modern is just one building block of the city, it was also designed as a statement of the value of timeless design in a city rising with buildings that may show their age much sooner.

[Photo by Chase Jarvis Photography]

Creating condominiums rather than apartments also helped fill an important niche in the city. Unit sizes at the Park Modern range from 700 square feet to 1,900 square feet, including one and two-bedroom units as well as three-bed multi-level homes. The project offered a range of sales values – and for some, a first chance at home ownership – for singles, families, and everyone in between. Seattle’s annual growth, which currently exceeds 20,000 people per year, coupled with the high rate of apartment rather than condominium development, is making home ownership more difficult than ever.

The imbalance of apartments to condos in Seattle has become apparent. As recent studies show that apartment rentals are slowing; condos could, once again, be a wise investment for developers. While there are regulatory and logistical challenges to developing condominiums, these challenges are now outweighed by the escalating value of condominium homes, and infill projects such as Park Modern have demonstrated that it can be done. Resale prices at the Park Modern increased 40% and appraisals more than doubled, all while the great recession occurred during this 10-year timeframe.

The available land in Seattle is decreasing while permit complexity is increasing. This suggests an imperative to create smaller, smarter buildings, customized to their specific environment. Meanwhile, the chasm of cost between apartments and single-family homes is only getting wider. At a time of great progress, there is also great risk of continuing down a path that may not be sustainable. With a decade worth of experiences, the Park Modern provides an example for the likely shift toward a more responsive, forward-thinking, building type. While it may appear as a hybrid building in many ways, this building type remains relevant to Seattle’s development landscape and can be used as a model for creating a new generation of sustainable homeownership.

[Photo by Savatgy]

Cheers from Team BUILD