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UW has interest in office building at new light-rail station

by LaVendrick Smith, The Daily

Originally posted in The Daily.

Light Rail

In anticipation of attracting companies to the University District, the UW has shown interest in constructing an office building over the space where the new U-District light-rail station is currently being built.

The light-rail station, located on Brooklyn Avenue Northeast between Northeast 45th Street and Northeast 43rd Street, will open to the public in 2021. The station will provide Seattle commuters in the U-District and surrounding areas with service to Northgate, downtown Seattle, and SeaTac Airport.

No plans are officially set, and the university is still a few years away from having to confirm their plans for a building to Sound Transit, according to university officials.

Sally Clark, director of regional and community relations for the UW, said the university is interested in a new building to create office space in the U-District to turn the area into an attractive landing spot for midsize companies to locate. She said there is interest from people in the U-District to see a different range of employees in the area.

“It’s great that the university is a big employer of a lot of students who frequent the University District for food or for services, or for whatever you need to buy,” Clark said. “And then there are a lot of folks in the area that would like to see some more diversity in the employees who are walking around looking to buy lunch, or looking to get their dry cleaning done. There’s a desire to figure out what would those companies be looking for.”

She said most tech companies, for example, are interested in having large floor space in their offices. So designs featuring large floors would be a possibility in a potential building.

Clark said the university still has to wait for the city council to determine new zoning regulations for the area, which will determine the dimensions of the building the university would need in order for a proper platform to be built to support the building.

There’s no clear timetable for when the council will announce the new zoning regulations.

The UW received recommendations on how to best utilize the space from Seattle’s Urban Land Institute (ULI).

In a report, ULI states a new building would be a benefit to the university and the U-District.

“With 12,000 riders each day arriving at the U-District station, this location could be the new front door to the UW,” the report said.

However, the idea of constructing an office building isn’t favored by everyone in the U-District. Many people in the area have made it known they’d rather the space be used for the public, such as building a plaza.

Matt Fox is the co-chair of the City/University Community Advisory Committee (CUCAC), a committee that consults the university on master planning projects.

He said, since 2013, CUCAC has supported the concept of incorporating an open space or plaza with the light-rail construction, and requested the city and the UW not take steps to prevent that from happening. He said the university intends to build a high-rise building, and in a recent meeting, CUCAC reiterated their stance against a building.

“It’s not even going to be a University of Washington building,” Fox said. “It’s going to be a building for their private sector partner tech tenants, so it’s not even fulfilling a fundamental university purpose.”

The university and the ULI report contend the light-rail station is not the best place for an open space or plaza. Clark said there has been interest in putting a plaza at the corner of Northeast 43rd Street and Brooklyn Avenue Northeast. 

“That’s not going to solve the whole problem as far as the need for more open space in the core of the university area,” Clark said.

Fox said the university is just motivated by bringing business to the area.

“They want their building,” Fox said. “It has nothing to do with the desirability of an open space or not. The university has decided that, for whatever reason, that it’s going to get into the speculative development, high-tech South Lake Union business, and the public be damned.”

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Reach News Editor LaVendrick Smith at news@dailyuw.com; Twitter: @LaVendrickS


Comments

Garrett Cobarr Oct 7, 2015
Several points on this story:

1. The University District area is in violation of open space requirements now and in the future proposed comprehensive plan. The area offered, the old House of Pancakes property, is a token and will not legally fulfill those requirements.

2. The University Campus is private property and is not part of open space calculations.

3. While students struggle with debt from their educations at the University of Washington and small business struggles to compete with the UW's continued expansion of restaurants, coffee shops and other services on campus, The University continues its onslaught of construction, both on and off campus.

Here is the question: is the University of Washington a property development company or is it a center for higher education?

The University needs to place itself into another view, one that encompasses a new political reality, the U-District is not separate thing unto itself, that can continue its near unopposed plans with the former Seattle City Council, it is part of the 4th District, and soon, with a single council member and 85,000 plus constituents who are increasingly skeptical of the University's intentions and the impact it has on their daily lives. They are not students or faculty and they vote.
Tara Bernstein Oct 12, 2015
If the UDub takes away all the charm of the u-district then it will become another concrete jungle. An open plaza at the light rail station will be enjoyed by way more people then another skyscraper. I am reminded of Union Station , the subway stop in Manhattan where there is a park above the station, Union Plaza. Concerts occur there, as well as benches, and picnic tables surrounded by big trees which makes that part of town memorable, not the Banana Republic.