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From apples to apartments
Development at old Safeway site will not include specialty grocery
By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter
A Seattle architecture firm and a developer from San Francisco are finalizing their design proposal for constructing a mixed-use facility in Town Center without plans for a speciality grocery store on the ground-floor as it originally sought.
For more than a decade, the two acres of land on the North end 76th Avenue S.E. has languished with uncertainty. But now, BRE Properties, a developer based in San Francisco, is moving forward with Seattle architecture firm, Mithun Partners, in creating a five-story complex with more than 13,400 square feet of retail space and 152,000 square feet of apartments at the old Safeway site. The facility will also have three levels of parking, two of them underground, with a total of 390 spots.
Jim Bedoia, an architect with Mithun, said they initially planned for a grocery store in the retail space but had difficulty making it work because of the amount of parking spaces required for a grocery store. Bedoia also said the lease rate for a single grocer is different than having numerous shops and restaurants.
“We made the push for it, starting out in that direction but we couldn’t find a tenant,” Bodoia said. “It’s difficult with a large box store to make it pencil out, so hopefully we can get a nice restaurant in there with some other boutiques.”
According to Rick Beeler, the city’s senior planner, the city is disappointed the developers could not find anyone interested in opening a specialty grocer.
“It’s a disappointment to residents,” Beeler said. “Staff think it would be nice to have a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods or something like that over there because for a long time the Island has needed that level of a store here. There’s the clientele here and it makes since to have that.”
In the past, there were attempts to open a new grocery store after Safeway left the existing building.
In 2001 the CEO of Foods Markets Northwest, Terry Halverson, which owns and operates Metropolitan Market, began showing interest in the old, existing building. A couple of years later, Halverson was still negotiating with the building’s leaseholder, which was still Safeway at that time. However, by the summer of 2004 the negotiations between the Metropolitan Market and Safeway broke down, according to minutes from a design commission meeting, and those plans came to an end.
City planners are pleased, however, with the project because it includes a 6,800 square foot public plaza as its major site feature. The plaza will be 35-feet wide at its narrowest point and at its widest, 50 feet. The space will be more than a buffer between 76th Avenue S.E. and the retail stores as plans include a reflection pool, a cafe seating area, open seating areas, and a new Metro bus stop. There will also be plenty of trees and other plants to provide shade in the summer. The design plans state between 15 and 60 percent of the public plaza will be landscaped with trees, ground cover and other vegetation.
Inside the 65-foot tall structure, there will be four stories of residential space, now planned for 162 apartments. Renters will be able to choose from 24 studios, 71 one-bedrooms, 63 two-bedrooms, 4 three-bedrooms. The residential floors will also surround a private courtyard in the center of the project similar to The Mercer and Island Market Square.
To estimate the number of parking spaces needed, architects figured 8,500 square feet will be used for retail stores. Jim Bedoia, a Mithun architect, said he hopes a really nice restaurant will occupy the additional 5,000 square feet planned for restaurant use. The largest retail space is currently planned at 5,000 square feet and the smallest space at 1,100. Bedoia, however, said those dimensions could easily change depending on what the market brings to the building when it comes to fruition.
According to Rick Beeler, the city’s senior planner, the project is is still in an early phase of planning and construction most likely won’t begin until next year. Yet, City planners and the developer both know there is an urgency to complete the permit process because the planning commission is considering changes to the town center development code.
If the project, which is yet to have a name, is approved before Council enacts any code amendments, then the project won’t have to be modified to comply with the new codes the city is considering for Town Center developments.
The project’s first proposal was presented before the city’s design commission last August. Since then several modifications have been made.
Other public benefits promised by the developer include numerous minor site features, such as canopies over the storefronts in the public plaza and sidewalks. The plaza will also connect to a public courtyard that will be 10 feet wide and landscaped with trees and ground cover. The public courtyard will separate the parking garage entrance from the rest of the development. The garage entrance will also be paved to blend in with the adjacent sidewalk, courtyard and public plaza. Finally, the developers want to add a crosswalk on 76th Avenue with matching pavement and install a buffer of trees and landscapes between the sidewalk and the street.
Other Town Center developments:
Four buildings within Town Center will be demolished toward the end of the month and in early April, according to Michael Christ, the owner of SECO Development.
Set for excavation are the Sunset Chevron, Cleaners Plus 1, the former Coldwell Banker office, and an unoccupied building. The demolition will make room for the construction of the new 7700 Central building facing 78th Avenue S.E, 27th Street and Sunset Highway.
Construction of the new mixed-use project will begin some time in the summer, Christ said. When finished, the building will consists of 189 residential apartment, 25,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and 316 underground parking spaces, according the city’s Website.
The city and has approved the permits required to remove Chevron’s three 15,000 gallon gas tanks. The manager at the Chevron said the store’s last day will be March 31. The clerk at Cleaners Plus 1 said the store will be closing this week.