Friday Flashback: 10,000 New Condos Coming By 2010!

Here’s a delightfully hyperbolic piece from June 2006, about a year before Seattle’s peak pricing (but eight months after sales began declining year-over-year). By this time most of the rest of the country had figured out the boom was over, but remember, Seattle was special!

Blaine Weber, half of the big-time local architecture team of Weber + Thompson (designers of Fifteen Twenty-One and other high-profile local towers) penned this delightful piece for the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce: Are we ready for Seattle’s pivotal moment in history?

Downtown Seattle is about to undergo the most significant change since Henry Yesler built his sawmill in 1853.

600 Wall Street, 256 units
600 Wall Street, 256 units

The recent adoption of a new downtown zoning code that incents taller residential towers comes as Seattle witnesses a confluence of trends and drivers that will bring thousands of residents to new high-density homes in our urban center. According to local economists, Seattle’s strong economy and job growth projections are accelerating. This will be a defining moment for the future of downtown Seattle.

10,000 residential units?

Suddenly, a proliferation of new high-rise residential tower projects is on the books, in for permits, or under construction. In downtown Seattle, there are 13 projects already under construction, with another 49 proposed. If all of these projects proceed to construction, over 8,000 new residential units will be built by 2010 in the most rapid expansion of high-density development in the history of our city. It is anticipated that this number could easily grow to 10,000 new units as additional projects are queued up to meet continued demand.

Supply and demand

The question that many are asking is: Will there be enough people moving into downtown to fill all of these towers? According to local economist Matthew Gardener, the market could readily absorb up to 2,500 new units per year. Based on a current assessment of when projects are slated for occupancy, the market will have difficulty providing this supply for the next couple of years because the typical high-rise tower takes three to four years to design and build.

Rich stuff. He goes on to support his claims of massive demand with three major points: “Restrictive land-use rules,” “road rage,” and “seeking new life-styles.” Yes, “road rage.” Seriously.

Of the three projects pictured in the article—Fifteen Twenty-One, 600 Wall Street, and 1800 Terry Avenue—only one was actually built. I wonder how many of the “8,000 new residential units by 2010” really ended up materializing? I bet less than half.

Be sure to catch the rest of the articles in the entire special “Urban Development” section of the June 2006 Journal, too. Lots of great stuff in there, including an article on condo development in Tacoma that declares to the skeptics that “the doubts are unwarranted.” Well okay then.

Here’s what I had to say about this article at the time:

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see how forking over half a million or more for a tiny box of a home downtown is the gateway to a “lifestyle that is less stressful.” The whole article is very pie-in-the-sky, so take from it what you will.

Guess it wasn’t just me.

The purpose of our Friday Flashback series is to remind people why it’s never a good idea to base your home purchase decisions on the word of someone with a vested financial interest in selling as many homes as possible for as much as possible, no matter what. If you’ve got a good example of local home salespeople or other industry shills on record making fools of themselves in the years before the bubble burst, shoot me an email.
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About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.

16 comments:

  1. 1
    David Losh says:

    Just because there was a global market crash the fact still remains that Seattle has some of the most reasonably priced urban center condo units.

    The world, and Real Estate has changed a lot in the past six years. Yes, I can see living in a box, because my kids don’t play in the yard. Kids play vieo games, and go to the mall. Sorry, but that’s a reality.

    If kids go outside it’s to school sports programs. That yard is something we may have enjoyed when we were kids, but today, I can see kids growing up in the city.

    I like South Lake Union, and the way it is turning out. There is a lot more development to do, but it seems like that entire area is some place very inviting.

  2. 2
    Dirty Renter says:

    RE: David Losh @ 1
    :)..we also played outside all day long. I remember our makeshift Olympic Games…big rocks as shotputs, weed stems as javelines, and worst of all – steel lawn chairs as hurdles. Ouch.

  3. 3
    wreckingbull says:

    These condo developers (and David Losh) seem to think that urban living was invented six years ago. Kids have been growing up in cities for years. Kids still enjoy playing outside. This whole urban lifestyle buzz they try to promote is rather amusing.

    UPDATE: After reading this article, I had to see who this guy was. He still has this lofty prose from 2006 on his profile page. At least give the guy credit for believing his own hype.

    http://www.weberthompson.com/blaine-weber.html

    Roll up the sidewalks? Really? Give us a little credit, guy.

  4. 4
    The Tim says:

    RE: wreckingbull @ 3 – But… but… Road rage! Road rage will get everyone to move into $500,000+ condos downtown!

  5. 5

    By wreckingbull @ 3:

    Roll up the sidewalks? Really? Give us a little credit, guy.

    I think he’s talking about how dead most of downtown Seattle is after everyone goes home from work. Has that changed?

  6. 6
    wreckingbull says:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 5 – Yes, I understand the reference, but I find his characterization of the ‘old’ Seattle a little out of touch. I worked downtown for a few decades and my experiences sure differ from his.

  7. 7
    One Eyed Man says:

    RE: Dirty Renter @ 2

    My family is filled with architects. My sister and brother in law are architects. One of my cousins is a professor of architecture at Ohio State. One of my uncles is a past president of the AIA. One of my father’s cousins is a member of the “Order of Ontario” (a form of civic medal in the province) for his ground breaking ;-) urban planning work in a Toronto planned community.

    10,000 urban condos. Do we want them? Is there demand for them, or will there be in the foreseeable future? Should we be glad they didn’t get built (yet) or that they might not get built? Are they good or bad. The environmentalists would probably tell you that 10,000 urban condos saves countless acres of natural open space outside of the urban growth boundary from obliteration. I like mother nature so I’m torn. I don’t want society to destroy open space and what little remains of natural environs, but I don’t want to live in a condo.

    Without apology, I’ll move straight to hyperbole and opine that condo’s are just the first step toward living in the matrix. Even so, I’m not entirely against them. They aren’t incarnate evil, they’re just not my choice at this point in life. Condo’s can be perfect for people who desire to subcontract maintenance issues, or who desire to be in the otherwise economically prohibitive locations, or who may be physically infirm, etc. And condos probably make perfect economic sense from a societal view point for the efficient use of both space and energy. But I wouldn’t have wanted to substitute condo living for my childhood, and I don’t think I’d prefer it for my kids (if I had any I knew about).

    Thanks to technological innovation, virtual reality is replacing the childhood experiences of past generations, for better or for worse. We had the Olympics in our neighborhood too, and you didn’t need a Wii or an X-Box 360. But you did need a bamboo pole for the high jump, a straight open stretch for the sprints, some sticks for javelins and some croquet balls for the shotput. We were always outside, building tree houses and rafts (we named ours The Bismark and it lived up to its name about 30 feet off shore – an excellent practical experience in engineering and construction), playing sports in back yards or in the street, wading in swamps and ponds, catching frog and snakes, stalking deer, sometimes going on unauthorized adventures out of the neighborhood on bikes or on foot like the kids in “Stand By Me” (although not over night).

    I still have a broken tooth with a temporary stainless steel cap, temporary dental work that’s now over 50 yrs old, from playing hockey with tennis balls in the street when I was 9. I made the save but took a stick to the face on a slap shot just outside the crease. Take that Bobby Hull cause at that time Gretsky wasn’t even a gold metal swimmer in the 50 millimeter freestyle. If I were a kid today, all I’d have to show for that experience would be carpel tunnel and myopia instead of an unsightly physical anomaly that I still in some ways view as the red badge of courage even though it makes me appear more like a drunken sailor than a licensed professional.

    Sure its possible that I’m just a nostalgic curmudgeon. However, once again, I’m not against condos, I’m just uneasy about a sanitized if not sterilized urban and to some degree “virtual” environment replacing a more intimate relationship with mother nature. Condo’s may be convenient and perhaps even efficient, but they’re not a substitute for an animal connection to the physical world or the blood knowledge (if not badge of courage) that arguably is at least sometimes better learned and appreciated throught first hand as opposed to virtual experience. Perhaps someday a virtual rose will smell as sweet, but I still wince at the thought of willingly choosing to live my life inside Plato’s cave.

  8. 8
    David Losh says:

    RE: The Tim @ 4

    Road rage was all the rage at the time. The signs said: “if you lived here you would be home by now.”

    You don’t have to like it, but in relationship to other urban centers Seattle has yet to develop the down town core, or near the airport, that was a big part of getting Light Rail approved. The airport is a major job center.

    As wreckingbull says, a person with a laptop can live anywhere, do business anywhere, but they would also want to be near a place where they can make personal connections. It’s easier to invite some one to drinks in down town than out in the country, or Ballard, or Fremont.

    The big money is in finance, and we are further removed from manufacturing. We are further, and getting further from blue collar to white collar in Seattle, yet we are short on the housing that accomodates that.

    We also lack night life, but that is a topic for another time. Seattle will grow, and down town will grow with it.

  9. 9

    By One Eyed Man @ 7:

    Without apology, I’ll move straight to hyperbole and opine that condo’s are just the first step toward living in the matrix. Even so, I’m not entirely against them. They aren’t incarnate evil, they’re just not my choice at this point in life. Condo’s can be perfect for people who desire to subcontract maintenance issues, or who desire to be in the otherwise economically prohibitive locations, or who may be physically infirm, etc.

    Exactly. I enjoyed living in a condo when I was younger. Location was more important back then, and I didn’t want to spend time on yard work. I wouldn’t want to live there now, but I can see myself moving into a condo again when I’m over 65.

  10. 10
    Scotsman says:

    Condos. “Condos in Redmondo.” 60-01, the root of all evil. Condos downtown are occupied by urban aliens, a strange evolutionary progression that has produced the bland metrosexual. No thank you.

    I want to be in the country. I want to ride in the “choomwagon” and do roof hits with Barry. Poke at a few of One-Eye’s buttons.

    http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/05/obama-and-his-pot-smoking-choom-gang/

    Then go home to my cinnamon girl and three cats in the yard.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAdtUDaBfRA

    Have a great weekend everyone!

  11. 11
    Dirty Renter says:

    RE: Scotsman @ 10
    Neil & the Stray Geriatrics are still kicking it:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgUDJDbSwg0&feature=related

  12. 12
    Feedback says:

    God, how stupid those so-called “experts” were in 2006! Thank heavens for Seattle Bubble, the only web site that could foresee the financial chaos and decline in prices that would soon arrive.

    Thank you, Tim, for defeating Blaine Weber.

  13. 13
    wreckingbull says:

    By David Losh @ 8:

    As wreckingbull says, a person with a laptop can live anywhere, do business anywhere, but they would also want to be near a place where they can make personal connections. It’s easier to invite some one to drinks in down town than out in the country, or Ballard, or Fremont.

    Yes, because there are no bars or restaurants in Ballard or Fremont. When was the last time you ventured past your mailbox?

    As far as us country hicks, yeah, we never socialize or blow off any steam. Allow my friend James to explain:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qguICtJLTCI

  14. 14
    David Losh says:

    RE: wreckingbull @ 13

    Business is international. What some people used to think of as living in the country could also mean Valencia, Taormina, or Santorini.

    What is really interesting on the internet about Real Estate in Seattle is people still refer to Boeing, or lament the loss of manufacturing. People talk about the jobs Amazon, Microsoft, or Costco provide without considering that the economy has changed.

    These companies, along with FaceBook, which you referred to, will be the financial engines of the future.

    Finance, and financing the next round of development is where the money is going. There’s a lot to do, globally. Will we get the next round of wealth, or as people say, rich people moving to Seattle? I think so.

    I think we have a lot of room for very expensive luxury condos down town. There will be development down town and down to the airport.

  15. 15
    Keith says:

    One side effect of the bust has been a return to the city by those who left because they just wanted to “get in.” The reason the cranes are back up (you do realize that there is another boom in Seattle happening right now, right?) is that the vacancy rate has fallen below 3% citywide and below 2% in neighborhoods like Ballard.
    So… this guy was clearly smoking from the boom pipe… but yeah, a lot more people (particularly new residents) will live in denser parts of Seattle over the next decade. The urbanization of Seattle is accelerating right now. If its done right, I’ll take that over paving the entire space between here and the mountains.
    Side note: Why does everyone in this town use the word “condo” like its a curse? Its just an apartment you can buy… If we’re going to vilify a form of housing let’s stick with exurban mcmansions.

  16. 16
    wreckingbull says:

    RE: Keith @ 15 – One reason condos (especially newer condos) are so vilified in Seattle is that the tend to be poorly built to deal with our wet, windy winters. I’d say about 50-60% of the friends and family I have who have been condo owners have been faced with some sort of large assessment to deal with moisture intrusion.

    I’d say a second reason is that they are simply over-hyped. You state it perfectly when you say they are just an apartment. The advertisements featuring Chaz and Brittany, swilling red wine, relaxing and laughing on the veranda are a little over the top.

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