In the first installment of our Q&A series with local real estate market makers, we take an in-depth look at what the founder and vice president of Seattle-based real estate development firm, Urban Visions, think about the current state of real estate in the region, what the future might look like and a couple interesting bits of information you might not know about Greg and Broderick Smith, the father son duo paving the way to more sustainable real estate development.
What projects do you have that are currently underway and what’s their status?
A few of our bigger projects:
We just finished building 200 Occidental in Pioneer Square, which Weyerhaeuser leased for its World Headquarters. We are under construction with West Edge Tower, a 340-unit luxury apartment tower at the entrance to the Pike Place Market at 2nd and Pike. We are in the permitting phase on 316 Alaskan Way in Pioneer Square which, when finished, will be a 150,000 square foot office building with ground floor retail space fronting the soon-to-be finished new Waterfront boulevard along Alaskan Way. “S” – a 5 building 1 million square foot office campus located at the hub of the region’s public transportation systems, adjoining Century Link Stadium and the China Town International District. 813 Marion– a 40 story high-rise office tower totaling approximately 600,000 rentable square feet with unobstructed views of Elliot Bay and Mount Rainer. Located at the nexus of the Financial District, the Waterfront District and Pioneer Square.
We’d love to hear your perspective on the impact of the Weyerhaeuser building in Pioneer Square — Has that reached a new paradigm in the neighborhood?
Yes, and it seemed to come in two waves. First when we announced Weyerhaeuser was moving to our building. This poured rocket fuel on an already vibrant neighborhood with the excitement of a world-class Fortune 500 company moving to Pioneer Square. This fueled even more investment in the neighborhood by retailers and new developments. Second, once Weyerhaeuser moved in, the presence of nearly 800 new employees to the neighborhood could be immediately felt. Occidental Park now feels like an outdoor room, and its programming along with the presence of Weyerhaeuser has truly made Pioneer Square as exciting as I’ve ever seen it. The energy is palpable.
What kind of buzz and/or excitement has that submarket received since that building opened?
There are a lot of current projects under construction in the neighborhood and many proposed redevelopments of historic buildings and proposed new developments like our 316 Alaskan way site. Retail expansion is also very strong.
It’s a modern day gold rush for Seattle except the Gold is substituted with the Cloud.
If you were to describe the health of the current market, what would that look like and what would you consider some of the more positive aspects and then some of the negative or concerning ones?
All categories of Seattle Real Estate are very strong now, office, residential, retail, tourism, hospitality and industrial. Once again, there are more construction cranes in Seattle than any other city in the country. That’s amazing. It’s a modern day gold rush for Seattle except the Gold is substituted with the Cloud. The city continues to attract world class businesses and talent, many of whom expect to live in the city. Supposedly there are over 10,000 unfilled job openings and companies are recruiting worldwide. Additionally, the world capital markets and investors are now focusing their attention on Seattle. This is all happening while generational infrastructure projects have not even occurred yet. From the Waterfront redevelopment program that will transform Seattle’s central waterfront to the doubling of the Convention Center to the construction of the newly funded $50 billion dollar Sound Transit Mass transit. These are amazing projects that will continue to add to the livability and attractiveness of Seattle as a World Class city. I think are our biggest challenges currently are traffic, homelessness and housing affordability — but I’m confident Seattle will continue to address these issues effectively.
Looking further into 2017, what’s your outlook on this year’s market and potentially even into early 2018? What are you excited about and what are you hesitant about?
We remain very bullish on the greater Seattle market through 2018. What are we hesitant about? At some point the market will be oversupplied. It always does, so we remain disciplined in our business approach knowing this will occur sooner rather than later.
What trends do you anticipate seeing this year and are they strong enough to develop into more of a “standard” in the future?
I’m not sure about trends. What we are focusing on is the concept of “health and creativity for people working in office buildings.” Due to advances in technology, for the first time science and design can work together in creating buildings and spaces that are proven to make people happier, healthier and more productive. This is good for businesses because their greatest cost is the recruitment, retention and productivity of their people, and people will want to work in buildings that value and prioritize their health and well-being. In Seattle’s hyper competitive market for employees, we are convinced employers who locate in buildings designed with these values in mind will see major cost efficiencies in their labor cost, as well as a more creative and productive labor force.
And speaking of sustainability, how’s the region doing in terms of sustainable buildings and construction? Could we be doing more or doing better?
Yes, Seattle continues to expand its sustainability goals in the real estate industry, but compared to many other cities in the world, we could do even more. There are great organizations like the 2030 District helping to push our region and the city.
As a developer you often analyze different submarkets of the region, what are some of the areas you believe will be active or getting a lot of attention for developers and future tenants?
Our philosophy is to share about our past and present, but not to share where we are going until we are there.
Do you feel the local economy will continue to be strong and will employment continue to grow? Are you seeing tenants from other regions creeping into the Seattle market?
Yes, as mentioned above, for the foreseeable future, we anticipate a continued strong growth of both existing businesses as well as new businesses moving to the city, and therefore more people moving to city. Hospitality and Tourism will also continue to grow. Seattle has an amazing intellectual capital base and we think firms will continue to both grow locally and move into the region and expand.
We’d love to learn more about the legacy of your business and your family. In a sense, who are you? —Beyond the website About Us page.
We’re a family that is passionate about Seattle and the outdoors; when we’re not working or spending time with our family, you can usually find us on a river fly fishing.
Fun Facts! What can you tell us about your family and company that your average reader wouldn’t know?
Both of us were building engineers at one point; Greg was an engineer at the Smith Tower and Broderick was an engineer at 83 King in Pioneer Square. We have a lot of respect for building engineers, they are the behind the scenes team who keep the engine running smoothly.
Both of us started our full-time careers as property managers. It’s a great place to start because you get a thorough understanding of how a building operates whether it’s the operations, leasing, financing, etc. If you know how to run a building, those skills translate well with financial analysis, budgeting, design, marketing, brokerage, development, etc., etc.
If you could tell our readers and the industry one thing or offer a piece of advice, perspective or interesting tidbit, what would it be?
Broderick: My Dad’s best piece of advice: Don’t’ even pretend to know a thing about this business for at least five years…and then you’ll know a little. Those were smart and true words that I’ll definitely pass that along to my boys when they hopefully join the firm.