By Meghan Hall
Pasadena-based urban office REIT Alexandria Real Estate Equities continued with its efforts to build upon Seattle’s burgeoning life sciences cluster Wednesday night with the presentation of design plans for an 11-story office located at 701 Dexter in South Lake Union. The company, which focuses on the development of life sciences and technology campuses, and Seattle-based Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects (ZGF Architects), hopes to create a development that will continue to establish South Lake Union as a life sciences hub through a mix of uniquely-designed office and laboratory flex space. However, those goals were not apparent to the West Design Review Board, who unanimously asked the development team to return for another design review in the future with a more proactive and defined design.
“Dexter is emerging as a major bicycle arterial and for bus routes,” said ZGF Architects Partner Allyn Stellmacher. “It’s a really nice connector through the city, and with this evolution of zoning we’re seeing here, we’re focused on the big transformation here that is happening in this small part of South Lake Union. I think it’s exciting to think about how we can make it a subdistrict of its own.”
The project team presented several different schemes to the West Design Review Board. Its preferred option would include 10 stories and a penthouse, and its massing would work to achieve floor-area-ratio capacity to maximize rentable space. The building would be setback on the corner of Roy and Dexter in order to acknowledge the pedestrian plane, where the building’s entry will be located and where the most pedestrian traffic occurs. The entry will lead to the office lobby, as well as retail space and below-grade parking, and Alexandria intends that activity from these spaces spills out onto the sidewalk to create a transition from private and public space.
“Our team is really excited about the opportunity to create a unique junction here at Roy and Dexter with how we treat the pedestrian plane,” explained Stellmacher. “I think we’re excited about how this building can influence the character of Roy.”
The building will also articulate the Dexter and Aurora facades at the ground plane and tower to create visual interest. The north facade, however, will be blank in an effort to provide a buffer between the building and residential developments planned on adjacent sites. Despite the limitations presented by current and planned structures, Alexandria states in project documents that the facade will still be “thoughtfully designed.”
Stellmacher added that the development team also wanted to create a building that catered to the more “grown-up” side of South Lake Union, and that the building’s facades will be unique and serve as a focal point since the project site functions as a sort of portal into South Lake Union.
However, in focusing on the future characteristics of Roy and the future development of the district, the Design Review Board felt that Alexandria and ZGF Architects had created a project that was too reactive to the potential — and uncertain — character of the future of South Lake Union. The Board, in its deliberations, acknowledged that while there are plenty of projects in the pipeline in the neighborhood, the project lacks response to current neighborhood development.
In its deliberations, the Board stated that while it appreciated the development team’s attempts to respond to the small, 27,000 square foot site, it was not a fan of the Board’s massing options. “The Board expects to see a more clearly vetted and well-thought-out concept,” it stated when reviewing its notes from the meeting.
The Board also asked Alexandria and ZGF to return after focusing on one, more evolved scheme. Upon its return, the Board asked to see concepts like a through-block connection to the Dexter Yard or adjacent residential projects. In addition, The Board requested further study on how the development will interact with the pedestrian realm given the site’s small footprint, and how materials will be used to break down the massing of the building.
Overall, the Board stated that it would like for the project to set a design precedent in the neighborhood.
Alexandria’s goals, according to project documents, are to establish a sense of place for the site in South Lake Union while maximizing the site’s development potential. Alexandria purchased 701 Dexter from Unico Properties in July 2018 for $33.5 million, or approximately $571 per square foot. Currently, the site is developed with a 58,681 square foot Class B office tower constructed in 1984, which will be demolished to make way for the new development.
701 Dexter is located on the west side of South Lake Union, a neighborhood with a large — and rapidly growing — life sciences presence. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which Alexandria acquired through a purchase-leaseback in 1996, is located in east South Lake Union. Facebook’s Seattle headquarters, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and BioMed Realty’s anticipated Dexter Yard, are all located nearby. Alexandria’s delivery of 188 East Blaine St., a 198,000 rentable square foot ground-up development, is expected for the second quarter of 2019. Early tenants to the building include bluebird bio, Inc., Life Science Washington, Sana Biotechnology, Inc., and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Alexandria also announced pre construction activities for its 1165 Eastlake Ave. E. project; along with 188 East Blaine St., both projects will add more than 300,000 square feet of adaptable state-of-the-art office and laboratory uses to Lake Union. The developments will also bring Alexandria’s presence in the neighborhood to more than one million rentable square feet.