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Design Review Board Approves 17-Story Mixed Use Commercial Building Along Seattle’s 5th Avenue

B+H Architects, Berger Partnership, Robert Bird Group, Al Zarooni, 5th Avenue Hotel & Residences, Seattle, Fifth Avenue, O’Shea Building, Coliseum Theater
Rendering Courtesy of B+H Architects

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

Seattle’s Fifth Avenue is a historic, famous pedestrian route, and includes a distinguished stretch of properties that has defined the metropolitan core’s rich retail and hospitality history since the early 1990s. In an effort to enhance the pedestrian experience and create a hub for networking, vacation and more, B+H Architects, Berger Partnership and Robert Bird Group received approval in July from the East Design Review Board to move forward with a 17-story, mixed use commercial building called The 5th Avenue Hotel & Residences, located at 1520 5th Avenue.

The site, which is owned by Al Zarooni, is currently developed with a four-story and a two-story masonry building, both of which will be demolished to make way for the proposed development. A portion of the infill site is also used for retail, and the remainder of the space is vacant. Surrounding the development space, which mid-block between Pine Street to the North and Pike Street to the south, are full-scale restaurant properties, retail, residential and hotel spaces in the Downtown Residential Core Zone, nestled within the greater Downtown Urban Center Village Overlay. The historic O’Shea Building is located directly to the north, with the Coliseum Theatre to the south, and the Decatur Building, Shafer Building and 520 Pike Tower are across the 16 foot alleyway, which provides service access to the buildings. Based on the current proposal, guests will have access to guest drop off and resident parking via the one-way flows of 5th Avenue and Pike Street.

According to project documents, the 14,400 lot area will include 122 hotel rooms, 14 suites, 35 residential units and 10,000 square feet of residential/retail space. The project will also feature 17 stories of above-grade parking and 55 parking stalls below grade. Amenities for the project include an all-day cafe which will overflow into the interior retail street off 5th Avenue, a tree-level spa and wellness terrace with premier spa treatments, a wellness lounge and tech-enabled fitness. Fire pits and an indoor/outdoor bar will populate the amenity deck, a welcoming extension of the rooftop lounge. Other advantages of the space include the manageable walking distance to several popular downtown attractions, including Pike Place Market, the Waterfront, the Theatre District and Convention Center, to name a few.

B+H Architects describes the challenge of designing a tower that can successfully be integrated between historic buildings like the O’Shea Building and Coliseum Theatre. One design concept that will be implemented to help combat this challenge is setting the 10-story tower further from the street, which will make the 7-story podium the more predominant element experienced by pedestrians along 5th Avenue.Through careful placement and orientation of the tower atop the podium, the mass abundance of sunlight that naturally spills onto the site will be unobstructed and maintain a pleasant atmosphere for pedestrians, states the design documents. 

The massing of the building will feature an aperture concept, with a slender tower justified to the eastern side of the site to support a minimal impact on skyline. The tower will be a maximum of 170 feet, which will also help reduce skyline “bulk.” This also allows the podium to blend with the scaled down O’Shea Building and Coliseum Theatre. The taller south wall of the tower will be clad with a semi-polished material that will create a reflective canvas of the Coliseum Theatre, while the scale of the tower and courtyard podium will continue to promote the atmosphere of 5th Avenue by sitting the tower along the 16 foot alley, creating an opening within the podium.

The Board unanimously supported the aperture concept and appreciated the slenderness of the tower and the development of open spaces and light-sharing strategies at the podium level, believing it to have the most potential to mitigate scale and respond to context. The Board supported the proposed location of the hotel lobby at 5th Avenue, as it would create a “secondary retail street” with potential to bring pedestrian activity to the alley. The Board also supported the simplicity of the proposed podium articulation, agreeing the project should not compete with its adjacent historic counterparts. However, they also suggested the success of the articulation would depend on the materials used and that a number of material solutions should be explored.

The Board did not support the current development of the notch at Levels 6-7 adjacent to the O’Shea building and either be eliminated or strengthened to be completely integrated with the design concept. The Board also had concerns with the deeply recessed space of the tower and discussed potential safety issues, including loading dock configuration, pedestrian safety, parking garage operation and user experience.

The six members of the Board recommended moving The 5th Avenue Hotel & Residences project forward to MUP application at the conclusion of the Early Design Guidance Meeting, with suggestions to revise responses to street facade requirements, site planning and massing, the architectural expression, the streetscape and public amenities and vehicular access and parking. 

With design approval secured, B+H Architects, Berger Partnership and Robert Bird Group will work through revisions and remaining entitlements in the coming months to bring The 5th Avenue Hotel & Residences project to life and add to the vibrant history and character of 5th Avenue.