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Design Review Board Recommends Olympic Athletic Club Expansion Return for Second Early Design Guidance Meeting

Ballard, Seattle, Olympic Athletic Club, James Riggle, Hotel Ballard, Nelsen Partners
Rendering Courtesy of Nelsen Partners

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

The Ballard Hub Urban Village in northwest Seattle is characterized by historic features and buildings that have a mixture of residential, retail and restaurant uses. Historic Ballard Avenue cuts through the neighborhood, lined with landmarks that throw back to an earlier era in Seattle’s history. In December, James R. LLC, James Riggle and Nelsen Partners presented a proposal during an early design guidance meeting to the Northwest Design Review Board for a six-story hotel and fitness center as an addition to the preexisting Olympic Athletic Club and Hotel Ballard, addressing a continuous need for more hotel space in the neighborhood while establishing the more long-term goals of activating growth in the area and providing for current and future Ballard communities by being a modern gateway for the Historic District. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board made several suggestions and recommended the project return for a second early design guidance meeting.

The site, which is addressed at 5301 Leary Avenue NW, is currently developed with two commercial structures from the late 1970s and 1980s. One of these structures, which is the current Olympic Athletic Club, will be preserved, whereas the northeast building will be replaced by the new project. The area is directly surrounded by a combination of low-rise commercial and residential structures, with Leary Avenue NW bisecting the neighborhood with commercial, restaurant and residential buildings on either side. Salmon Bay and Olympic National Park are nearby, along with historic buildings like the Louisa Building, Old Fire Station #18, Ballard Carnegie Library and CC Filson.

According to project documents, the 17,847 square foot site will house a new six-story building to add to the preexisting Olympic Athletic Club, with six stories above grade and one story below grade. The below grade level will act as an addition to the Athletic Club and Service, with levels one and two dedicated to providing more space for the Athletic Club and the remaining levels three through six for the hotel, comprising of approximately 50 or 51 guest rooms. There is no additional parking presented in the proposal. Amenities may include a combination of green features for the exterior, including green roofs, decks and vertical trellises. The team is focused on creating an appealing landscape to help activate the area, with plans to implement stone slabs for seating so pedestrians can enjoy the atmosphere.

Documents indicate that the team’s design goal is to take the historic elements of the neighborhood and reflect that in the architecture of the new building, using the lower levels to act as the gateway by incorporating traditional elements while the upper levels take on a more modern persona. For example, the Louisa Building and CC Filson, both nearby, use a blend of brick and black metal storefronts. As such, the team will design the new space with a combination of metal panels, brick, corrugated metal, concrete and glass to create a palette that will help the project both blend into the neighborhood while acting as a standalone, a true gateway to the Historic District.

During the early design guidance meeting, the Board did not unanimously express support for any of the massing plans presented, feeling the proposed schemes did not possess straightforward concepts that followed design guidelines. While the Board did generally support the idea of a two-story podium and setbacks, they requested more details be provided. Ultimately, the Board suggested the team prepare two or three more massing schemes, using Scheme 2 as a basis. According to project documents, Scheme 2 highlights more metal and brick, with trimmed corners, no balconies, consistent massing and the stair shaft to link the Athletic Club and Hotel together. The Board did have concerns about the stair tower, however, and agreed that in future plans, stair towers and internalized circulation should be secondary, not prominent, features in the design. 

Other comments made by the Board during the meeting included concerns about the analysis of the surrounding neighborhood and how the space should be contextually represented in Ballard. While they agreed the clipped corners of Scheme 2 helped the project relate to the Historic District, they requested in future revisions that the team present a side-by-side analysis of the proposals and precedents. The Board also requested the team create clearer concept designs to demonstrate the site’s contextual presence in the neighborhood, with definitive responses to design guidelines.

The Board also appreciated the durability and palette of the materials presented but suggested the tools be used to express massing and modulation. They also gave preliminary support to the ground plane of Scheme 2 and the landscape design, but suggested further thought be given to allowing more space for pedestrians using the populated street crossing.

No development standard departures were requested at the early design guidance meeting.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board recommended the project return for a second early design guidance meeting to make the necessary revisions to address their concerns and suggestions.