By Kate Snyder
As more and more companies transition away from remote work into bringing employees back to the workplace, whether full-time or in a hybrid model, office buildings are trending toward designs that give something back to the workforce. DivcoWest’s recent renovation of its Westlake Union Center, a nine-story office complex at the heart of South Lake Union in Seattle, is one example of the kind of modern design that could become more prevalent in the future.
“The office has to be more special than their house, essentially,” said Michael Pelletier, managing director at DivcoWest. “We’ve always tried to find innovative ways to make the building special and in this case the atrium was right there waiting for us to do that. It has to have all the things that your living room has but on a huge scale that’s way more convenient for the whole company to use.”
Located at 1505 Westlake Ave. N, Westlake Union Center is a 240,000 square foot, Class A office building with a seven-story, 474-stall parking garage, according to the property’s website. The building was constructed in 1994 and has a LEED Silver certification. It is located in the northwest portion of the South Lake Union neighborhood, the submarket which serves as Amazon’s global headquarters.
DivcoWest purchased Westlake Union Center – the deal was the firm’s first foray into the Seattle office market – in 2019 for $118.3 million, or about $556 per square foot, according to The Registry’s previous reporting. Deutsche Asset Management was the seller.
The building’s recent renovations, designed by Seattle-based SKB Architects, feature a lot of outdoor deck space overlooking the lake and interior improvements designed to create a clubhouse-type environment moreso than a traditional office space. Pelletier highlighted in particular the building’s new 4,251 square foot interior atrium as an opportunity to create something that could be a destination spot for tenants.
“So when we set out, we decided to utilize the atrium and create a space that tenants would love to hang out in rather than just walking through on their way into the building,” Pelletier said. “We also wanted to make sure that the building had all the modern amenities that Class A demands these days, which is a community fitness center, locker rooms, showers and a full conference center and event space.”
Pelletier said the atrium can be used as a multipurpose space – tenants can change up their workday by going into the atrium, have meetings there and just use it as a space outside of their company’s space. One of the challenges in designing the atrium, however, was creating a balance across the rest of the building that would lead people to that area without sacrificing the design in other places.
“The existing layout itself was really the main challenge,” Pelletier said. “The atrium is huge and is located up two flights of stairs from the main lobby. So the lobby has to be nice enough on its own, but it also has to encourage people to keep on going up to the atrium, which is really what the main event is in terms of what we created.”
Other upgrades that were included in the renovation include new signage throughout the building, and future plans involve an already-existing pedestrian bridge that spans Westlake Avenue. Pelletier said there are additional plans to paint that bridge, refresh it and outfit it with some lights to make it an icon in that part of the city, especially at night.
Overall, the design and scope took about a year to nail, Pelletier said, as well as get the team in place. Then it took another year to execute it. The bulk of the renovation happened during COVID lockdown, which Pelletier said was helpful in a way because it was easier to pull off that disruption to the building when not every tenant was present at the time. Ideally, what he wants these improvements to do is help existing tenants bring workers back to the office while also attracting new tenants to the building.
“I think it’s not new that Class A tenants want a conference center and a fitness center with locker rooms and showers,” Pelletier said. “In Seattle, the showers and locker rooms are particularly important for the biking community, and this building is right on the big biking commute highway. So, that’s not anything new, it’s just that they want nice versions of those. But really the atrium was taking the expected amenities and taking it a step further, creating something within the building that’s unique for them to use, not just their office space but another experience within the building.”
Founded in 1993, DivcoWest, a DivCore Capital company, is a vertically integrated real estate investment firm headquartered in San Francisco, according to the firm’s website. DivcoWest’s portfolio is concentrated in innovation markets across the country and comprises a mix of office, life science, research and development, multifamily, retail, industrial, hospitality and mixed-use properties – both existing and ground-up development. The company has assets in numerous tech-oriented markets such as Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Austin.