By Meghan Hall
One of the nation’s biggest apartment developers is moving forward with its plans to build a high-rise residential tower in Seattle’s University District, despite some industry apprehension as to how COVID-19 will impact fundamentals as the pandemic unfolds. With a newly inked $64 million loan in hand, Charleston, S.C.-based Greystar kicked off construction on Arista, a 236-unit residential project that when completed will add to the U-District’s growing skyline.
Located at 4715 25th Ave., the project will also include 9,525 square feet of retail and 240 parking spaces, according to design documents. The development is designed by Weber Thompson, and KPFF is the engineering firm on the project. Greystar is leasing the land that it is developing. According to public documents, the properties are owned by Joanne Watts and Leavitt Wolff. Previously, the land was developed with a bank and Travelodge.
According to Greystar, the decision to pursue redevelopment of the property in the first place was appealing because the location was not as urban and developed as downtown, but still vibrant and easily accessible to retail, restaurants and public spaces. The apartment complex, in comparison to student housing developments or co-living communities, seeks to bring luxury rentals to the neighborhood.
“Greystar immediately recognized how unique this site is. It is immediately adjacent to the University of Washington and Children’s Hospital which are large employers and it is also very close to downtown Seattle and Bellevue,” explained Aaron Keeler, senior director of development at Greystar. “We felt the University Village, Burke Gillman Trail, neighborhood scale, and quality schools would be attractive to a broad group of residents. We also noted that most of the area’s luxury housing is located in downtown towers. We concluded that we could create a unique high-end community with amenities like air conditioning, gas appliances, spa, and a concierge with larger floorplans, less expensive parking, and a more neighborhood scale feel.”
The units within the complex are a mix of studios, one-, one-plus, two- and three-bedroom units. Residential amenities include a rooftop deck, lobby and concierge, fitness center and clubhouse. The project team cleared the design review process in early 2019 and has since been finishing entitlements and preparing for construction.
According to design documents, Weber Thompson and Greystar deemed the overriding theme as “quiet refinement,” in an effort to capture the wide variety of architecture within the University District.
“We are right in the middle stylistically. We want to reference the past but really [bring] a contemporary language and timelessness and a refined view as an overarching theme,” said Austin Besse, senior associate with Seattle-based Weber Thompson at the project’s recommendation meeting last year.
The exterior will feature double-height retail spaces, a two-story brick base, while punched windows and a board and batten system will help to define the project’s upper levels. Greystar is moving forward with construction, stated Keeler, because the firm is confident in the Puget Sound market over the next several years.
“On average, construction projects take approximately two years to complete,” said Keeler. “Since we have about 24 months until Arista will open, we like to think that broadly this gives us time to work through the economic uncertainty, weather the storm and come out positively by that time.”
Greystar, along with the property owners and Bank of America, worked for several months to secure the loan for the project. All parties, stated Keeler, were eager to close the deal.
“The process went very well. We prepped for several months prior to the transaction and the landowner, lender, and Greystar were very dedicated to the transaction,” he added.
Even with COVID-19, the Puget Sound region will still require an additional 47,000 new apartment units to keep up with demand created by jobs, based on calculations of pre-leased office space and the multiplier effect, according to a May report released by Kidder Mathews. Over the last decade, developers delivered more than 84,000 apartment units to market; however, even prior to COVID-19, Kidder Mathews notes that the number of apartment projects and new approvals had begun to slow.
The report also notes that of developers surveyed with active construction sites, 60 percent stated that deliveries will be delayed by up to 90 days. An additional 30 percent estimated deliveries would be pushed by between 90 to 180 days. Five percent said their deliveries would not be impacted at all, while an equal amount stated their projects could be pushed back my more than six months. Kidder Mathews notes, however, this pause will be good in re-establishing fundamentals in the market, which have lately been “paused” as a result of COVID-19.