Home AEC Hotel and Apartment Project MOD Studios Gains Approval from Design Review Board

Hotel and Apartment Project MOD Studios Gains Approval from Design Review Board

Johnson Braund Inc., MOD Studios, Uptown, Seattle, Downtown, PFHC Investments LLC
MOD Studios on Aurora | Rendering: Johnson Braund Inc.

By Brittan Jenkins

A unique mixed-use project in Seattle’s Uptown Urban Center gained approval from the Seattle Design Review Board to move forward, but just barely. Diana Keys with Johnson Braund, the architecture group designing the hotel and apartment project, presented the project to the board for the second time, getting the OK to move forward to the master use permit phase though the decision did not come easily or without question. The project also still has to gain approval in a Council Land Use action to rezone the property.

The eight-story project, MOD Studios, sits on a 26,787 square foot plot of land on 601 Aurora Avenue N. in Seattle and is a mixed-use project of hotels and apartments. Keys said the project will offer an array of housing for both long-term and short-term stay. “The goal of the project is to provide a variety of housing options,” said Keys. The project will provide short-term hotel guests rooms for stays less than 30 days and extended stay and long-term apartments are available for those wishing to stay longer than 30 days. Combined, there will be 256 units. The hotel portion will take up 143 guestrooms and there will be about 113 apartment units. The project also includes below-grade parking for 195 vehicles across three levels.

The goal of the project is to provide a variety of housing options

The uses of the building will be broken up depending on floors. The hotel rooms will be housed on levels 1, 5, 6, 7 & 8 and apartments will be on floors 2, 3 & 4 but residents and hotel guests will share the ground level lobby with a coffee shop, dining and amenity spaces.

Landscape architect Paul Dix with Aspen Design Group said on the roof deck there are five primary spaces, a grill and dining area, an area for casual seating and unobstructed views, a dog walk area with synthetic turf, an edible garden area for residents of the apartment and an open space that could be used for any number of things. Dix said the steel horse troughs and greenhouses will be provided for resident vegetable and herb garden planters. Dix added there’s an indoor room amenity space on the roof terrace as well as three firepits. There will also be a courtyard terrace on the second level of the building that will provide semi-private spaces for each unit on the second level courtyard space.

While the project offers countless amenities for both residents and visitors, the site itself presents a number of limitations and hurdles due to its size and proximity to the adjacent property.

A limitation of the site is that there is a zero property line without an alley between the MOD Studios and the hotel next door, Four Points by Sheraton. The owner of the Four Points hotel and MOD studios is the same group, PFHC Investments LLC. The new building will back up to the wall of the existing hotel. While having the same owner for both properties could allow for a unique relationship, Keys said, “we really need to view these as two separate sites.” There was conversation about wanting to make sure the new building is built with everything it needs to stand alone in case it were to sell separately from the other hotel. Keys said they talked about combining some elements like trash and loading areas but want to view these as two separate properties.

Another limitation of the project is that there is only one point of entry for pedestrians and hotel guests which is along Roy St. The property borders Aurora Ave N to the east, Mercer St. to the south and Roy St. to the north. The Four Points hotel sits to the immediate west. With Mercer and Aurora both being high volume traffic streets, the only entrance will be along Roy St. which prompted some questions and concerns from the board.

Overall, the board had a lot of concern about loading and vehicular safety, keeping in mind both pedestrians and vehicles use the building access area. Keys noted that street parking on Roy St. will become loading zones so there will be no long-term parking there. Keys added that is a common theme among other properties in that area.

The board was also in disagreement about the final look of the project. Board member Janet Stephenson questioned the look of the building’s facade along Aurora and Mercer. She said that the entrance of the building came together nicely after the initial design review board but the design on Mercer and Aurora need more attention “If we’re really thinking about the impact of great design in our community, this is what the people are going to see,” she said.

Board member Homero Nishiwaki echoed Stephenson’s thoughts saying, “ I don’t want to see this as a cookie cutter building because the building is surrounded by internationally prominent companies,” he said. Just across Mercer is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which offers a different and complex view of the building depending on which direction you view it from, either straight on or from the profile angle.

After a series of back and forth deliberation and further guidance for the architects, the board ultimately decided to approve the project to move forward but the decision was not unanimous.