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Merlone Geier Partners’ Shoreline Place Project Set to Contribute to Changes in an Evolving City

Seattle, Merlone Geier Partners, GGLO, Shoreline Place, Shoreline, retail conversion, redevelopment, Aurora Place, Sears, Northgate
Image courtesy of Merlone Geier Partners

By Jack Stubbs

“We’re just now sharing this with the community and still have to work through the process with the city itself; we’ve committed to running a transparent process with the folks there in Shoreline and we’re making good on that promise,” said Jamas Gwilliam, vice president of development at Merlone Geier Partners.

The developer is looking to bring a new mixed-use development to the 17-acre Sears Property near North 160th Street and Aurora Ave. North in the city of Shoreline, and recently released its plans for Shoreline Place, a development that will take shape in four phases over more than a decade.

When complete, the project—which entails a redeveloping of the 1960s-era Aurora Square Sears—will include 90,000 square feet of retail and dining, 1,300 apartment homes (that may eventually include condos), various green spaces including a community park called the Town Green and connections to the adjacent Interurban Trail. GGLO is the designer on the project.

The first phase of development, slated for construction sometime in 2019, will include 17,000 square feet of shops and restaurants at the corner of Westminster Avenue near the Central Market Parking lot. “The phased build-out will occur over more than a decade in terms of how quickly the market is able to absorb housing units and the different phasing,” Gwilliam said.

Throughout the planning and design process for the redevelopment of the Aurora Place Sears, input from the surrounding Shoreline community has played a significant role since the beginning of 2018. The developer sent out an online survey to the community in 2018 to which more than 6,000 community residents responded.

According to Gwilliam. the hope is that Shoreline Place responds to the community’s desire for more dining and housing options in the community. “The main things that we heard from the community was that they wanted to see more opportunities for dining and shopping in a more intimate setting around green space,” he said. “There were a lot of folks who expressed a desire to see additional forms of housing. A lot of people responded to our outreach who were either looking to downsize or stay in Shoreline or looking to move into the market, but wanted this type of transit-oriented mixed-use environment.”

The site for Shoreline Place has a long-standing history that has been unfolding over the last several years. Sears opened in Shoreline in 1967 and officially closed in April of 2018. And in 2013, the City of Shoreline designated Aurora Square—which is comprised of 70-plus acres of Sears-anchored space and adjacent properties—as a Community Renewal Area (CRA) in need of redevelopment. As part of the CRA, the city completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the redevelopment of the site in 2015.

And the EIS outlined the city’s longer-term vision for how it would evolve over time, according to Gwilliam. “That basically laid the groundwork for the redevelopment that could happen here, so we are essentially fulfilling the vision that was laid out by the city itself several years ago,” he said. “When the city put the plan together, they left enough flexibility for a developer such as ourselves to do the market research and create a project that responded to the environment that we’re in, and we believe this is the right project for this location over the next 10-plus years.”

For Merlone Geier, one of the challenges with the redevelopment of the former Sears property was how to navigate around the existing infrastructure that was already there to create a more community-oriented environment, according to Gwilliam. “Since we acquired this property last summer, we’ve been doing a lot of homework on the existing building itself and [looking at] the improvements of what could be done to facilitate a healthy renovation of the obsolete components that are there.”

For a developer like Merlone Geier—who focuses on the development community and neighborhood shopping centers and owns and operates more than 15 million square feet of retail along the West Coast—one of the foremost considerations with projects like Shoreline Place is how to respond to the characteristics of the surrounding environment in the short- and long-term. “For these redevelopments, we are responding to the retail environment that we’re in and making sure that we’re being thoughtful about our long-term planning. We are intimately familiar with the challenges as well as the opportunities in the market, but it’s not a one-size fits all solution when those challenges present themselves,” he said. “It is highly dependent on the policies that are in place relative to a redevelopment opportunity. These retail/mixed-use environments are also a trend that we all know is probably here to stay and are the most responsible form of sustainable redevelopment that we can do.”

In the context of the evolution of the city of Shoreline, the project will also look to capitalize on its location along Aurora Ave. The population within a five-mile radius is in excess of 316,756 with an average household income of $103,597, according to the web site for the project. The redevelopment is also adjacent to Shoreline College and Bus Rapid Transit to the University of Washington and is within half a mile from Interstate-5.

Shoreline Place is the latest in a number of retail conversion/redevelopment projects occurring throughout the Puget Sound region. In mid-March 2018, Simon Property Group announced its preliminary plans to redevelop the 55-acre site around Northgate Mall, a complex that opened in 1950 as the country’s first regional shopping mall. And in mid-August, the developer’s preliminary plans were approved at an Early Design Guidance meeting.

The site for the major phased development (MPD) project, located at 401 NE Northgate Way, comprises approximately 33 acres of the existing 55-acre Northgate Mall site. The mixed-use development consists of approximately 1,205 residential units approved through the Master Use Permit (MUP) process, and will also include approximately 596,600 square feet of retail, 768,800 square feet of office space and 200 hotel units within the MPD site. The project site will also include a total of 5,346 parking stalls and approximately 342,000 total square feet of public open space, according to the submitted project plans.

Elsewhere, CenterCal Properties is redeveloping the 26-acre Village at Totem Lake Mall property. The Village at Totem Lake is a mixed-use development located at 12560-12632 120th Ave. NE, that will eventually include 44,197 square feet of retail and restaurant space, a 35,000 square foot luxury movie theater and 650 luxury apartments. The project will also feature a public plaza, which will serve as the entrance to the movie theater located within the mixed-use development. The Village at Totem Lake is scheduled to open in late 2019 or early 2020.