Northgate Mall owner Simon Property Group has already been through several design review meetings to procure master use permits (MUPs) for various phases of its proposal to redevelop one of the region’s oldest shopping centers. With MUPs for its commercial and residential buildings already underway, Simon Property Group returned to the Northeast Design Review Board at the end of February 2018 with its development partners — GGLO Design, KPFF, CallisonRTKL, Generator Studio and NHL Seattle — to secure the final design approval necessary to move forward with its plans to redevelop the site into a new “social heart” of Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood.
Unlike the previous design review meetings, which focused on the designs governing the different components of the district, Monday night’s discussions centered around the Major Phased Development (MPD) portion of the proposal and the network of new streets, pedestrian corridors and public spaces that connect the previously-approved residential and commercial buildings.
The proposed infrastructure for the 33 acres enveloped within the MPD includes both on- and off-street bicycle routes, multi-use pathways and a cycle track along NE 100th St. A network of new streets and pedestrian walkways are planning to break down the superblock that make up the existing site, according to project documents. The applicant team’s goals are not only to better connect the site to Seattle’s established street grid, but provide better access to new and existing buildings and organize the new development in a way that will make it efficient, usable and aesthetically pleasing.
Led by Don Vehige, senior associate at GGLO, and Marieke Lacasse, principal at GGLO, the presentation focused on a slightly revised vision of the project, albeit a fairly narrow aspect of it. The initial portion of the overview centered on the feedback the design team received from the Design Review Board members in a previous meeting. This included vehicular circulation, which the board deemed to be over-emphasised, street hierarchy, which should have promoted the pedestrian experience more, expansion of the tree canopy across the development and a wayfinding system that would provide better connectivity and directional visibility across the public spaces.
Also, the design team provided an in depth overview of a slightly revised central park feature located in the middle of the redevelopment area that is meant to serve as the nexus of the project.
The time allotted by the city for the review of this portion of the project was three hours, which is double the amount of time the review meetings usually take place. While the board used up just around two and half hours of that time and reached a conclusion to advance the development to the next phase without imposing any conditions on the development, it moved through the details quickly and missed an opportunity to more thoroughly analyze the proposal. The amount of detail provided in the documents seemed to have overwhelmed the review board at times, as well. There was so much information about each street that the board often glossed over some of the finer details provided in the design document. Understandably, the board also acknowledged that its hypothetical examples of vehicular and pedestrian circulation would not be able to create a deterministic model of actual behavior and decided to mostly accept the vision that the design team provided.
This project detail included a comprehensive overview of the active retail and ground-level restaurants that are planned to surround the central park on three sides. The park, a main outdoor feature of the development, was described as something that would be utilized throughout the year, although the design team did not provide detail on how it hoped to achieve that. The walkway surrounding the park features an overlook from the promenade level that provides seating and a view onto the lawn. The park, portions of which the design team described as an amphitheater, features seating on one end of the park. No other features of an amphitheater were provided in the design. Bocce ball courts, table games, outdoor seating and tables and bike racks were some of the other prominent features of the park that the design team emphasized, however nothing described the potential uses of the space during colder months. A very long and circular handicap ramp was the only access that people with disabilities would have to certain parts of the park and the adjoining ice rink building. The board made no reference to easing access for these users.
At one point, the board was trying to understand how many people the design team was expecting to circulate throughout the streets and public spaces at any given point in time, and the design team responded by restating the number of units and the size of the office component of the development.
The board did not push back any of the features of the proposed design, it issued no conditions and only offered guidance on a few items like the scale of plants, wayfinding and traffic patterns, which it suggested should be ironed out with the city planner leading the project. By not utilizing the full time allotted to review the project, the board missed an opportunity to provide more critical oversight of some project details and gave the design team perhaps too much leeway in shaping the final design.
According to project documents, Simon Property Group is the number one publicly-traded real estate company in the world. Over the past six years, the firm has invested more than $1 billion in global development projects, with brick and mortar shopping still accounting for 90 percent of all retail sales. Simon Property believes that the Northgate Mall will be transformed into a successful, dynamic mixed-use development typical of the numerous other retail and community centers found in its portfolio.