By Jack Stubbs
Often referred to locally as the city’s “Center of the Universe,” the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, like many other areas of the city, is evolving as new and underway developments continue to shape the neighborhood fabric. And as neighborhoods like Fremont continue to change, it is becoming increasingly important for project teams to design with a nod to the surrounding neighborhood context and character.
“A lot of the buildings in Fremont—especially around the more peripheral blocks of the neighborhood—are really kind of at the end of their lifespan. The redevelopment of Fremont is going to happen; it’s inevitable. Whether it redevelops well or not really does depend on the people and relationships that you identify as being [important] in the neighborhood—because that’s what you expect there,” said Kristen Scott, senior principal at architecture firm Weber Thompson, who is designing a new project now officially on the way to Fremont.
On August 21st, construction began on Cedar Speedster, a new 3-story office and retail building located at 401 N 36th St. that will feature 20,480 square feet of commercial office space and 9,230 square feet of street-level retail and restaurant space. Demolition of the project site began on September 12th and the development is expected to be completed sometime in Spring 2019.
The development is a collaborative effort between development company evolution Projects, developer Hess Callahan Partners, Stephen C. Grey & Associates, architecture firm Weber Thompson, Turner Construction (general contractor), DCI Engineers (structural engineering) and KPFF (civil engineer).
Cedar Speedster’s approximately 20,000 square feet of office space will house the corporate offices of evolution Projects and the development will also bring restaurant Revel back from South Lake Union to its original location in the Fremont neighborhood, which has been home to the restaurant for over 20 years.
Given Revel’s long-standing presence in Fremont, one of the primary objectives with the project was how to successfully activate the street-level retail/restaurant space to fit the evolving neighborhood character of the neighborhood, according to Joanna Callahan, co-founder of Hess Callahan Partners. “It was important for us to ensure that the retail space was activated in making sure that it matched the character of the neighborhood. It feels like Fremont already has this budding commercial and retail fabric, so we wanted to make sure we were contributing to that,” she said.
Programmatically, one of the overarching objectives with the development was ensuring that it fit with both the existing and future character of Fremont, according to Callahan. “Being consistent with other commercial and retail businesses in the neighborhood is incredibly important. I think each neighborhood [in Seattle] is going to be different; but Fremont specifically is so eclectic,” she said. “I don’t think that redevelopment or growth has to be inconsistent with the character of Fremont; there’s no one view of what Fremont is or can be.”
From a material and design perspective, also, moves were taken to incorporate the new project into the historical context of the emerging neighborhood north of Lake Union. “We wanted the building and materiality to reflect the industrial history of the site and neighborhood. [Historically], much of Fremont was dotted with mills and lumberyards, and we thought this was a great opportunity to tie [the project] back to the history of the site and reflect Fremont’s gritty, artistic nature,” said Cody Lodi, senior associate at Weber Thompson. The project features sustainable design elements like cedar siding and weathering steel and exposed wooden beams and a vaulted ceiling on the building’s interior.
Ultimately, the hope is that both from a programmatic and design perspective, the project provides a complimentary dimension to the existing fabric of the surrounding neighborhood—which continues to change as new commercial projects come online. “I don’t know of any office buildings that are newly-built that will have this amount of exposed wood. I think it’s really going to stand out in the neighborhood and commercial office marketplace; its character is different from some of the other contemporary office buildings being constructed now,” said Scott.
As the downtown areas of neighborhoods like Fremont—which is west of Wallingford and north of Queen Anne—continue to expand, greater importance is being given to how growth might best be managed, according to Scott, whose firm has five commercial office projects in Fremont either built, under construction or undergoing design review. “Probably one of the biggest design drivers that we’re seeing is that Fremont itself has this quirky cool character that’s really attractive and layered; it’s become built and developed over time. But it’s also a neighborhood of very distinct and different zones,” Scott said.
In the wider context of the growth occurring throughout the city of Seattle, project teams like that for Cedar Speedster are looking more closely at how to effectively program their projects. Scott thinks that neighborhoods like Fremont are becoming commercial/retail hubs that offer an alternative to locating in the city’s downtown core and around South Lake Union. “What we’re seeing more and more is a recognition from developers in our community that these developments have to spread out into the neighborhoods and have the commercial/office in those neighborhoods in terms of [managing] traffic and density…it’s pretty tough to get downtown and to South Lake Union with the level of development that’s happened over the past few years,” she added.
As Seattle continues to densify, areas like Fremont continue to offer something from the rest of the city, thinks Callahan. “With Seattle growing, we’re going to get more and more pockets where neighborhood commercial gets more important; it’s a cliche to say live-work-play, but Fremont has that, and I think that [other] parts of Seattle trying to get there,” she said.
Over the last few months, there has been some notable activity in Fremont, signaling that the 570-acre neighborhood continues to be viewed favorably during the current period of growth. In mid-April 2018, co-working and technology giant WeWork leased the underway 7-story, 61,000 square foot Watershed Building (designed by Weber Thompson) located at 900 N. 34th St. When complete, Watershed will be the only building to pursue the 2014 version of Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program (LBPP) and the third building overall to pursue the program.
Fremont is also home to software company Tableau, who occupies the 113,000 square foot Data 1 building—which was developed and designed by the same project team as Cedar Speedster—located at 744 N. 34th St. Google and Adobe also have offices along N. 34th St. in the neighborhood.
Given the amount of attention that Fremont is getting, more pressure is being put on the neighborhood and surrounding areas to shoulder some of the growth occurring in Seattle’s downtown core, according to Scott. “This pressure is what’s leading to Fremont being developed as more of a commercial hub now. I think that’s what’s going to lead to Ballard and the U-District being developed the same way,” she said.
In the longer term, spreading the density and development further out could be a positive for the city, thinks Callahan. “Seattle feels like it’s at an adolescence. There are some growing pains right now and the city has had unprecedented growth recently; but I don’t think it necessarily has to be a bad thing,” she said.
And while the city is in a transitional period of growth, the hope is that spreading out the development will bode well for Seattle in terms of addressing more immediate issues around transportation and housing affordability, according to Scott. “It is a painful time right now with the confluence and incredible levels of construction activity…but when you step back quite a ways and look at it, spreading out the commercial development into these neighborhoods…will give people the opportunity to live and work closer rather than commuting, and will go a long way towards making Seattle a more affordable place to live,” she said.