By Jack Stubbs
Changes have been in the works around Northgate Mall for some time now.
In mid-March 2018, developer Simon Property Group announced its preliminary plans to redevelop the 55-acre site around Northgate Mall, which opened in 1950 as the country’s first regional shopping center. And on Monday, August 13th, a large-scale mixed-use development, the first stage of Simon Property Group’s redevelopment of the Northgate Mall, was given the green light at an Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting.
At the meeting, representatives from GGLO presented preliminary project plans—with occasional comments made by a representative from CallisonRTKL—on behalf of developer Simon Property Group. The project team also includes KPFF (civil engineer).
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 and includes seven parcels within the Northgate Urban Center.
The mixed-use development consists of approximately 1,205 residential units approved through the Master Use Permit (MUP) process. Overall, the development will ultimately include approximately 596,600 square feet of retail on the site, as well as approximately 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.
Kicking off the applicant team’s presentation, Callison RTKL and GGLO discussed the primary development objectives for the project. The design team hopes to transform the majority of Northgate Mall into a walkable, transit-oriented neighborhood with new office, residential, retail and restaurant uses as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center and various open spaces. Parts of the existing mall will be retained and others will be demolished to make way for the new mixed-use development. The project will also hope to capitalize on Sound Transit’s nearby Northgate Link Light Rail Station scheduled to open for operation in 2021, which will have an anticipated daily ridership of 22,000.
The applicant team began by discussing the existing neighborhood around the site and how the multi-phase development would look to contribute to changes occurring in the neighborhood. GGLO discussed how the existing site conditions and explained how the mixed-use project would be broken down into residential, multifamily, commercial and retail space. Additionally, the project team emphasized how the multi-phase development would look to activate the streetscapes along NE Northgate Way and 1st Ave NE through various landscaping elements, open spaces and street-level pedestrian uses. GGLO also explained how the development team would look to emphasize “urban gateway” elements into the plans to help the development fit into its surrounding neighborhood context.
Continuing its presentation, the applicant systematically presented its proposed massing options for the hotel, commercial and retail uses in the development; explained its architectural concepts for the Central Park Retail Pavilion in the project; and discussed how the proposed fitness center (a three-story, 145,000 gross square foot structure) would fit into the rest of the development.
During the clarification period of the meeting, most of the board’s questions focused on how the project team’s design concept had evolved in relation to the existing neighborhood context in Northgate. Board member Katy Haima asked the applicant to elaborate on the primary design elements that had driven the multi-phase site plan, while board member Anita Jeerage asked how the applicant would successfully integrate parking into the project plans in relation to the proposed retail space.
Board member Dan Rusler highlighted potential concerns about how pedestrian and vehicular circulation throughout the project site would be achieved, especially considering the proximity of the light rail station planned nearby. The board also asked how the development’s massing would successfully transition to the adjacent streetscape and requested more detailed plans about how the programming of the fitness center would conform with the rest of the project plans.
The public comment period of the meeting was brief, and several members of the public requested clarification about various elements of the project. One community member asked the applicant for more information about how the development would create a successful balance between public and private uses, while another audience member asked whether the applicant team had considered integrating any high-rise buildings into the plans to better fit the Northgate neighborhood. Other public comments focused around how the open spaces would be programmed; whether any consideration had been given to medical facilities in the project plans; and how effective pedestrian circulation throughout the project site would be achieved.
During its deliberation period, the board focused on how the new project would conform with the existing neighborhood context. Echoing public comments made during the meeting, the board agreed that more emphasis would need to be given to the “place-making” and way-finding elements throughout the project site—especially in relation to the future light rail station—to enhance the pedestrian experience.
The board recommended that the applicant provide more detailed plans about the relationship between the planned parking structure and the proposed retail space along the streetscape and also suggested that it work on emphasizing and refining the various “gateway” features in the project plans. The board also agreed that the applicant would need to provide more detailed plans about how it would detail the exterior facades of the building and how the proposed hotel would successfully draw pedestrians in from the street.