By Meghan Hall
Developers and architecture firms have all been speculating what office design will be like in the future as a result of COVID-19, but for one developer, that future is already reality — and its sprawling Renton development is still waiting to be leased. In January of this year, Seco Development delivered the first phase of Southport, which includes 715,668 square feet of Class A office space spread across three buildings. And while Renton may not be first of mind for cutting edge companies looking to expand in the Puget Sound region, Seco Development’s Owner and CEO Michael Christ, Southport has an advantage over other projects in the region: it is already built for a post-COVID-19 future.
“This is too profound of an experience for people to go back to how they were,” said Christ.
A lot of the initial inspiration for Southport came from examining how major technology firms worked to build out their own campuses, both in the Puget Sound, in hubs like the San Francisco Bay Area and abroad.
“I had to make [Southport] better than other spaces to get people to pay attention,” explained Christ. “Now that I’ve embraced the template…I think it has an—even though you’re in a workplace—a livability quality that is only being created by leaders in technology, only when they build their own places for themselves…It is a much deeper commitment to those spaces and to the quality of workforce life than what comes out of speculative [development.]”
Southport’s 700,000-plus square feet are spread across three buildings, each nine stories in height. All three buildings feature balconies on floors five through nine and a rooftop deck. Building One is the largest and totals 255,361 square feet, while buildings two and three are 246,236 and 214,071 square feet, respectively. Building One also includes a 15,000 square foot open lobby. A 25,000 square foot great room is also part of the development.
Floorplates range in size from 18,300 square feet to 36,900 square feet—a size that is comfortable and flexible, but not overwhelming.
“We felt like you could spread out, and you can change it over time,” said Christ. “Flexibility was important.”
That flexibility will come in hand as perceptions of just how much space workers need to feel productive and safe continue to evolve. Seco Development and Christ believe that setups in which only allot for a limited amount of square footage per employee will be a thing of the past.
“There is no way I will make smaller floorplates, because I have heard ratios as much as three to four times as much space required per worker to be safe during this environment,” added Christ. “We are not going back into that 120 square foot per employee paradigm; it undermined the quality of life within the workforce. We are going to see a really interesting change.”
Christ also emphasized the high ratio of outdoor-to-indoor space that is part of the development and added that as Seco pursues new project opportunities, the firm will “absolutely” stay away from high-rises.
The development also features a connected parking structure with direct access to individual office levels from the parking garage. Employees are able to simply park and walk into their office, without having to walk through a central lobby, and without having to share an elevator with numerous others making their way to the office.
“That is a really big deal; you don’t have to take an elevator up or down, then go into the lobby and go up or down in another elevator,” said Christ, who added that the security is there for multiple building access points, although it has not been widely used. “That is creatures of habit living in an old way…We will always need to have a second way in, a second way of navigating space.”
Additionally, as a result of its layout, the development has 23 destination dispatch elevators and numerous one-way staircases. By comparison, a normal office tower might have only a handful of elevators to accommodate a similar amount of space. Southport also has 1,267 operable windows throughout the buildings, as well as dedicated outdoor air systems—meaning no shared or commingled air. The features were added as part of lessons learned from the operation of the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington, also on the project site.
“I think it will be a lesson learned for everybody; in the whole portfolio, we don’t have shared air,” said Christ.
While many of the features that are a part of Southport originally arose out of efforts to be energy efficient and appealing to the region’s growing tech presence, they are now often measures that are being discussed among many in the AEC community as ways to stymie the spread of COVID-19 has employees return to the office. For many, adequate post-COVID systems and modifications could be years away. At Southport, those measures are already in place—and built.
“I am meeting with people that cannot go back to their offices,” said Christ. “Our offices work today. That’s a really big deal. The offices that we have already built will work right now, and I’m not sure I could think of others [who could say that].”
Christ expects the development to be leased up by the end of the year and is focusing on the coming phases of the development. Once entirely built out, will include 2.4 million square feet of Class A office, retail, luxury residential and hospitality.
“With the amount of interest we have right now, this will be committed in 2020,” said Christ.