By Jack Stubbs
Seattle’s Yesler Terrace neighborhood, a 30-acre site developed in the early 1940s by the Seattle Housing Authority as the city’s first publicly-subsidized and racially-integrated housing community, has a new project that is now officially up and running
On Friday, May 11th, Vulcan Real Estate and members of the surrounding community celebrated the opening of Batik, a 194-unit development located in the heart of Yesler Terrace. The event was also held to celebrate the influence of Seattle artist Saya Moriyasu, who created Maya, an 11-foot bronze sculpture that sits in the plaza outside Batik.
The team for the project, on which construction was begun in mid-2016, also includes Runberg Architecture Group, Exxel Pacific (general contractor) and Avenue5 (property management).
Batik, located at 123 Broadway St. across from Yesler Park, is Vulcan’s first apartment project in the neighborhood, and represents the initial chapter of the real estate developer’s longer-term investment in Yesler Terrace. Vulcan purchased three adjacent parcels totaling 3.7 acres from Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) in January 2017 for $15.5 million—finalizing an agreement that the developer made with SHA in 2014—and has subsequently invested $200 million in three residential projects. The company is also the developer of Cyprus Apartments, a 167-unit property across from Batik (which is under construction and set for completion in second quarter 2019) and the 237-unit Block 3 project, which is currently in the initial stages of pre-development.
At Batik, thirty nine of the units will be dedicated to individuals earning between 65 and 80 percent area median income. The building is currently 33 percent leased, and the move-in date for the property—which also includes a community kitchen, game room, fitness center, rooftop deck and garden and resident lounge—was May 1st. The property features a mix of studios, one-bedroom units (which rent for between $1,600 and $2,400) and two-bedroom units (which rent for $3,500).
The recent opening and longer-term evolution of Batik is part of a broader revitalization effort—spearheaded by SHA—that is ongoing in Yesler Terrace. SHA began developing Yesler Terrace in 1940s to address a lack of affordable housing in the city of Seattle. In 2006, when it became clear that the existing infrastructure at Yesler Terrace—comprising 561 housing units—needed to be replaced, SHA began a dialogue with neighborhood residents, city officials and citizens of Seattle about how to transform Yesler Terrace. And in September 2012, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved the proposed redevelopment of Yesler Terrace, a project which is costing SHA approximately $1.5 billion.
The multi-year transformation of Yesler Terrace—an area meant to reflect the neighborhood’s historical and cultural diversity and provide affordable housing to individuals across a wide range of demographics and income levels—officially started in 2013 when SHA began its revitalization plan to replace the 561 aging units on the property. In addition to replacing the 561 units, SHA ultimately plans to create up to an additional 1,100 low-income housing units. When completed, the redeveloped community will provide 5,000 housing units, 1,800 of which will be subsidized for low to moderate-income households.
One of the overarching goals with Batik in particular was to create a project that reflected the unique neighborhood of which it is a part, according to Megan Murphy, residential marketing manager at Vulcan. The design and style of Batik is meant to mirror the demographic diversity that the apartment complex hopes to attract. “The idea behind this project was that we wanted it to fit within the neighborhood. We wanted it to be homey rather than ‘Northwest contemporary,’ like what you might see in other neighborhoods,” Murphy said. “The design of Batik evolved naturally, but in some ways the [demographics] make sense. I feel that the demographic we have here, in terms of the diversity and the different age groups we have, reflect a building that really welcomes diversity.”
Geographically, the hope is that the development—which houses residents ranging from roughly 20 to 80 years old—will capitalize on the proximity of the nearby Yesler Park and the cluster of medical buildings (such as the First Hill Medical Building, the Health Building and the First Hill Medical Pavilion) in the adjacent First Hill neighborhood. The location of Batik is one of its defining features, according to Lori Mason Curran, director of real estate investment strategy at Vulcan. “There’s the park right across the street which is great for kids, but [Batik] is also quite close to downtown…this neighborhood for so long was only low-income housing, so I think [this] will be a great addition to [Yesler Terrace].”
The opening of Batik marks the latest chapter of the ongoing relationship between Vulcan and SHA, which began in 2014 when Vulcan agreed to acquire the three parcels, according to Curran. “When we went into the agreement of buying the sites from SHA, we agreed to do several things as part of their larger vision in terms of the amount of affordable housing, the number of women and minority business contractors, and the apprenticeship program [in the neighborhood],” she said.
Another of the factors impacting SHA’s long-term efforts to revitalize Yesler Terrace is the zoning in the area. SHA’s goal of replacing the 561 aging units at Yesler Terrace contributes to a broader objective of increasing the overall density in the neighborhood, according to Curran. “The plan allows SHA to create a neighborhood that has a lot more density, because these aren’t the same low-rise buildings that were here before. This has allowed SHA to invest the money they got from selling the sites into improvements in the neighborhood,” she said.
And Vulcan is not the only developer contributing to the transformation of Yesler Terrace. In July 2016, Dallas-based Mill Creek Residential Trust acquired a 1.2-acre parcel located on the southwest corner of Yesler Way and Boren Avenue, where the company has plans for a 290-unit residential redevelopment. In 2012, Seattle-based Spectrum Development Solutions purchased a half-acre parcel for $2.88 million, where the developer built the 120-unit Anthem on 12th Apartments, which was completed in 2015.
Further afield, there are other developers who have been pursuing projects, although these undertakings are not technically related to SHA’s revitalization of Yesler Terrace, according to Curran. “On the fringes, there are other developers producing real estate here, though they are technically outside the limits of Yesler Terrace,” she said.
There have been several in-the-works projects seen by the city’s design review board in recent months around the Yesler Terrace area. On May 9th, a 6-story, 111-unit project located at 216 10th Ave.—designed by Pondera Architecture and managed by Vertical Product Development—was asked to return for a second Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting. On April 2nd, another 6-story development that will include 282 units—designed by NK Architects and developed by Centric LLC—was approved by the board at an EDG meeting. Late last year, on December 20th 2017, Lowe Enterprises’ 510-unit development located at 209 12th Avenue South was approved by the board at a second EDG meeting.
Ultimately, Curran thinks that this increase in density in and around Yesler Terrace due to the emergence of various mixed-use projects bodes well for the future of the neighborhood. And while Vulcan does not currently have any plans to purchase additional parcels in Yesler Terrace, the hope is that projects like Batik will help to spur future development. “Hopefully we can be a catalyst for other developers to come in and do the same on other sites in this general area. Density is really what makes a neighborhood work,” Curran said.