Moving forward with Walgreens project

For months now it's been a vacant lot. Previously the site of a Chevron station, the property on the corner of Broadway and East Pine Street - adjacent to the Egyptian Theatre and across from Seattle Central Community College - has been cleared of the station and graded. It may come as a surprise that the project planned for the property is on track to be a remarkable partnership involving Walgreens, a local developer and the Capitol Hill Housing Improvement Program (CHHIP).

Given the acrimony that accompanied the Walgreens development on 15th Avenue East, that such a partnership exists between the neighborhood and a large, national retailer may be hard to believe. But the project, while still in its early stages, seems likely to be just that. According the CHHIP's Betsy Hunter, who is also a member of the Pike-Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, the final project could well serve as a model for major retailers involved with mixed-use developments in a dense, urban environment and a strong community.

It didn't start out that way. During a February design review meeting, a large contingent from the neighborhood reacted in horror when they saw plans for a single-story, stand alone, garden variety Walgreens.

The developer, Scott Grainger, took the neighborhood reaction to heart.

For one thing, Grainger learned that the Pike-Pine neighborhood plan actually welcomes more density. He learned that the neighborhood valued low-income housing as well. When the prospect of combining the two into a single project was raised, Grainger reacted positively rather than ignore the neighborhood's concerns. Grainger fired his architect and brought on GGLO, a firm with more experience designing the kind of larger, mixed-use project now being discussed.

With the low-income housing component on the table, he called CHHIP. The agency develops and operates low-income housing, mostly on Capitol Hill. It was a great opportunity from CHHIP's point of view.

"From a design perspective, CHHIP and Scott have a shared vision," said Hunter. "And it certainly didn't have to end up that way. Scott and CHHIP wouldn't be talking if 40 people hadn't come to that meeting and asked for more density."

Since February the project has come into clearer focus. During a design review meeting on Oct. 15, an early plan for the project was presented. Grainger said the response compared to the February gathering was like night and day.

"This time the reaction was positive. We've received a great deal of information from the neighborhood regarding what they wanted to see and tried to create a building that worked for everyone," he said.

The project is planned as a six-story building that fits under the 65-foot ceiling allowed by zoning. The ground floor will consist of a Walgreens, the five upper floors will consist of 66 apartments. There will be two floors of underground parking, one floor for Walgreens, the other for the residences. The plan calls for 43 one-bedroom apartments, 17 two-bedroom apartments and six studio apartments. The building is expected to cost roughly $15 million.

Access to Walgreens comes from the corner of East Pine Street and Broadway; the main residential access will be near the west end of the building on Pine, closer to the bus stop and near the alley that separates the structure from the Egyptian Theatre. Residential parking access will be through the alley, while Walgreens' parking will be accessed from Broadway.

There are many complications, to be sure. The project has to work out for the three parties involved, each of whom has widely different interests.

Importantly, Walgreens, which owns the property, needs to have a completed store that can be profitable for them. Their concerns include customer access and where windows are placed. The neighborhood design preferences lean strongly towards transparency - windows along East Pine Street are a stated goal. The traditional Walgreens model - such as was built on the company's 15th Avenue East store, consists of a blank fa├žade.

"It has been challenging to balance what the neighborhood has been looking for with Walgreens' needs. No one party is in the driver's seat - we all have different roles," Grainger said.

There are still many hurdles to be overcome. Hunter said CHHIP is working to obtain city and state funding needed for its share of the project; word is expected by December. While money is tight, Hunter said she's optimistic that CHHIP's track record - the organization operates 36 properties totaling nearly 1,000 apartments - will work in its favor.

"The neighborhood is doing its best to make funding concerns known to the city," Hunter said.

When financing is in place the permitting process will begin. Assuming it takes roughly a year to get the necessary permits, construction could start as early as the end of 2004. If so, the project could be completed sometime in 2006.

When completed, Grainger will own the commercial space and its associated parking, CHHIP will own the apartments and their parking, and Walgreens will sign a long-term lease with Grainger.

Hunter has praise for Grainger for listening to the neighborhood. In turn, Grainger praised the neighborhood for being so involved and informed and for helping him understand the Pike-Pine area. Both held praise for Walgreens, which remains open-minded about a project that is far more complicated that the stores the company typically develops.

"We're at the 50-yard line on this," Grainger said. "It's been a challenge to balance what the neighborhood is looking for with Walgreens' needs for a profitable store. At the end of the day I think we'll all have a beautiful building."

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at 461-1308 or editor@capitolhilltimes.com

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