A real estate development research organization is recommending that the University of Washington build a 240-foot tall office tower in Seattle’s University District that would help the school with its goal of creating an innovation hub near campus.
The Seattle Times first reported on the UW’s plans to build atop the new Sound Transit light-rail station, just west of campus on Brooklyn Ave N.E. between N.E. 45th St. and N.E. 43rd St., which is scheduled to open in 2021.
A “technical assistance panel” from Urban Land Institute Northwest lays out its recommendations here, which include a high-density office development above the transit station that “provides an opportunity to create a ‘front door’ to the University of Washington and brand the area as an innovation district.”
Here’s more from the panel:
In the opinion of the panel, the highest and best use above the transit station is a nontraditional, creative office tower with strategic retail, setting the tone for an innovation district. UW departments that support the innovation district concept could be relocated to the tower, along with companies that evolve from Startup Hall and satellite offices of tech companies (e.g., Google and Facebook), thereby creating a powerful synergy with UW. UW can follow the successful lead of other major universities such as University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University that have created innovation districts that attract corporate partners, serve as powerful recruitment tools, and reinforce the forward-thinking nature of higher education. The transit station site offers UW the opportunity to do the same.
The UW secured the space above the station after inking a deal with Sound Transit two years ago. The Times reported how Sound Transit agreed to support an 85-foot-tall building, but that may be re-assessed since the City Council is expected to rezone parts of the U-District to allow high-rise buildings in the area.
The Times also noted how some prefer the space above the station to be used as a public plaza, but the panel “does not recommend a mixed-use building of residential and office due to the complexity of co-mingling security and access requirements on such a tight site, as well as the market limitations for residential use as discussed earlier.”
The panel also recommends the University re-locate its bookstore to the new building as the anchor retail tenant, noting that it could create “the magic of entry experience.”
As we reported in 2013, the UW and City of Seattle officials have wanted to attract more tech talent and startups to the U-District. They started by transforming one floor in the old law school of Condon Hall into a startup hub called Startup Hall, a 20,000-square-foot space occupied by the Techstars Seattle incubator, the Founder’s Co-op venture capital firm, and other entrepreneurs renting office space.
The panel notes how “the innovation tower could also provide transition space for Startup Hall tenants or be programed similarly to WeWork, which would allow businesses to grow from single occupancy to larger offices.”
“Consideration should be given to moving or expanding Startup Hall into the tower to further support the innovation goals,” the panel wrote. “Companies, such as Google or Facebook, may also want a satellite presence at this tower because it will be a hub for innovation, creativity, and ideas.”
Several out-of-town tech giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and more already have engineering outposts in the Seattle region, but creating another office close to the UW is an interesting possibility as the panel notes.
Along with the creation of Startup Hall, there’s also a recent push from the UW’s CoMotion, the group that used to be known as the UW Center for Commercialization, to help bridge the gap between the UW and the startup world and take ideas coming out of UW research and turn them into commercial startups.