Northwest Home+Garden

The Complete Guide to Belltown

Northwest Home + Garden

Fall, 2003

Feel the sidewalk between your toes.
Living in-city expands the residential experience.

Seattle is a city known for it dynamic neighborhood structure. More than 100 unique, vibrant neighborhoods make up this city. Downtown itself is divided into many distinct neighborhoods; perhaps none with more name recognition that Belltown. Belltown is bounded by Denny Way to the north, Elliott Avenue to the west, Sixth Avenue to the east, and Virginia Street to the south, the population is roughly 12,000, but with many new buildings under construction or older ones remodeled, that number is constantly changing.

In the old days, Belltown had a much rougher character, with cheap housing for blue-collar workers. But times change, and progress moved in, along with dozens of condominium and apartment buildings, new restaurants, art galleries, night clubs and specialty shops. Many of the old guard are still there, as the neighborhood still houses homeless shelters, low-income housing, the Millionaire Club and a street corner where day workers offer their services for manual labor. The old and the new are learning to live together, and celebrating the differences.

The face of Seattle really started changing in the early to mid 1990s. First, Frederick and Nelson, a Seattle icon, went out of business. The Nordstrom moved its flagship store to a new building, complete with artwork consisting of cast shoe prints of famous locals.

“That was a signal,” explains former condo developer Dean Jones, now owner of Belltown based Real Estate Applied Logics, a real estate consultancy and marketing firm. He is also senior member of bireM (builder’s international real estate Marketing).

“You’ve got to take note of what’s happening around us. We’ve got tow new stadiums, then EMP, then the Washington State Convention Center expanded, then Pacific Place Mall opens and the housing booms. We have a new courthouse, a new civic center and a new library. All you have to do is look at the last seven years of Seattle and it goes like this,” he says, using his hands to mimic a graph line gong off the charts.” Billions of dollars will change the face of a city and make it more attractive to be here.”

The flurry of building began a decade ago, almost in conjunction with the rise of grunge- and the city’s “discovery” by the rest of the country. Once Pier 70 became home to the newest resident s of MTV’s The Real World, the city’s popularity was cemented, and Belltown, just one block up form the waterfront, took advantage of it.

“It was sort of a labor of love,” she admits. “There are architects in town doing eight or 10 buildings a year, and we did one in eight years!”

Belltown is connected to the rest of the city through its easy access to the waterfront and traffic arterials. And, of course, there’s always the bus and walking, plus five Flex cars, to get you where you need to go. It’s more of a New York or European style of living than most standard American neighborhoods. And it didn’t happen by accident. For example, the Concord, which Jones complete in 1999, feature a sales office with a neighborhood information center, so that anyone moving into Belltown would feel immediately connected to the neighborhood.

“When you are responsible for positioning large properties in a neighborhood, you get to know a neighborhood pretty well,” Jones says. “It’s been more fun than work.”

“It’s really evolving. It really has changed all for the better,” says Betty Blount, and architect and owner of Zena Design Group, who lives and works in the 81 Vine St. building. “It’s becoming a place that people feel comfortable living today. All of a sudden you start seeing little corner grocery stores, and little corner bistros and neighborhood shops and retail. When you start feeling safer at night, walking around, that’s really what makes a neighborhood.

Depending on how you look at it, the lack of a large grocery store in Belltown it either a bad thing, or a good thing, crating a more European-style shopping experience. Residents tend to shop small, buying what they need that day form Pike Market and the specialty food and beverage shops in the neighborhood. Jones is also the vice-president of Belltown Business Association, so he’s intimately involved with goings on in his neighborhood.

“One of the reasons I was so interested in Seattle is I saw what happened to Vancouver, B.C. since the mid-’80s. We saw the demand for downtown living, predicated by lifestyle, traffic congestion, geography and property investment,” he explains. “That whole lifestyle is seen as nouveau, but it’s been in more mature urban markets for decades.

“Belltown is kind of downtown’s heart.” Jones says.” It’s where people want to be.”

Condo-Maximum

For many people, the American dream is a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, a big yard- and a ling commute to work. But for many residents for Belltown, commuting is simply strolling down the block. Seattle’s horrendous traffic has given rise to one good thing- people are no longer willing to have a big house in the ‘burbs if they can’t get out of traffic long enough to enjoy it.

” You can afford to buy a lot of things in life, but you cant buy more time,” Jones says

Instead of commuting to work, resident can use that extra hour in the morning to have breakfast at Macrina Bakery, or work out at Club Zum, take the dog for a walk, or go for a run at Myrtle Edwards Park.

“People who want to be here know what they want and know what they’ve been missing,” Jones explains.” This is going to be the next generation of downtown living. Developers are becoming more sophisticated. All of this points to a new product of higher design and smaller square footage.

“Partly it’s the whole empty-nester phenomena. We see a whole bunch of people who are rediscovering their relationships.

Many of the buildings are stair-stepped, allowing views from units behind them up the hill. The tow newest condos in Belltown are the Vine and Bellora. The newly finished 89-unit Bellora, on the corner of Clay Street and Elliott Avenue, opened at 2605 Western Ave. in May 2002. In face, The Vine was named “2003 Attached Community of the Year-Urban” by the National Association of Home Builders, bringing home national honors for Belltown. Another two are under construction- the 116-unit Avenue One at First Avenue and Clay Street, and the 189-unit Cristalla, at Second Avenue and Lenora Street- with occupancy expected in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Also, just outside Belltown proper is a yet unnamed project at 500 Mercer, which will have about 100 condos atop mixed-use lifestyle retail center and a major urban grocer.

“There are many different types of down-town residential living,” explains Garret Cord Werner. “There’s penthouses, there’s studio; just like regular houses, there’s many different types of homes.”

A downtown penthouse could be as big as 5,000 square feet, while a studio could be as small as 400,” and within those different options there’s a huge amount of flexibility as well.” Werner, who has designed small studios as well as large penthouses, says “entry-level condominiums usually strive for multiple use spaces, combining kitchen, dining and living areas into one flexible space.”

For example, s studio would probably bring the kitchen into the main space, getting away from the traditional L- shape or U- shape and making it more linear, perhaps putting the dining table right into the kitchen. Werner is currently incorporating these concepts at both Avenue ONE and 500 Mercer, each with a unique design aesthetic.

“Furnishings are a real crucial aspect of some of the smaller studios, for example, you could have one long sofa that could be 10 or 12 feet long and that would function multiple ways. It could have a sofa sleeper in it, or a dining table beside it. So it could be social cocktail seating, as well as dining seating.”

With one- bedroom units, sliding panels can be used to block out space when needed and left open at other times,” to try to give as much visual space as possible,” Werner says.

Even in a 3,500- square- foot space, many larger furniture pieces don’t really function that well in a condo,” he says. “Many of these condos have huge window walls, so in a traditional home they have more wall space. The view now is a real critical feature, so all of the furnishings- huge armoires, huge buffets, grandfather clocks- can be incorporated, but a lot of times the view becomes a priority.”

Because of that, every unit, no matter how big, places a premium on storage. Werner and other designers solve that problem with built- in cabinetry and new furnishings that do double- duty.

The bigger penthouses will traditionally feature larger master suites, larger closet with space to unpack a suitcase, built-in desks, bathrooms with multiple showers and bathtubs with a view of the water.

“I think it’s a definite lifestyle change, “Werner says. “I’ve had some clients request their kitchens be designed more for socializing than serious cooking. Because there are so many restaurants downtown, people eat out a lot instead of cooking. So it’s a little different approach than a traditional family home.”

Apartment means home, too

It’s not all condos in Belltown, oftentimes, people changing their lifestyle from the suburbs or a different region of the country will want to “road test” a community before moving in permanently. That’s where Belltown’s apartment homes come in, and there are several dozen to choose from. The Olympus Apartments, on the corner of Western Avenue and Board Street, offer 327 high- end units form studios to there-bedrooms, including seven luxury penthouses ranging from 2,200- 2,400 square feet, with phenomenal views of downtown, the Seattle Center and West Seattle.

The Olympus opened its first 14-story tower in March 2002, fallowed by the second tower in June 2002. The apartments occupy the enviable spot of directly across the street from the future Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park. General Manager Kevin Buckley says the company didn’t know about the sculpture garden until halfway through construction.

“It’s a great addition for us,” Buckley says.” We would have assumed that high-rise apartments would be built there, and our view would go away, but now those views will be preserved forever.”

Buckley says many people loving in the Olympus give up one of all of their cars after moving in, especially since there’s a Flex car parked in the building’s garage. And downtown living is especially handy for seniors or anyone else who can’t or don’t want to drive and deal with parking when coming into the city to see a game or a play. And at the Olympus, where there is 24-hour concierge service, someone can still walk your dog and pick up your dry cleaning when you’re out of town.

“It’s an ability to try out the area. Our largest demographic tends to be mid-20s to late 30s, although we have all ranges,” adds Buckley. “They’re management-level-type employees from Washington Mutual, Amazon, Microsoft. I have some military officers living here. And a lot of them are transplants from other parts of the country. It ‘s a way for people to try out the downtown area and see if they wan to be here.”

A sense of self

Dean Jones and his spouse Stacy Truax made the move to Belltown in 1999 and never looked back. And it appears more and more people want to be in Belltown, not only for the views, but also for the art, the restaurants, the shops and the certain sense of self-lifestyle change.

“In the last month I’ve met three couples who’ve told me,’ I want to discover myself within the urban context,” explains Truax. “They totally buy into the idea-there’s more to experience in the next stage of their life. And, if you’re going to change your lifestyle, city life has a certain cache. Choosing your environment and lifestyle is a real privilege. Living in Belltown makes it that much better.”