A full 90 percent of Rod Keefe's commercial real estate business lies between CenturyLink stadium and South Lake Union. Keefe, senior vice president of Kidder Mathews, is only surprised at how fast the once backwater, light-industrial neighborhood on the shores of Lake Union transformed into one of the fastest-growing sub-markets and premier areas for office, living and residential space in the country.
What surprises you most about SLU? The surprise isn't that it's happened, but it's how fast it's happened and how popular it's become. I'm a Seattle-area native. I've been working downtown for 25 years. It's incredible. Things like this don't happen that quickly. There's energy, there's a vibe, there's a great feeling, there's people, it's diverse and interesting. Going back to The Commons Project and when Vulcan started accumulating all these properties, everyone said South Lake Union will eventually develop and people will want to go down there. When Amazon signed the big first initial lease there, it just accelerated this thing so fast. That to me has been it. Not that it happened, but that it happened in a handful of years versus maybe the 20 that people would have thought. The speed has been incredible.
Is the growth too much of a good thing? The transition is sometimes difficult: the traffic, the cranes, the diversions. You have to see past that and see what it's going to be. I'm sure there are individual cases where someone can say this is a bad experience, but for the big picture, from the city, region and state as a whole, it's great. Obviously there are people displaced, businesses had been there for years. It's a natural evolution. It's been a lot faster than any of us ever imagined. It's creating an area of places where companies want to be based or have office space because there's a tremendous amount of tech-talent here. That's why Facebook, Google, Twitter and Oracle, and all these Bay Area companies are having large presences in Seattle. There's qualified people here to hire. I'm sure there's been some growth pains, but in the big picture it's incredible.
What does SLU need more of? Considering that Amazon is a dog-friendly place, doesn't it need some dog lounges or something? You work in the buildings and have your dogs. They name some of the buildings after dogs. There are yoga places, health clubs, restaurants, lounges, mass transit. Once the cranes go away, traffic will be better and parking won't be so hard. So dog lounge. That's what I came up with. There are several dog lounge businesses in the Greater Seattle area. I bet they'd do really well in South Lake Union.
What's after SLU?
I think we're going to go south through downtown, Sodo, south of the stadium. It has some of the same attributes that South Lake Union had 20 years ago. Those older industrial buildings don't work for how those companies work today. Not that we want to see jobs leave, but if the building doesn't work for how a business works anymore, it's hard for a company to remain in there. For some of those traditional long-term tenants, building owners and occupants, the buildings just don't work for them any more and they have to go to the Kent Valley for more industrial buildings that are better-suited for how they work today. It's the natural evolution of business-life and those buildings can be re-used. You see a lot of lifestyle, furniture and tech businesses have been moving south of the stadium and you'll see that continuing. It will be interesting to see some of the buildings repurposed for some more interesting office space. The next wave will be residential and retail, restaurants and coffee shops. I'd be interested to see that.
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