Monday, May 4, 2009

New Construction in Belltown

Ten years ago, construction cranes towered over Belltown like a flock of huge, curious birds. Those times are gone. Like the rest of the country, the economy around here is also in the toilet. But there were a few projects lucky enough to secure financing before things got really dark. Now that they're nearly finished, the big challenge is to sell what they've got. That's gonna be a pretty tall order.

There are only two active projects in Belltown at the moment: the Alex and the Escala. Both are condos. Every other project is dead. It's possible that nothing new will be built for years. That's actually a pretty exciting prospect, because I'd like to see the neighborhood experience an eighties-style period of neglect when nothing got built, rents actually fell and interesting things were happening around here. Maybe it's naive of me to think that the past 30 years can be erased so easily, but it has always seemed to me that Belltown was more exciting before I got here in 1990. Funny thing, though, it was no less ugly back then than it is today; it was just a different kind of ugly. But I digress.

OK, let's take a look at those shiny, new buildings. We'll start with the Alex at 1st & Bell:

That's the Alex towering over the Apex, its neighbor in the foreground. The Apex has been there for decades. I guess it's what you'd call a cooperative or communal building; your room is tiny, the bathroom is down the hall, label your food and you'd better wash your dishes or bad stuff will go down. I've been there several times. They have an awesome roof deck, but otherwise this type living scenario seems like quite a nightmare. Yes, I like to interact with my neighbors; I just don't want to do it while I'm in the bathroom. Belltown is the most densely populated neighborhood in Seattle (though it never seems like it), so I guess I truly value my privacy. Anyhow, I digress again. Here are more shots of the Alex:

Taking advantage of new zoning laws, the Alex was built on a sliver of parking lot.

This shot is from Western Ave. The Apex is this hive of little rooms. Lots of people live there. The Alex, on the other hand, only has 32 units. Honestly, I don't see how they're gonna make money. I hope they've got it figured out.

Next up is the massive Escala at 4th & Virginia. Actually, they call themselves "Escala Midtown." I got news for you guys; there is no "Midtown" in Seattle. You're in Belltown. Get used to it and quit sounding ridiculous.

Yes, it's very big and charmless. And once they get it all finished, it may prove to be quite ugly.

The challenge here is the same as at the Alex: to sell units. Except with the Escala, they have to sell a lot more. Well, let's wish them luck.

Like I said, once these buildings are finished, that's it. Belltown will be project-free for months, perhaps years. I predict a golden age of stagnation!

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