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Originally published January 9, 2013 at 6:26 PM | Page modified January 9, 2013 at 6:55 PM

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South Lake Union office-tower project to start minus tenant

Dexter Station in South Lake Union will be city’s largest “speculative” project in five years.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Interesting there is a building across the street that is almost vacant. MORE

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Developers plan to break ground Feb. 1 on a 10-story office building in South Lake Union, launching the largest Seattle office project in five years to start construction without a signed tenant.

Seattle-based Capstone Partners’ decision to go ahead with 340,000-square-foot Dexter Station on “spec” — speculation — is another sign the local office market has bounced back from the recession’s depths.

Capstone Principal Mike Hubbard said his firm and joint-venture partner Stockbridge Capital Group of San Francisco probably wouldn’t be taking the leap anywhere but South Lake Union, where the office-vacancy rate is among the region’s lowest.

“You’ve got Amazon. You’ve got the UW [Medicine]. You’ve got the [Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center], the Gates Foundation,” Hubbard said. “The fundamentals in the tech and life-science markets are all quite good.”

Dexter Station will be built in the northwestern corner of that burgeoning neighborhood, on the west side of Dexter Avenue North between Aloha Street and Highland Drive. The building should be finished in two years, Capstone said.

The developers obtained a city land-use permit for the project in 2008, then put it on ice. “Obviously the world changed, and we stopped,” Hubbard said.

“We’ve decided now is the time to go.”

Stephen Pilch, Stockbridge’s chief operating officer, agreed, saying the location and market timing couldn’t be better.

Kip Spencer, president of The Spencer Companies, a Seattle real-estate consulting firm, called Dexter Station’s start “an encouraging sign. ... It’s obvious the developers are feeling a little more optimistic now about going forward on spec.”

But Spencer doesn’t anticipate the trend will spread far beyond South Lake Union. “I have to believe the Amazon effect is in play on this one,” he said.

The fast-growing online retailer, headquartered in South Lake Union, occupies or has agreed to lease more than 3 million square feet in and around the neighborhood — and reportedly is in the market for still more.

It has taken developers some time to recover from the last round of speculative office construction in and around downtown.

They delivered 10 buildings with 3 million square feet of unleased space between late 2008 and early 2010, just as the market was bottoming.

Much of that sat vacant for years, with Amazon eventually filling a lot of it.

The next spec building, Spear Street Capital’s 202 Westlake — also in South Lake Union — didn’t break ground until last spring. It’s less than one-third the size of Dexter Station.

And it didn’t stay unleased for long. Amazon took all 110,000 square feet last fall.

Skanska USA has given indications it’s likely to start soon on another South Lake Union project, 320,000-square-foot 400 Fairview, without a signed tenant. But so far there’s been no official announcement.

Hubbard said Dexter Station will be built to accommodate both lab and office users — especially tech — with the big floorplates those tenants often favor.

Capstone has built more than $1 billion of office, residential, industrial and retail projects over the past 10 years. It’s building a new headquarters and manufacturing plant for B/E Aerospace at Paine Field.

With apartment developer Holland Group, it recently completed a 284-unit apartment complex just south of the Dexter Station site.

Stockbridge’s $5.2 billion portfolio includes office buildings it bought in 2011 in Bothell and Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood.

Eric Pryne: epryne@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2231

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