Harbor Properties buying West Seattle’s only motel – and more


As we briefly reported yesterday afternoon, Harbor Properties not only is building Mural in The Junction and proposing a residential/commercial building on the ex-Huling land it’s just bought at 38th/Alaska, it’s also “under contract” to buy West Seattle’s only motel — the former Travelodge, now Seattle West Inn and Suites. This morning, we have more details — on all three — after talking with a Harbor Properties executive:

Steve Orser is Director of Development for Harbor Properties. The company is headquartered downtown, but he’s leaving yet another lunch meeting in West Seattle as he starts a phone interview with WSB.

We’ve barely asked half our questions by the time he makes it to his office. Acknowledging this was an outside-rush-hour chat, Orser nonetheless says West Seattle’s proximity to downtown is one reason they’re investing so heavily in this neighborhood now. Certainly, he says they’re concerned about The Viaduct, but confident a “great solution” will be found. (Earlier this month, HP sponsored the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce luncheon that focused on transportation challenges and solutions for WS; our coverage here.)

First – about the motel site. Orser won’t elaborate on which other nearby properties Harbor is exploring, aside from one word: “adjacency.” He says the company hasn’t yet decided exactly what to do with the site, either, but is definitely interested in the concept of keeping it as a lodging site by building a hotel: “We’ve been wondering about hotels, in general. What we’ve been told by folks in the hotel industry, is that they usually need to be near a work source. We’re still testing the thought … we’ll be talking to some hoteliers. In general, we’re much more residential mixed-use developers.”

For now, however, don’t expect any changes in the existing motel, controversial though it is. Orser says Harbor would expect it to stay open until development is about ready to begin.

And that’s the site they plan to tackle second. First, the Huling land they’ve closed on at 38th and Alaska, on which they’re proposing a 6-story building:


Orser says the five top floors of residential units will most likely be apartments, not condos; no rendering yet, no proposed name either, but he’s expecting something to be ready for the “early design guidance” stage of the Design Review process within two months or so. Baylis Architects will handle the project (you can see some of Baylis’ multifamily projects here).

This site isn’t far from the aforementioned motel, and Orser says Harbor’s interest in that general area is no coincidence — they are particularly impressed with the proximity of the West Seattle Family YMCA (WSB sponsor) and hoping their properties will become part of an area where residents would be “within walking distance” of fitness facilities, child care, and more. He says the YMCA might even be in line for some space on the street level of the project that evolves for the motel site; Harbor worked closely with the Y while developing property in the U-District (Helix and Ellipsearticle with renderings here), he notes.

The child care potentially would come from a new West Seattle Montessori School campus on the ground floor of the 38th/Alaska development, since its current campus would be lost in the process (as originally reported here earlier this month). Orser says that’s still the top business under consideration for the commercial space in that building; other commercial possibilities would likely be in the live/work mode that’s becoming popular (the 4116 California and 6053 California projects, among others).

Toward the hope for “creating a sense of community,” Orser says his firm is getting more closely involved with West Seattle organizations such as ArtsWest (WSB sponsor), whose leadership he had just lunched with before our phone interview. “When we open Mural, we’re going to give the residents information to tell them about ArtsWest — as something that shows, here’s why you would want to live here (in West Seattle) — there’s a heart, and community, here.”

muralharborprop.jpgAs for Mural (Hewitt Architects rendering at left), we’re learning more about exactly what it will entail, too. According to a Harbor Properties news release sent out this week, some of its one-bedroom apartments are “designed to be ‘convertible,’ allowing for greater space efficiency for the resident. These convertible units will feature translucent sliding walls that allow the resident to maximize space according to their individual lifestyle needs.” The news release also says “Mural will feature a landscaped, pedestrian friendly mid-block connection that will allow easy access to established Junction-area businesses” and notes transportation options (such as the future Metro RapidRide bus line), including “three car-share vehicles managed by Zipcar (formerly Flexcar) (to be) located in Mural’s underground parking lot and available to the community and renters seeking to rely less on single-occupancy, daily car transportation. Mural will also include secured bike storage within the building.”

The news release also includes a promise that Mural will include “a large-scale landscaping initiative” around the Hewitt-designed building, and wider sidewalks along 42nd SW that “will be lined with mature carbon-sequestering trees and other green-space elements that encourage residents and visitors to walk through this inviting neighborhood.”

For now, of course, not just because of Mural, but also because of Capco Plaza to the north — and Fauntleroy Place breaking ground to the northeast within a few months — the neighborhood will be more of a work zone than a walk zone, but Harbor, among others, is looking to the future.

And they see a bright one, despite the current economic trepidation; Orser says, “We’re high on Seattle in general — and West Seattle is a wonderful neighborhood.”
WSB side note: So is Harbor in the running to buy the rest of the Huling-owned land along Fauntleroy and environs? Of course we asked. Orser says no.

27 Replies to "Harbor Properties buying West Seattle's only motel - and more"

  • Johnny Davies February 29, 2008 (12:14 pm)

    FANTASTIC! More huge condo developments!!Buildings that block out the sun! Downtown Seattle right in our neighborhood – I can’t wait to feel that good ol downtown feeling. I hope they put in another grocery store too. In both locations. That’d be a smrt investment.

  • Johnny Davies February 29, 2008 (12:32 pm)

    I just realized the sarcasm in my last comment wasn’t very welcoming. I’d like a chance to repost.

    I would like to extend my sincerest welcome to Harbor Properties on behalf of our “wonderful neighborhood.” I wish you the greatest of fortunes in this investment as you develop what was our “wonderful neighborhood.”

    Thankyou, JD

  • Elizabeth February 29, 2008 (12:36 pm)

    The city is growing, so new development is going to be a reality. Personally, I think a new Montessori school, apartments with open space, retail and large trees, and a possible new hotel are all better along Fauntleroy than a bunch of vacant car lots and an old, outdated motel. I suppose in a perfect world, we’d build parks and playgrounds on every available piece of land. But in reality, it sounds to me like Harbor Properties is really trying to develop those parcels with strong input from of West Seattleites. The fact that Mr. Orser gave the W Seattle Blog so much detailed information is a very good sign that they’ll build responsibly and in the best interest of the community.

  • TimeToMove February 29, 2008 (12:42 pm)

    There goes my views of Downtown and Elliott Bay. I live up the hill on 38th and this will definitely block those out.

  • Meghan February 29, 2008 (1:01 pm)

    TimeToMove: Losing your view is unfortunate, but that is a reality in a growing city. When are people in West Seattle going to accept that a view is not a god-given right, or a legal right for that matter, UNLESS you buy up all the developable land between you and your view? I can understand and repect someone fighting against a proposed rise in height limits if the proposed change would block their view, but I’m so tired of people fighting against new construction projects that are perfectly legal under existing city guidelines solely because they are blocking a view that someone’s enjoyed previously. Anyone who buys a piece of developable land has the right to develop it as they see fit (as long as they follow the law). The “American dream” cuts both ways.

  • I AM A LOSER February 29, 2008 (1:37 pm)

    I’d like more coffee and donut shops please. We don’t have enough of them here.

  • RVG February 29, 2008 (1:40 pm)

    I tend to agree with Elizabeth and like to hear that they are involved in the community (Chamber, looking for transpo solutions, etc.) and are looking to enrich our hood. I’m glad the WSB got the inside scoop!

  • Lisa Rough February 29, 2008 (2:08 pm)

    I am glad to hear about a new apartment complex instead of new, expensive condos going in. However, I love the down home atmosphere with no box stores in sight and I am afraid that all this growth will detract from why we love West Seattle. I sincerely hope I am wrong and that neighborhoods can be enhanced, not diminished.

  • Forest February 29, 2008 (2:13 pm)

    I’ll be interested how the plan for a mid-block pedestrian connection works out. I hope it won’t be, but suspect it will be, one more example of the city talking up the importance of improved pedestrian links, then absolutely refusing to assist via a hand-activated crossing light or other pedestrian safety amenities.

  • JumboJim February 29, 2008 (2:21 pm)

    Puh-LEEZ people. You really think they’re gonna worry about what the neighborhood wants? They’re gonna say they are but in the end they’re gonna worry about what the *market* wants.

    I will go out on a limb and make a prediction: it’ll be condo/apartment/whatevers with a few shops on the ground floor. The hotel will be gone.

    Flame me next year if it turns out I’m wrong. I doubt it’ll happen though so I won’t be investing in any asbestos underwear just yet.

  • Paul February 29, 2008 (3:05 pm)

    Second to JumboJim. We desperately need a decent hotel in West Seattle, that also has some space to it to accomidate meetings up to 100 people. There are a few business groups over here to promote our business, and gee guess what, there is no space for them to meet, and they have to consider moving out of West Seattle. Now that’s nice when you are trying to support your businesses… Second, when I have company, my closest option is the airport. A reasonable priced hotel is needed in West Seattle

  • Johnny Davies February 29, 2008 (3:40 pm)

    Exactly JumboJim. This is their business – its all about profit. There isn’t profit in parks or single family homes. Maybe even not in hotels. They’re not philanthropists. By formula, they have to build big. They have to maximize the amount of $ they can get for each sq foot. They won’t allow too much of their giant properties to be green spaces, they just can’t.

    I’m surprised that some of the posters think that planting some trees around or widening the sidewalks of a mega structure qualifies as improving our quality of living? Really. That improves our neighborhoods? Sorry, but I’m not that easily satisfied or impressed with how the developers will “work with input from west Seattleites”.

    And you know what? I’m just griping for gripes sake. I don’t have the resources to buy properties like that and make parks or quiet single family residential streets – like the ones that come to mind when I think of West Seattle. I’m just sad to see our great, quiet, scenic little penninsula neighborhood turn to something that it never has been.

  • Suits are not boring February 29, 2008 (3:55 pm)

    First-run Movie Theatre

  • I AM A LOSER February 29, 2008 (4:01 pm)

    When the Rocksport closes soon, that will also be high-end condos.

  • Jeff February 29, 2008 (4:47 pm)

    Build it up! Growth is an unavoidable fact of life here in Seattle. If it’s gonna happen, what better a place than one that’s currently all asphalt, barbed wire fenced-in lots, body shops, and lumber yards that shut down at 5 and turn the area into a ghost town? That area could use some more life to it. Currently it’s a chasm that separates points north of Fauntleroy from points south.

  • DDementia February 29, 2008 (4:49 pm)

    The junction is just miles away from the downtown of a major metropolitan city… if you can’t deal with growth and density, you’d better move out to Black Diamond or Duvall now, because it’s just going to keep growing, whether any of us like it or not.

    I predict it won’t be long before the streets of the Junction become metered by the city for paid parking. Times are changing… the harsh reality is that the West Seattle of 20 years ago is gone. Our best bet is to be informed about the changes (from great sites like this) and to do our best to lobby the changes to fit the character of our neighborhoods.

  • PSPS February 29, 2008 (5:53 pm)

    I guess I’ll be the first. Will there be a Trader Joe’s?

    Seriously, though, what’s with this reference to “the live/work mode that’s becoming popular.” Is this a fancy way of saying that everyone will live in an apartment located over the grocery/retail store that is apparently now their life’s dream?

  • WSB February 29, 2008 (6:09 pm)

    The Trader Joe’s rumors and questions have really died down in the past few months. We did call them for an update this week, no callback, will hound them again next week. As for live-work, often it’s discussed in the context of maybe practitioners (massage? acupuncture? mental health?) with an office in the same building as their apartment/condo, or craftspeople/artists with small retail space.

  • Kayleigh March 1, 2008 (4:54 am)

    The last two times I’ve been to the Burien Trader Joe’s, it’s been crazy busy. Like 6 people waiting in each line, waiting to get your turn in the bread aisle, etc. If they are that busy, you’d think they could make money with another store here in West Seattle.

    Is the Rocksport really closing? Not that I would mind; just asking.

  • Paul March 1, 2008 (8:48 am)

    From what I have learned from Trader Joe employee friends, they (Trader Joes) do not really want to put a location in West Seattle because they are worried that the Burien store will loose too much business.

  • jissy March 1, 2008 (10:10 am)

    Paul — I find that logic crazy — as if they wouldn’t draw enough from Normandy Park, Des Moines etc…. while they might lose 25% of their customer base, think of how many they’d add if they opened in West Seattle….. I usually drive to the U-Dist. store before Burien though b/c I go north more often than south.

  • Bikefor1 March 1, 2008 (11:22 am)

    How does the Burien TJs know they’ll lose business? I propose for 1 (short, annoying) month they ask for all their customers’ zip codes. Then they’ll know.

  • Paul March 1, 2008 (9:55 pm)

    I would assume that Trader Joes does some sort of GIS (mapping) data to learn where their customers come from. All I know is that I was told by a friend who works for TJ’s (not a cashier) that the company is not currently looking to expand to WS, because the Burien store can support us in WS…

  • JanS March 2, 2008 (8:20 pm)

    Paul…and that’s the issue…while they fel that it will support us in West Seattle, I do not shop there because I’m not going to spend the money on the gas to get there. It may be convenient for them, but it’s definitely not convenient for me.

  • SLK March 3, 2008 (12:54 pm)

    Hey JumboJim, what’s the difference between the “neighborhood” and the “market”? It seems to me that the market consists of the people who live, work, shop and visit in West Seattle. So if there are enough neighbors who would support a hotel (I would love it!), making it financially feasible, I don’t see why they wouldn’t build it.

  • Mary T. March 4, 2008 (1:46 am)

    Six stories? Really necessary?

  • jillloblaw April 5, 2008 (5:22 pm)

    I’d just love to see the developers be forced to put money into the transit/road developments that will be needed to get the heck out of West Seattle. Minutes from downtown? What are they smoking? I sold my hovercraft so that is not an option. The WS High Bridge is already jam packed for the 6:30am morning commute. I pity the poor people (new homeowners/renters) that believe these greedy neighborhood devouring beasts. Pretty soon, folks who have lived in the area for 20 years will not be able to visit their local restaurants or businesses because there will be no room to park. Maybe we could use a S.L.U.T.

Sorry, comment time is over.