Oct. 20--Perhaps there should be a "people's choice" contest for re-imagining the space at Rainier Square, a sleepy retail complex in downtown Seattle scheduled for redevelopment.
Dick Outcalt and Pat Johnson, principals of Seattle-based Outcalt & Johnson Retail Strategists, shared their vision when the topic came up in a panel discussion last week sponsored by the Washington chapter of NAIOP, a national association of commercial real-estate developers.
Rainier Square sits on a block bounded by Union and University streets and Fourth and Fifth avenues. A preliminary study by the University of Washington, which owns the land, suggests a high-rise office tower with ground-floor retail could replace Rainier Square.
"There needs to be a major attraction on that block, not just another hotel or office building," Outcalt said.
Using architecture, "there's an opportunity to do something iconic," like the Seattle Public Library, Space Needle and Pike Place Market, Johnson said.
Rainier Tower, a modernist office tower on the south side of the block completed in 1977, draws tourists already because of its narrow, pencil-like pedestal, Outcalt said. A developer should build a twin tower that matches architect Minoru Yamasaki's eye-catching design on the north corner, he said.
In the middle of the block, Outcalt would put a destination Northwest retailer like Asian grocer Uwajimaya, surrounded by specialty stores with "very narrow sidewalks" less than 15 feet wide. Anything wider makes it harder for restaurants and retailers to attract customers, he said.
Others on the panel had different ideas: Susie Detmer, senior director at Cushman & Wakefield/Commerce, said Rainier Square needs a retail anchor, "something big" to expand the Pike-Pine retail district south.
For years, the idea of an anchor retailer like Neiman Marcus has been floated because it would complement existing luxury shops like Louis Vuitton on the block. Right now, the Pacific Northwest's only Neiman Marcus store is in Bellevue.
"That's what we're afraid is going to happen, and Seattle as a region is going to lose a golden opportunity," Outcalt said.
What the block's corners definitely don't need, Outcalt and Johnson said, is more banks, even if they're the ones that can afford the leases.
Downtown Seattle has nine key retail blocks, and banks occupy too many corners, they said. "Those folks aren't traffic generators," Outcalt said. "They're not enhancing retail vitality."
The university takes control of the site next year. It's accepting redevelopment proposals from a select group of developers and plans to pick one this year.
-- Sanjay Bhatt: email@example.com
UW boots Tully's for Starbucks in campus cafes
After nine years of drinking Tully's coffee, students on the University of Washington campus are quaffing from different coffee cups this quarter.
The university Housing and Food Services (HFS) last month replaced the Tully's brand with brews by Starbucks and the university's own roast -- Husky Grind.
Eight of the university's 21 campus coffee shops have started serving Husky Grind and Torafazzione Italia, which is owned by Seattle-based Starbucks, while the remaining 13 offer Starbucks.
They join a couple other HFS establishments -- Orin's Place at Paccar Hall and Alder Hall's District Market -- already serving Starbucks. (Yes, it is that Orin -- as in Smith, a former Starbucks CEO and current UW trustee.)
Tully's debuted at the UW in 2004 when HFS signed a 10-year contract with Food Services of America (FSA) and chose the coffee brand to supply most of its campus cafes.
But it's been a bumpy few years for the Seattle-based coffee company. In 2008, Tully sold its wholesale operations to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and discontinued its own roasteries.
Now, with a year left on the FSA contract, Tully's has all but disappeared on campus and the University District.