Southport, the largest mixed-use construction project under way in Renton, is inching closer to completion and could soon look more like the waterfront urban village its developer envisions
SECO Development purchased the 17.1-acre site from Puget Sound Energy in 1999 for approximately $7 million, and has since developed it in phases. The five-story, 383-unit Bristol I and Bristol II apartment buildings were completed in 2002 and 2006, respectively. The 12-story, $180 million, 347-room Hyatt Regency Lake Washington is scheduled to open in June. And three nine-story, $350 million office towers scheduled to open between July 2018 and January 2019 will offer approximately 700,000 square feet of Class A office space. The campus will also feature a range of retail shops and restaurants. In the end, the $590 million Southport project aims to be a game-changer for Renton, and a campus bustling with thousands of office workers, apartment residents, and hotel visitors.
Kip Spencer, director of leasing and marketing for SECO Development, said he enjoyed the challenge of helping to turn the once dormant industrial site into an active urban village. Spencer has been in the commercial real estate field for more than 25 years, and local brokers probably know him best as the founder of OfficeSpace.com, one of the first websites to track the commercial real estate industry. He sold the company in 2010 and joined SECO Development’s team last year. “Part of what attracted me to coming on board to handling this was that this was also a little bit of a frontier play — trying to build a Class A campus in a market where there is no Class A space,” he said.
Southport is bordered to the northeast by 57-acre Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park, to the southwest by a manufacturing plant owned by Boeing, to the south by The Landing outdoor shopping plaza, and to the north by Lake Washington.
During a meeting at Southport’s management office, and a subsequent tour of the hotel construction site, Spencer pointed to an area map and noted Southport’s location in relation to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (approximately 10 miles west), downtown Bellevue (approximately 10 miles north), and downtown Seattle (approximately 15 miles north). “Someone who was not from this area and didn’t have any of the Renton bias pointed out to me that our project was kind of in the middle of everything,” he said. “I never really thought of it that way. I’ve never really used strategic location to describe Renton, but it really is. We’ve become much more of an international city.”
The Southport site could soon expand. According to Spencer, SECO Development is in the process of acquiring an adjacent 11-acre site owned by Puget Sound Energy and formerly served as a storage site for transformers. If that happens, SECO Development could add a surface parking lot for 1,300 stalls, build another office tower with 250,000 square feet and a parking structure with approximately 3,000 stalls, or work with the City of Renton to extend Park Avenue North to the Southport campus, providing another access point and a better connection between Southport and The Landing.
Southport isn’t the first project SECO Development CEO Michael Christ has built on the Eastside. The company most notably brought Juanita Village to Kirkland and Island Center to Mercer Island.
Spencer discussed several elements of the project that he believes make Southport a unique destination to live, work, and play.
A CHANGING PERCEPTION
“For the last year or year-and-a-half, we have been reshaping how people view Renton. What we are trying to do is just create this community down here. The example I like to use is that those who live in Madison Park don’t say, ‘I live in Seattle.’ They say, ‘I live in Madison Park.’ People say, ‘That’s Renton.’ No, it’s Southport. It’s different. It’s a waterfront community. The City of Renton is behind that, they like it, and it’s a way of kind of rebranding. This feels much more like the Eastside than the south end. What I am looking to do long-term is have the major brokerage firms recategorize our building (so that it falls) into the Eastside inventory because this project kind of bridges the gap between the south end and the Eastside. It’s kind of unique in that respect. This is a really big project in terms of what it can do not only to reshape the image of Renton, but also the entire south end. I truly believe that if we execute well on Southport, it’s going to pave the way for a lot more projects filling up this valley.”
AN ACTIVE OFFICE CAMPUS
“(The office campus) has really cool landscaping and a plaza as you walk up to buildings one and two. Between buildings two and three, we have this really cool indoor/outdoor conference pavilion surrounded by Japanese gardens. It’s kind of the common area and is really trying to embrace the waterfront location. There are a lot of special elements that went into this project that you just don’t really see. The upper floors are 35,000 square feet. Large floor plates are especially appealing to tech (companies) that like to keep entire divisions on a single floor and not mess with stairs. This is something that I think is going to have a competitive advantage. The parking structures will have large storage facilities for over 200 bikes, and the base of every (office) building is going to have shower and locker facilities. There are two retail spots available in the base of the (office) buildings. We’re kind of holding out to see what our anchor tenant looks like, and see if they have any special requests: maybe a cold press juice bar, coffee shop, or their favorite teriyaki restaurant. I get a call every day from an interested retail tenant. I tell them we’re not quite ready to make decisions on retail. We’re just not going to let the tail wag the dog by making a premature decision on the retail.”
A WATERFRONT URBAN VILLAGE
“There’s a lot you can do here. Being able to kayak at lunch or ride your bike in (to work). If you are having a busy day and just want to take a quick time-out, you can take a stroll in the park. It’s part of the whole campus here. We are adjacent to a park that has volleyball and tennis courts, two waterfront restaurants, and a walking path. If you walked right out this door and went to the very northern tip of the park and back, that’s 2.2 miles. So many companies have wellness points where you need to go take a walk around the block for 15 minutes. I mean, you don’t have exhaust, you just have wildlife. Normally, there are a couple eagles out diving for fish. We had a broker tour one time and they were convinced we had a remote control.”