In September 2006, the University of Washington purchased more than half-a-million square feet of office space in the University District for $130 million. The acquisition included Safeco Tower and the attached low-rise office buildings, two surface parking lots, and several other nearby properties. The primary goal of the purchase was to alleviate space limitations on campus. These limitations have caused us to lease 1.2 million square feet of space in various parts of Seattle such as Downtown, Northgate, and the University District. Owning the tower and other U District properties allows the UW to move staff closer to the main campus, use the money saved on rent to help finance the debt, and open up more campus space for research and teaching. University staff will move into the tower—to be named UW Tower—beginning in early 2008, after Safeco moves out. You can hear UW President Mark Emmert discuss the University’s plans for its new office space in this Office Hours video.
Though this purchase was clearly a good step for the University, we believe it will also benefit the U District businesses. We have heard from the local business community that they look forward to having more faculty, staff, and students working in the heart of the University District.
Here are some of the common questions we heard from the University District business owners during the purchasing process and how we addressed them:
Question: Does this purchase mean the UW will continue to purchase properties outside its current boundaries in the U District?
Answer: The U District is an asset to our faculty, staff, and students because it offers so many needed and attractive services in such a convenient location. With our purchase of the tower and adjacent real estate, we sought to minimize the UW's footprint by acquiring existing buildings, having the majority of our office space be vertical, and ensuring that there was no reduction in existing green space—a key element for maintaining an attractive and environmentally responsible business district. UW Tower will provide significant capacity for the next few years, but it is difficult to predict how we will address possible space needs in the future. Under the current Campus Master Plan, we still have almost 3 million square feet of approved development on campus. So, certainly some space needs will be met within the current campus boundaries.
Question: When the City of Seattle did its two-year revitalization project on the Ave in 2002 and 2003, many U District businesses struggled because of construction obstructions, and some are just now starting to recover. Will these businesses see economic benefits from the coming influx of UW employees?
Answer: Yes. Businesses will see an increase in foot traffic from employees working in the new UW facilities and from staff, faculty, and students walking back and forth between the campus and the new facilities. In addition, we are developing incentives for staff to leave their desks and patronize local businesses. For example, the Safeco Tower currently has a full-service cafeteria inside, which creates an incentive for workers not to leave the building during the day. The University plans to either downsize or eliminate this cafeteria so that employees will be more inclined to take advantage of the abundant array of eateries on the Ave. Also, we will examine the feasibility of developing our surface parking lots for other uses, such as housing for faculty and staff. Housing is just one of many ideas being considered, though. We will keep the U District community informed as our planning activities become more concrete.
Question: In 2005, when Safeco decided to stay in the University District and build a second tower, their construction plans would not have accommodated a Sound Transit station planned for Safeco Plaza. That meant Sound Transit had to start looking for alternative sites. Now that the UW owns the building, what will happen with discussions about a second light-rail station in the U District?
Answer: Long before Safeco made the decision to stay in the U District, the UW joined with the Greater University District Chamber of Commerce and the Business Improvement Association to support the location of the second light-rail station at the Safeco (now UW) Tower and still agrees with that decision today. We look forward to working with Sound Transit to create a successful North Link Station at the UW Tower.
Question: What will the University do to help UW employees feel they are a part of the U District community?
Answer: We are in the midst of creating a program that will help introduce local business owners to UW employees so that they can become familiar with who they are and what services they offer. This might include articles in University Week, the faculty-staff newspaper, and open houses and meet-and-greet sessions that will encourage UW employees and their U District neighbors to meet face to face.
For More Information
To learn more about the University of Washington's purchase of Safeco Tower: