Saturday, October 9, 2010

Bad Condo Development



Residents of downtown Seattle know the familiar site of the half demolished ruin of the Alfaretta Apartments at the corner of Seneca and 8th Avenue.  I walked by the other day and shot this video.

A former 60-unit apartment building, the site was being cleared for a 294-unit, two tower condo development called Seneca Towers to be constructed by Levin Menzies and his company Laconia Development LLC, a well known builder in Seattle and on the west coast of the United States.  In other words, he's no slouch.

But the eyesore ruin of the Alfaretta has been standing, sort of, for more than three years now at the corner of one of the city's premier development locations.  The remains of the Alfaretta is a magnet for drug dealers, vagrants looking for a place to camp out for the night, and other criminal elements that aren't going to be deterred by a chain link fence that does not even circle the entire site.

I've been around construction and demolition sites for thirty years and I've never seen anything like this before.  The building was being torn down and then...POOF...all worked seemed to stop, as if the five o'clock whistle blew and the workers never returned to the site.

Plus, why demolish a building until you actually need to clear the site?  The condo market in Seattle stalled in 2007, like it did everywhere in America, so Menzies can't be blamed for delaying his project.

But one of the most basic rules of real estate development is you DON'T CLEAR A SITE UNTIL YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED TO CLEAR IT.

This example proves the point why you don't clear sites prematurely, Menzies has lost three years of rent from an apartment building that was fully leased up (despite many tenant problems, read this) and has had to carry the costs of this prime land himself and also deal with the ridicule of producing one of the ugliest urban ruins in the United States.  Plus it is a stain on his otherwise decent reputation.  Who wants to own such a mess and have everyone publicly discuss it?

The Alfaretta Apartments, an old Seattle building from pre-World War II, had outlived its days and its meeting with the wrecking ball was inevitable.

But there it still stands today, mostly anyway, and residents and visitors consistently ask themselves the obvious question when seeing this near Roman relic in downtown Seattle---

WTF?