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Originally published November 18, 2010 at 5:49 PM | Page modified November 18, 2010 at 6:13 PM

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First residential high-rise in downtown Seattle in 3 years to break ground Friday

Harbor Properties says it will break ground Friday on a 17-story apartment tower in Belltown, the first high-rise residential project to start construction in the central city in three years.

Seattle Times business reporter

Longtime Seattle developer Harbor Properties says it will break ground Friday on a 17-story apartment tower in Belltown — the first high-rise residential project to start construction in the central city in three years.

The project, called Alto, is at the leading edge of a coming boom in apartment construction, several observers say.

"The rental market is just going to continue to improve" for landlords, said Tom Cain, president of research firm Apartment Insights Washington.

Alto, at Third Avenue and Cedar Street, will have 184 units aimed at middle-income renters, plus 2,700 square feet of ground-floor retail space, Harbor said.

Bryan Stevens, a spokesman for the city's Department of Planning Development, said the last residential high-rise to break ground in or near downtown probably was Aspira, an apartment tower in the Denny Triangle. Construction there began in November 2007.

Harbor Properties bought the quarter-block Alto site in March 2009 and received a land-use permit for the tower more than a year ago. But executives said they wouldn't build until the financial markets stabilized.

Harbor said Thursday that CIGNA Realty Investors, a division of the insurance company, is its investment partner in the project. It said the tower should be completed in spring 2012.

"Their timing could be very good," said Seattle real-estate economist Matthew Gardner. "They could be beating other people to the punch."

Apartments are hot. The Urban Land Institute, a growth think tank, labeled them the most enticing prospect for commercial real-estate investors and developers for 2011 in a forecast published last month.

The reasons: a dearth of new supply and a surge in demand as a growing population of young adults and foreclosed homeowners looks for places to live.

In Seattle, vacancies already are dropping as rents rise. Many people are gun-shy about buying with the economy in such turmoil, Gardner said.

Cain agreed. "It's really a new dynamic," he said. "More people are preferring to rent than to own now."


Developers apparently are listening. Harbor's Alto announcement comes weeks after Su Development said it plans to break ground next spring on a 21-story apartment tower in downtown Bellevue, that city's first proposed new high-rise since the recession began.

In downtown Seattle, Goodman Real Estate has submitted preliminary plans for a 15-story apartment project on Western Avenue where it once planned an office building.

More projects in both cities already have permits and could break ground soon if they can obtain financing.

Harbor Properties, founded in 1972, probably is best known for Harbor Steps, the luxury downtown residential and retail complex it built in the early 1990s around a public plaza and grand staircase linking First and Western avenues.

In recent years it has focused on apartment projects in such neighborhoods as First Hill and West Seattle.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or

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