In Person: Jordan Selig got into Seattle real estate via Berlin
After some detours, the youngest daughter of longtime developer Martin Selig is taking up the family business.
Seattle Times business reporter
Jordan Selig bought her first apartments in Berlin in her early 20s.
The youngest child of a legendary Seattle developer, she arrived in Germany in 2009 fresh out of college and set about acquiring, fixing up and leasing residential properties.
“I kept doing that until I got to the point where I could buy a building,” said Selig, now 26. “My hope is I will be able to continue developing in Berlin, but for now my focus is Seattle.”
Since returning home in October, Selig has joined her father’s company, Martin Selig Real Estate, where she’s leading the first apartment project in the firm’s 56-year history. It’s one that would be a hot potato for any developer: a proposed residential high-rise next to Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park.
In 2008, the last time Martin Selig proposed a high-rise residential structure there, fans of the park and condominium owners across the street challenged the city’s approval of the project and won. After starting the process over again in 2010, the developer shelved it. This time around, his daughter is handling the project.
Jordan Selig came to real-estate investing and development on her own terms in Berlin, where she found she could combine her interests in the environment and sustainability.
While she strives to walk her own path independent of her father, she shares her father’s love for motorcycles. Her iPhone ringtone — the guttural vroom-vroom of a motorcycle engine — betrays a delight for fast bikes (“the faster, the better”).
Jordan’s brother, David, 11 years older, is a former restaurant owner who now works for an Internet company in Tel Aviv, Israel. Her sister, Lauren, who is 10 years older, has directed projects at their father’s real-estate firm but recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue opportunities in the film industry.
By the time Jordan Selig was born in 1987, her father was in his 50s, and his empire-building was slowing down. His firm already owned more than a dozen office buildings in downtown Seattle, Belltown and Queen Anne.
“He wasn’t working so much at that point,” she said. “I was lucky to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my dad growing up.”
When she was 5 years old, Selig recalled, she lost her first tooth; her father had to pick her up early from school because by then her parents had separated.
Jordan Selig said she never had a nanny. Instead, her dad would bring her to the office when he worked late or on weekends.
“I now work with people who literally saw me running around the office in my diapers,” she said. “It must be so weird for them.”
Jordan Selig was too young to experience the stress the firm was under in the late 1980s when the real-estate market sank.
To satisfy his creditors, Martin Selig sold some of his prize properties, including the 76-story Columbia Center, downtown’s tallest skyscraper, and the Metropolitan Park East and West buildings.
As she grew older, “I never felt any pressure to go into real estate, but the door was always open,” Jordan Selig said. “He always said, ‘Do what you’re passionate about.’ ”
While studying environmental policy at Columbia University in New York, she interned in the commercial mortgage-backed securities department of JPMorgan Chase & Co. She quickly discovered she didn’t enjoy crunching numbers.
“I find it easier to be passionate about work that produces physical products, like cooking and building buildings,” she said.
She studied abroad in Berlin her junior year and loved it.
Upon graduating from Columbia in 2009 amid the worst job market in generations, she flew off to Europe. She spent the summer at a cooking school in Paris, then settled in Germany — the homeland her father’s family left in 1940 to escape the Holocaust.
In Berlin, Jordan Selig worked for a year at the Ecologic Institute, a private think tank focused on environmental policy, learning about sustainable building practices in Germany.
That led her to take the plunge into real-estate development. She founded her company at Betahaus, the city’s oldest and largest co-working space for freelancers and startups.
“I was interested in real estate before, but I think it was really only once I was there, when I could see an interest in real estate could be combined with an interest in sustainability and the environment.”
Selig spent six months bicycling around Berlin’s outskirts, marking on a map the apartment buildings she thought had the greatest potential for appreciation.
She was drawn to pre-World War II residential buildings — structures that had survived the Allied bombing of Berlin.
Her plan was to buy two-bedroom apartments in up-and-coming areas, renovate them and lease them.
The bankers and brokers all spoke German, a language she was still trying to master. Loan documents weren’t translated into English.
But with the help of mentors, including her father, she pushed ahead.
The buildings, typically about five stories, have hardwood floors, high ceilings and deep balconies, she said. In renovating them, she installed low-flow toilets and wood materials from renewable or recycled sources.
In cases where she bought an entire building, she upgraded the heating and ventilation systems to be more energy efficient.
Selig declined to reveal how much property she acquired. She said the Berlin acquisitions were financed independently of her father.
She is holding onto her Berlin real estate: “You shouldn’t have to sell as long as the market stays good.”
Back in Seattle
The sliver of land on Western Avenue where she hopes to develop a 100-unit luxury-apartment building has a complicated history.
Her father’s firm acquired the property in 1984 for $1 million.
“The fact that there is nothing but a two-story garage on this site, in my view, is an abomination,” she said.
The site is next to the Olympic Sculpture Park and across the street from the Alexandria Condominium, which now enjoys unobstructed views of Elliott Bay and the park.
Four years ago, a Seattle hearing examiner threw out the city planning department’s approval of the 14-story apartment building proposed by Martin Selig there, saying the city didn’t give proper notice to the homeowners association.
The association and fans of the park raised several concerns about the apartment tower, including its height and bulk casting shadows and disturbing “the solemnity of the park.”
A 2008 study paid for by the developer showed the proposed apartment building’s shadow would affect mostly areas north of the building, though it would shade a small portion of the park in the late afternoon.
Senia Hussong, president of the Friends of Olympic Sculpture Park, said the group wanted the city “to make sure it meets guidelines for the neighborhood and preserves the aesthetics of the park.”
Jordan Selig, now leading the charge to resurrect the project, says she’s confident she can convince the public of the project’s benefits.
“We want to do good with this project, not just for ourselves,” she said.
Selig has set her sights on delivering what she says will be Seattle’s thinnest apartment building, at 51 feet wide. The building would have 100 luxury units, with an average 750 square feet of space, offer up to three floors of parking and target the highest rating for energy-efficient buildings.
“The smaller unit sizes are in keeping with reducing one’s footprint,” Selig said. “If space planning is done correctly, you won’t feel cramped.”
The project goes before the city Design Review Board on Feb. 4. Selig said she hopes to break ground early next year and open the building in mid-2016.
Asked whether she’s concerned about a flood of new apartments in Seattle pushing up vacancies and pulling down rents, Selig shakes her head quickly.
“This is a one-of-a-kind location, and it’s going to be a one-of-a-kind building,” she said.
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @sbhatt