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Originally published August 2, 2014 at 8:02 PM | Page modified August 4, 2014 at 11:43 AM

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Rooftop now a beehive of activity

By Seattle Times business staff


Tether, a trendy ad and graphic-design agency in Pioneer Square, is undergoing a major growth spurt: In May it brought in some 30,000 new workers.

Worker bees, that is. And the roster is rapidly expanding: In less than two months, their number has grown past 100,000, company executives estimate, because each of the three rooftop hives has a queen that can lay about 1,000 eggs a day.

The 80-employee firm’s new teammates are hard to count accurately, because they spend their time buzzing (see video) amid the nearby towers and old buildings, feeding off potted flowers and urban gardens.

Then they come back and make honey that Tether CEO Stanley Hainsworth says local restaurateurs and chocolatiers have expressed an interest in.

“Talk about local,” said Hainsworth, a former head designer for Starbucks. “We are addressing global problems in a small, Pioneer Square kind of way.”

Placing hives for the industrious creatures on top of the five-story building is part of a new Tether effort to support staffers’ personal passions. The agency had employees compete for a grant that would pay for anything from mountain climbing to moviemaking.

Designer Daniel Petrzelka, a do-it-yourself type, was concerned about the global decline of bees and had been recently learning about beekeeping. He pitched the idea of installing three colonies on the rooftop, complete with a Facebook page and their own website; that proposal earned the $5,000 prize.

“Our existence relies on these bugs’ existence,” said Petrzelka, pointing to the insects’ outsized role in maintaining healthy agriculture. The more people are inspired to help bees thrive, the better off we’ll all be, he says.

Tether’s landlord, Martin Smith Inc., which owns several properties in the area, was game. “We think this type of fun project is a perfect fit for Pioneer Square and we hope to see others follow suit,” said Ryan Smith, a principal at the firm.

The city of Seattle is easy on urban beekeepers: They don’t need special permits as long as they have no more than four hives on lots of less than 10,000 square feet. The bees need to be registered with the state Department of Agriculture, though.

Petrzelka built, by hand, three apartment-like hives out of cedar and mahogany. Then he went to the Ballard Bee Co. to fetch 30,000 Italian worker bees and three queens in the back of his car.

He says the people at Caffe Umbria, a fancy coffee shop downstairs from Tether’s offices, stared as he walked into the building, coifed in a beekeeper’s hat, carrying a bunch of humming boxes.

Now he goes up every once in a while to check on them. During a visit this past week, he sprayed a little smoke on the bees to calm them, then removed some of the hive’s panels to unveil pockets of honey.

To make the historic and economically precarious Pioneer Square district more colorful, local businesses, including Tether, pay to put up huge flower baskets.

These flowers have turned out to be a good source of food for the bees, which Petrzelka says thrive more than their cousins in the hives he set up at his Skagit County house.

The new Tether workers have also turned out to be good neighbors, and so far no one has objected, Petrzelka said. On the contrary, everyone “who has heard about them have been nothing short of enthusiastic and encouraging.”

And so far Peterzelka has only been stung twice. He was doing bee inspections on a cold and damp day, which puts the bees in a somber mood. “They let me know that they did not appreciate it,” he said.

— Ángel González:

LED lighting firm is VC effort’s first recruit

A young company that makes solid-state LED lighting to replace traditional fluorescent tubes has moved here after landing more than $1 million from a new local venture-capital fund.

NEXT Lighting created an LED lamp with lighting controls that can be retrofitted into current fixtures and are up to 50 percent more efficient and last three times longer than standard fluorescents, said Randall Sosnick, president and CEO of NEXT.

“Lighting-system upgrades and retrofits are an excellent way to reduce electricity demand in commercial and retail buildings,” Sosnick said. “Most people don’t realize that fluorescent tubes consume 10 percent of the world’s electricity.”

Its lighting has been installed by King County Metro at all 104 RapidRide shelters serving six RapidRide lines, said Metro spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok.

“The product easily fit the conversion to LED for the existing fixtures and had the desired lighting level we were looking for,” she said in an email.

The company was recently backed by Nitze-Stagen Capital Partners, the green-oriented venture-capital affiliate that real-estate development firms Nitze-Stagen and Daniels Real Estate formed in February.

NEXT, which is relocating its headquarters from San Francisco to Seattle, will work out of the Nitze-Stagen office in the Starbucks building, hiring nine people to work in Seattle with its current director of sales.

Although the cost of installating NEXT lights can be up to three times higher than fluorescents, Sosnick said the amount would typically be recovered in one to three years, depending on how many hours a day the lights are on and what utility incentives are available. The LED lamps last 20 years, he said.

The toughest competition for NEXT is LED retrofit lights produced overseas by industry giants Philips and GE Lighting. Sosnick says NEXT lamps eliminate some problems typically seen with those competitors, including glare and heat emission.

NEXT is already working with several Seattle companies to bring LED lighting to offices, distribution centers, data centers, parking garages and stores. PNW Lighting Services, which helps customers identify ways to reduce energy use, will be recommending NEXT Lighting for future projects.

Nitze-Stagen is known for buying and rehabilitating the former Sears NW catalog-distribution center in Sodo, now known as the Starbucks Headquarters building. Daniels also has worked to sustainably preserve and renovate historic spaces around Seattle.

Through Nitze-Stagen Capital, the group plans to invest in sustainable emerging technology used in the building industry that will enhance that environment, said Peter Nitze, president of Nitze-Stagen Capital.

“We understand what it takes to identify, build, manage and maintain properties and what makes a difference in terms of the quality of a built environment ... quality of life, productivity, comfort of a working environment,” he said. “Why not leverage all this knowledge — there are a lot of companies out there trying to break out with new systems.”

Sosnick said he is committed to keeping manufacturing in the U.S., which led him to select Woodinville-based Cashmere Molding to manufacture and distribute NEXT Lighting. Greg Herlin, president and CEO of Cashmere, said manufacturing the lights at his plant will create 15 jobs, but as the demand increases and they need to increase production, it could be upward of 200 jobs.

“We haven’t been able to supply a lot of the demand to date,” Sosnick said. “So with Cashmere coming on board, that was one of the key requirements — that they were able to scale up our production quantities.”

— Coral Garnick:

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