Chris Rogers went from art history and land conservation to developing and renovating real estate — but he's kept a focus on "places that improve the physical and social fabric of the city."
Chris Rogers holds degrees in art history and natural-resources policy and planning.
He spent eight years on the staff of a national land-conservation organization, then eight more with the Seattle Art Museum.
And now he’s a… developer?
Rogers smiles when asked when he first realized that’s what he had become. “I don’t think I’ve had that realization yet,” he says.
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Yet his 4-year-old company, Point 32, is developing one of the region’s highest-profile projects: the Bullitt Center, billed as the greenest office building on the planet.
The Capitol Hill project, which broke ground last month, has been designed to produce its own water, treat its own waste, and each year generate as much power as it uses.
“It really could change the nature of green building, nationally and locally,” Rogers says.
He acknowledges his career path hasn’t been a conventional one. But his background in conservation and the arts prepared him well for what he’s doing now, he says.
That background is evident in Point 32’s portfolio.
There’s ultragreen Bullitt Center, for starters. Rogers and his business partners, Chris Faul and Matt Kellogg, have been working with the owner, the environment-focused Bullitt Foundation, almost from the start. They helped find the site, design the six-story building, obtain permits and arrange construction financing.
Point 32 also recently completed the first project in which it has an ownership stake: a high-end, boutique live-work loft complex in South Lake Union called Art Stable, targeted at artists and art collectors.
The award-winning building’s most distinctive feature: a crane on the roof and enormous, hinged windows through which oversized art pieces can be lowered.
So what’s the thread that ties together Rogers’ eclectic career?
“I think it’s an interest in place-making,” he says.
Creating something that’s aesthetically appealing is part of that, he says, but there’s more:
“We’re interested in helping create places where people can come together naturally of their own accord, places that improve the physical and social fabric of the city, places that provide a greater benefit than just the physical structures.”
He’s already played a major role in creating one highly acclaimed place: the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. As SAM’s project manager, Rogers oversaw all facets of the $85 million park’s development — permits, financing, design, construction.
Maggie Walker worked with Rogers on the sculpture park as a member of SAM’s board. Now, as the Bullitt Foundation’s board chair, she’s working with him again.
“Chris understands it’s not just how to do it in the cheapest possible way,” she says. “He understands there are multiple bottom lines.
“He immediately understood the concept of what the foundation was trying to do.”
Rogers understands nonprofits, Walker says. And he knows Seattle.
He’s a native, a product of Seattle Prep. Rogers grew up in a home filled with art — his mother was a docent at SAM.
After earning an art-history degree at Bowdoin College in Maine, he returned to Seattle for four years, working at an art gallery, a landscape-architecture firm and a nursery.
A budding interest in natural resources and urban ecology led him to Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. That led to an internship in Baltimore assessing that city’s open-space needs.
And that, in turn, led to a job with the Trust for Public Land (TPL), working to develop a 14-mile linear park along a forested stream that runs through some of Baltimore’s poorest, most crime-infested neighborhoods.
That’s where Jerry Tone, a longtime member of the trust’s board, met him. He says much of what Rogers did in Baltimore was community organizing.
“Chris had a broader vision — it’s not just about trees and hydrology,” says Tone, president of the Seattle Parks Foundation. “There’s a community involved, too.”
The Trust for Public Land is one of the environmental movement’s real-estate arms. It usually protects property by buying it, often in partnership with other nonprofits or government agencies that aren’t as nimble.
At TPL, Rogers says, he learned negotiation, real-estate law, public finance and, most important, how to work with both the public and private sectors.
“It definitely set me on the path that I am on today,” he says.
After five years with the trust in the Washington-Baltimore area, Rogers returned to Seattle in 1996 to head up the organization’s Alaska programs.
When the trust began talking with SAM about working together to develop a sculpture park, he became TPL’s point person on the project.
He moved over to SAM’s payroll when the museum acquired the park site, a onetime oil-tank farm on the Belltown waterfront.
Project a natural fit
The park’s emphasis on both art and nature made it a natural fit for Rogers, Tone says. What’s more, he adds, the project reinforced for Rogers how development, done right, “could put a real stamp on a community.”
The sculpture park opened in 2007. Rogers left the museum and formed Point 32 that summer.
In addition to the Bullitt Center, the firm also is renovating the 80-year-old BelRoy Apartments on Capitol Hill and adding two complementary apartment buildings next door.
The BelRoy is a historic landmark, an Art Deco building noted for its zigzag facade. Rogers lived there in the 1980s. Now he owns a piece of it.
Five deteriorating houses were demolished this month to make way for the new apartments. They spent their last weeks serving as outsized canvasses for artists’ creations, a collaboration between Point 32 and MadArt Seattle.
Point 32 also is overseeing development of a new headquarters in White Center for the nonprofit Technology Access Foundation, which works to prepare students of color for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Construction is scheduled to start next month.
What’s next for Rogers and his company? More work with nonprofits, he says. Probably more housing in the central city.
Any projects Point 32 takes on will satisfy three priorities, Rogers says:
“We want to work with great partners. We want to work with great sites. And we want to help create high-quality buildings that can play a role in shaping the character of their neighborhoods …
His work in the arts and conservation taught him the importance of context and vision, Rogers says: “It’s not just about getting buildings up.”
Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or firstname.lastname@example.org