Perhaps there should be a “people’s choice” contest for re-imagining the space at Rainier Square, a sleepy retail complex in downtown Seattle scheduled for redevelopment.
Dick Outcalt and Pat Johnson, principals of Seattle-based Outcalt & Johnson Retail Strategists, shared their vision when the topic came up in a panel discussion last week sponsored by the Washington chapter of NAIOP, a national association of commercial real-estate developers.
Rainier Square sits on a block bounded by Union and University streets and Fourth and Fifth avenues. A preliminary study by the University of Washington, which owns the land, suggests a high-rise office tower with ground-floor retail could replace Rainier Square.
“There needs to be a major attraction on that block, not just another hotel or office building,” Outcalt said.
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Using architecture, “there’s an opportunity to do something iconic,” like the Seattle Public Library, Space Needle and Pike Place Market, Johnson said.
Rainier Tower, a modernist office tower on the south side of the block completed in 1977, draws tourists already because of its narrow, pencil-like pedestal, Outcalt said. A developer should build a twin tower that matches architect Minoru Yamasaki’s eye-catching design on the north corner, he said.
In the middle of the block, Outcalt would put a destination Northwest retailer like Asian grocer Uwajimaya, surrounded by specialty stores with “very narrow sidewalks” less than 15 feet wide. Anything wider makes it harder for restaurants and retailers to attract customers, he said.
Others on the panel had different ideas: Susie Detmer, senior director at Cushman & Wakefield/Commerce, said Rainier Square needs a retail anchor, “something big” to expand the Pike-Pine retail district south.
For years, the idea of an anchor retailer like Neiman Marcus has been floated because it would complement existing luxury shops like Louis Vuitton on the block. Right now, the Pacific Northwest’s only Neiman Marcus store is in Bellevue.
“That’s what we’re afraid is going to happen, and Seattle as a region is going to lose a golden opportunity,” Outcalt said.
What the block’s corners definitely don’t need, Outcalt and Johnson said, is more banks, even if they’re the ones that can afford the leases.
Downtown Seattle has nine key retail blocks, and banks occupy too many corners, they said. “Those folks aren’t traffic generators,” Outcalt said. “They’re not enhancing retail vitality.”
The university takes control of the site next year. It’s accepting redevelopment proposals from a select group of developers and plans to pick one this year.
— Sanjay Bhatt: email@example.com
UW boots Tully’s for Starbucks
in campus cafes
After nine years of drinking Tully’s coffee, students on the University of Washington campus are quaffing from different coffee cups this quarter.
The university Housing and Food Services (HFS) last month replaced the Tully’s brand with brews by Starbucks and the university’s own roast — Husky Grind.
Eight of the university’s 21 campus coffee shops have started serving Husky Grind and Torrefazione Italia, which is owned by Seattle-based Starbucks, while the remaining 13 offer Starbucks.
They join a couple other HFS establishments — Orin’s Place at Paccar Hall and Alder Hall’s District Market — already serving Starbucks. (Yes, it is that Orin — as in Smith, a former Starbucks CEO and current UW trustee.)
Tully’s debuted at the UW in 2004 when HFS signed a 10-year contract with Food Services of America (FSA) and chose the coffee brand to supply most of its campus cafes.
But it’s been a bumpy few years for the Seattle-based coffee company. In 2008, Tully sold its wholesale operations to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and discontinued its own roasteries.
Now, with a year left on the FSA contract, Tully’s has all but disappeared on campus and the University District.
Within weeks of declaring bankruptcy last year, the company closed its University Way store last October after 12 years in business — leaving only one Tully’s location to Starbucks’ five in the neighborhood.
Jean Hayes, the UW’s senior manager for public relations, said the campus coffee switch was unrelated to Tully’s financial woes.
Instead, she says, it’s the next step in a larger campus partnership.
“The switch over to Starbucks is really part of a broader engagement and relationship that we’re creating with the company,” she said. “Starbucks has been hiring UW alumni (and) been financially supportive of the UW, so this is really just an elevation of that relationship.”
Hayes said they’ve discussed a larger student engagement in the company, such as internships.
The UW credited about 12 percent of its total food revenue to coffee sales.
Hayes said the university consulted several student groups on the change and received positive feedback. But in terms of sales, nothing’s really changed.
Toting a Starbucks cup on his way to class, UW senior Casey Ullmann said he barely noticed Tully’s was missing, or that Starbucks had replaced it.
“I just drink it out of habit,” he said. “I don’t think it’s really significant in anyone’s life on campus.”
— Alisa Reznick: firstname.lastname@example.org
Help wanted goes mobile
An economic recovery that skews toward lower-paying jobs is attracting attention not only from academics and policymakers but also from tech entrepreneurs such as Luis Salazar.
The former Microsoft manager is co-founder and CEO of Jobaline, a Kirkland startup that aims to create a nationwide matchmaking service for hourly-wage workers and employers in the construction, hospitality and retail sectors.
Jobaline is based on the premise that old ways of connecting workers and employers are costly and inefficient, while new ways like Craigslist leave out too many people.
Jobaline’s mobile platform lets workers without Internet access apply for jobs in English and Spanish via text message from an old-school flip phone.
“There’s a digital divide that in some cases affects the dynamics of the job market,” Salazar said. “Workers can’t find or apply for jobs if they don’t have access to the postings.”
Salazar said he was brainstorming startup ideas with his business partners at a local cafe when he noticed a help-wanted sign on the window. A conversation with the manager revealed that customers often applied for, and did not get, jobs posted at the cafe, potentially driving away business. Afterward, Salazar traveled to Eastern Washington and noticed that many workers still carried flip phones.
Jobaline screens applicants by asking questions like, “Do you have a reliable way to get to work on time?” and “Can you lift up to 40 lbs. without assistance?” It then does an automated phone interview and gives the recording to prospective employers. Applicants later are alerted when they’re under review or if they didn’t get the job.
The no-ads service charges businesses a fee of $1.95 or $2.95 for each qualified applicant. It operates in Miami, San Francisco and Seattle and, with more financial backing, may soon expand to other U.S. markets, including Dallas, Chicago and New York.
Privately held Jobaline recently closed on a $4.3 million Series A round led by Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group and local angel investor Rudy Gadre, a former Amazon.com and Facebook executive. With more than 150,000 applications in its first five months of operations, Jobaline says it’s reaching an estimated 7 percent of the addressable workforce in its current markets.
“A lot of hourly-wage workers don’t go home and sit down in front of a nice, fancy PC or Apple computer and start looking for jobs,” said Madrona managing director Greg Gottesman. “What we like about Jobaline is that it says, ‘Let’s develop an application to address that reality.’ They make it very simple, easy and effective.”
— Amy Martinez: email@example.com