With about 150 projects starting this year or in the pipeline just in the core of the city, construction is as frenzied as ever.
For the second year in a row, Seattle has been named the crane capital of America — and no other city is even close, as the local construction boom transforming the city shows no signs of slowing.
Seattle had 58 construction cranes towering over the skyline at the start of the month, about 60 percent more than any other U.S. city, according to a new semiannual count from Rider Levett Bucknall, a firm that tracks cranes around the world.
The designation has come to symbolize — for better or worse — the rapid growth and changing nature of the city, as mid-rises and skyscrapers pop up where parking lots and single-story buildings once stood.
And the title of most cranes might be here to stay, at least for a while. The city’s construction craze is continuing at the same pace as last year, while cranes are coming down elsewhere: Crane counts in major cities nationwide have dropped 8 percent over the past six months.
During the last count, Seattle had just six more cranes than the next-highest city, Chicago. Now it holds a 22-crane lead over second-place Los Angeles, with Denver, Chicago and Portland just behind.
Seattle has more than twice as many cranes as San Francisco or Washington, D.C., and three times as many cranes as New York. Seattle has more cranes than New York, Honolulu, Austin, Boston and Phoenix combined.
At the same time, Seattle’s construction cycle doesn’t look like it’s letting up. Just in the greater downtown region, 50 major projects are scheduled to begin construction this year, according to the Downtown Seattle Association. An additional 99 developments are in the pipeline for future years. And that’s on top of what is already the busiest-period ever for construction in the city’s core.
“We continue to see a lot of construction activity; projects that are finishing up are quickly replaced with new projects starting up,” said Emile Le Roux, who leads Rider Levett Bucknall’s Seattle office. “We are projecting that that’s going to continue for at least another year or two years.”
“It mainly has to do with the tech industry expanding big time here in Seattle,” Le Roux said.
Companies that supply the tower cranes say there’s a shortage of both equipment and manpower, so developers need to book the cranes and their operators several months in advance. It costs up to about $50,000 a month to rent one, and they can rise 600 feet into the air.
Most cranes continue to be clustered in downtown and South Lake Union, but several other neighborhoods have at least one, from Ballard to Interbay and Capitol Hill to Columbia City.
Some local suburbs have added cranes, as well. There are four in Bellevue, down from eight earlier in the year, though there are several large projects in the pipeline, city officials said.
The construction craze is driven mostly by the need for apartments to accommodate the flood of new residents pouring in, as the local economy continues to add jobs. The city is expecting a record number of new rental units to open this year, with even more on tap in 2018.
But there are also several new office buildings popping up around town — fueled primarily by the unrelenting growth of Amazon and expansions for tech companies like Google and Facebook. A few large hotel and condo projects are under way, as well.
Crane counts have been pretty volatile in some other cities. Over the last six months, Chicago has seen a 39 percent decline in cranes, while the crane count was cut in half in Austin, Texas, but nearly doubled in Denver.
The count has been pretty stable in Seattle, however. After surging 43 percent over the last half of 2015, the local crane tally has leveled off in the last year and a half.
We still lag behind Toronto, which has 81 cranes, for the most in North America. Plenty of other international cities still have more cranes than anywhere in the United States.