Seattle first led the nation in cranes in 2016. Now the city has more cranes than at any point since Rider Levett Bucknall began counting them in 2014.
Seattle is the crane capital of America for the third year in a row, as construction across the city has rebounded strongly from a relative lull in early 2018.
Seattle has 65 of the towering construction cranes reshaping its skyline, 25 more than the next U.S. city.
Seattle had held steady at 60 or so cranes over the last few years, but it had dipped to 45 in the last count six months ago, according to Rider Levett Bucknall, which counts cranes in big cities across the world twice a year. That decline, along with other data corroborating a construction slowdown at the beginning of 2018, suggested maybe Seattle development had peaked.
Seattle’s crane breakdown
South Lake Union: 17
Capitol Hill: 10
U District: 3
West Seattle: 3
International District: 2
Lake City: 1
Lower Queen Anne: 1
Source: Rider Levett Bucknall
But now the tower-crane numbers are back up, with the most cranes we’ve seen here since the firm began counting them in 2014.
And Rider Levett Bucknall noted that the outlook for construction for the rest of this year looks optimistic.
So what’s changed?
It turns out that an unusually high number of projects happened to wrap up all around the same time toward the end of last year, before the last crane count was conducted.
Since then, new projects have broken ground while the number of developments that finished has been abnormally low, according to development data tracked by the Downtown Seattle Association.
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The area’s suburbs weren’t covered in the report, but officials in Bellevue reported 14 cranes, twice as many as its high point in 2017, as its downtown springs up with new skyscrapers and the burgeoning Spring District rises around a new light-rail station. Bellevue actually has more cranes than Boston, Phoenix or Honolulu.
Doug Demers, managing principal of B+H Architects in Seattle, said he expects the jackhammering and concrete pouring to continue. He sees projects at their early stages, and the pipeline remains large, despite land and labor getting more expensive.
“Rising cost has some effect, but I also see still robust activity,” Demers said. “I haven’t seen any slowdown in incoming investment from Asia or the Middle East. There’s huge demand for housing and infrastructure, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”
Seattle has more than twice as many cranes as any city other than Chicago (which was second with 40) or Los Angeles (which has 36). Portland lost a couple of cranes but still moved up to fourth, with 30. In the last report in January, Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver had been tied for second, with 36 each.
The tower cranes, which need to be reserved about six months in advance, can cost more than $50,000 a month. They can reach more than 600 feet into the air, and can be located so close together — often with multiple cranes at the same job site — that their giant swinging arms need to carefully dance over and under one another.
South Lake Union continues to be the center of Seattle’s construction universe, with 17 cranes, driven by Amazon’s supercharged growth as well as significant new office projects for Google and Facebook — plus a bevy of new apartments to house all those workers.
There are also 14 cranes downtown, including for the biggest project underway now in the city, the Amazon-leased Rainier Square tower, which will be the city’s second tallest building.
Capitol Hill has 10 cranes, while Northgate, the University District, Roosevelt and West Seattle have three each.
Most other neighborhoods — from Lake City to Sodo — have one or two.
But there are still a few neighborhoods you can drive through and not see any cranes, including Fremont, Magnolia and Madison Park.
What are all of Seattle’s cranes building? Mostly apartments, as has been the case for years. That has finally helped cool down what had been a scorching rental market.
Of the projects using cranes, 27 are mixed-use (typically residential with some retail space on the ground floor), 17 are solely residential and 11 are commercial developments like offices.
Globally, Seattle still pales in comparison to the type of construction going on in other parts of the world. Dubai has an unbelievable 1,182 cranes while Sydney has 346. In North America, Toronto leads with 97 cranes.