Last March, after a year of pandemic emptiness and boarded-up windows downtown, there was one of those “what has happened to Seattle?” moments when a property there actually sold for less than the listing price.
The lot, on Fourth Avenue near Lenora, not far from Amazon headquarters, was at one point supposed to be a 23-story hotel. Those plans were scrapped after the shutdowns and riots. Marketed for $9 million, the small lot with a Jiffy Lube finally went for nearly a third below asking price to some investors from Hoboken, New Jersey.
Scrapped, below asking price, Hoboken — these are not words we’ve seen associated with shiny Seattle since back in the ’70s, when the last person out was asked to turn off the lights.
“’Dystopian nightmare’ state of downtown scares off investors,” went the headline about the lowball sale in the local business press, quoting a real estate broker.
So what ended up happening? The other day, the new owners filed their plans for the property. It’s no longer going to be 23 stories, but a 45-story tower, with 32 stories of “co-living,” nine stories of hotel and three stories of common amenity space.
“This is another example of how some investors and developers continue to place money in the city despite its anti-business reputation and the encampments of homeless people lining some streets,” the Puget Sound Business Journal noted.
I don’t know — it seems to me the blokes from Hoboken are making out like bandits because they didn’t buy all the negative hype that we too often believe about ourselves.
Seattle has its troubles, no doubt. But it’s also showing itself to be stubbornly impervious to the propaganda that it’s a place defined by poverty, mayhem and tax-crazy socialists.
Take Amazon. It was supposedly out of here, remember, moving lock-stock to Bellevue or Texas or Virginia or anywhere, due to Seattle’s new payroll tax and other anti-business indignities. It was uncertainty about Amazon’s future in Seattle that probably depressed the price of the Fourth Avenue lot last March.
But this past week Amazon said it is hiring 12,500 people in Seattle, the most of any city, in a fall jobs blitz.
“Amazon’s hiring spree is concentrated in Seattle,” this newspaper reported, adding that this is a “degree of rebuke” to the idea the company is jilting us over the payroll tax.
Yeah, the thing about that payroll tax — it’s just not a showstopper. It’s a percentage or two, levied in tiers on salaries above $150,000. Sure, Amazon could move everyone to Bellevue to avoid it, but, believe it or not, tons of Seattle Amazonians don’t want to commute to Bellevue. And if Amazon were to move to most other places around the country, they’d pay more in income taxes than this payroll tax anyway. As for Texas, good luck getting your female employees to relocate there now, what with the new abortion law there.
The point is, we can bitch about Seattle, and we do — as Seattleites, we must. But it’s only part of the story, and not even the main one.
This past week, a new report found that 2021 will set a record for residential units built in downtown Seattle, with more than 6,400 apartments and condos coming online.
“Another 5,564 are scheduled for completion in 2022,” the report noted. “Despite this being the largest number of units added downtown over any two-year period on record, rents are expected to increase 25% in 2021.”
Yikes! That is dystopian I guess — though not in the way the broker meant it.
The census count for 2020 found that the downtown area not only isn’t a wasteland, it’s Seattle’s fastest-growing neighborhood. City Council District 7, which encompasses downtown, South Lake Union, Queen Anne and Magnolia, grew by 42% since 2010 — nearly double the growth rate of the next fastest growing district, Council District 3 of Capitol Hill and the Central Area.
That’s a huge number of real people voting with both their money and their feet against the Fox News-style trope that downtown Seattle is a Dickensian hellhole.
Now, these are people and companies that are largely living in the sky. I’ve written before about how Seattle can seem so strangely aloof or immune from its obvious problems, and I think it’s because we’re the inequality capital, with worlds in the same physical space that scarcely interact.
There’s life on the streets and under the bridges, and then there’s a whole other city up in the towers and digital clouds. Both things can be true — that the city below is strangling while the city above soars ever higher.
I have two comments about this and Seattle’s future as we eventually come out of this infernal pandemic. One is that the payroll tax, flaws and all, was Seattle’s most concerted effort yet to try to tether these two utterly disconnected realms. It’s the people of the sky called upon to help boost the masses below a bit up off the street.
If Amazon’s local hiring surge means it has now accepted this basic premise, and is going to go along with it instead of fleeing farther up into the technological firmament, then that would be some real progress.
The other thing, and you heard it here first, is if some sharps from Hoboken make an offer on your property, don’t sell.