Is Seattle's building boom over?
- The Downtown Seattle Association has reported that there are 23% fewer active construction projects in the city's central district than there were six months ago, a decline from 74 projects to 57 that marks the sharpest downturn since the association began keeping such records in 2005, according to The Seattle Times.
- Half of the projects underway will be completed by the end of this year. Nearly 67% of those projects have a residential element, mainly apartments, which will add to what some are pointing to as an oversupply of rental housing amid dropping rents and a high number of vacancies. Office construction peaked in 2015 and 2016 at about 5 million square feet, but at the end of 2017, there was only 3.6 million square feet under construction and 10 million square feet planned for during the next three years.
- Even with the six-month decrease, downtown Seattle's existing construction activity is still more than its 2015 activity, and there are approximately 220 potential projects in the pipeline. Tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have been direct drivers of office construction, and nearby housing for their employees is behind the surge in apartments.
In January, The Times also reported that Seattle's crane count had fallen by 22% to a total number of 45 during the previous six months. The Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) Crane Index report determined that Seattle was the only major metro in its study to lose cranes, which adds weight to the Downtown Seattle Association's report of a cooling in the city's construction activity. However, Seattle's crane count still led the U.S.
Seattle is not only building ground-up structures, though. To accommodate the influx of new residents, driven by the tech industry and other businesses, the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) launched the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 program to run light-rail system to the Seattle suburbs. This is a long-term plan, with some projects not scheduled to begin construction until after 2030.
In February, Sound Transit announced that it was entering the early planning stages for nearly $7 billion of those projects – the 4.7-mile West Seattle Link Extension ($1.77 billion), the 7.1-mile Ballard Link Extension ($2.9 billion), and the 3.3-mile downtown Seattle Light Rail Tunnel ($2 billion).
Seattle could also be a stopping point on an ultra-high-speed rail line between Vancouver, Canada, and Portland, Oregon. The rail system is still in the conceptual phase, but, according to a Washington State Department of Transportation study, it could cost $24 billion to $42 billion, depending upon the final route and which transit technology is used – hyperloop, maglev or high-speed rail.
Meanwhile, Washington Governor Jay Inslee has requested the state legislature set aside money for additional studies, and there have been reports that Inslee has been in discussions with Canadian officials about financing a portion of the project.
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