Pike-Pine Must Learn To Survive Without A BMW Dealership

Yes, BMW Seattle is finally leaving The Hill. New digs are currently under construction just north of I-90 between Airport Way and 7th Ave S. No longer will BMW Seattle suffer the embarrassment of modest historic brick buildings in a compact urban fabric. The new HQ will have that airport concourse look and feel today’s luxury car buyers demand. It’s going to be very big and it’s going to be very shiny — something you’d expect to see on auto row in Bellevue. (That BMW can spend the dollars on such a project is a telling indication of which income brackets have been treated well by the U.S. economy in recent years.)

But if you’re gonna have giant car dealerships in the city, then this is about as sensible a location as you could find. It’s practically underneath I-90 and surrounded by industrial uses, some functioning, some defunct. Definitely not an attractive area for housing. A few years ago Urban Visions had plans in the works for a project called Stadium East, consisting of one million square feet of office on the 6.5 acres across Airport Way from the BMW site (see rendering below), but I could find no info on the current status (another one falls into the memory hole?).

[ Stadium East rendering: Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine ]

When BMW Seattle exits, Pike-Pine’s land use diversity will be further diminished, and the neighborhood will lose blue collar jobs. Not to mention that I, along with countless other red-blooded American boy-men, will miss drooling over luxury cars in the heart of Capitol Hill (though we’ll still have Ferraris and Benzes to admire).

But from the perspective of overall urban sustainability, I believe it would be best to put the BMW site to a use more in line with a high-density urban neighborhood — and that means housing and retail/commercial. Storing all those cars simply takes too much space. And besides, it makes little sense for car dealership to be located in a neighborhood where the rate of car ownership is about a low as it gets in the entire city.

Now that the Seattle housing market is cooling, it will be interesting to see what becomes of the BMW site, especially in light of the stalled status of the condo project across the street on the 500 block of East Pine. Back in 2006, Pryde Johnson was developing plans for 208-unit condo project on the BMW site. The project made it as far as an early design guidance meeting, at which many concerns were voiced regarding potential noise conflicts with the surrounding nightclubs.

Given the neighborhood context and the state of the housing market, adaptive reuse of the BMW buildings would be the way to go. Liz Dunn’s Piston & Ring building on 12th Ave between Pike and Union is the perfect model.