The Smith Tower‘s relatively new building owner announced yesterday that they have applied for a permit to convert the building to residential condominiums. This is sad news, both economically for surrounding business and for the current business tenants.
When I cross the water to work in Seattle, I work in this very lovely, unique building. It’s the oldest skyscraper in Seattle, a building with loads of character and location advantages. It’s light, bright and comfortable, although I do admit it has a fairly inadequate heating/air conditioning system, cold and drafty in winter, and too hot in summer.
The building is in the Pioneer Square area, surrounded by fellow old buildings with character. The sidewalks are inset with purple block glass, skylights for the Seattle Underground. From the 3rd floor, I have a tiny wedge view of Elliott Bay. Those up higher in the building have pretty spectacular views, and Chinese Room and the observation deck are just beautiful.
The facility itself is an fascinating blend of old and new. The entryway is marble, onyx, brass and dark wood – but there are double doors to the omnipresent Starbucks franchise off the lobby. The brass elevators are all run by elevator operators, but some floors open onto Danish modern office space.
Our floor has the same marble flooring, dark wood wainscoting and brass trim. We actually had to modify our video conferencing meeting rooms, adding cloth baffling over the marble and wood, to reduce the echo and improve sound quality. In contrast to the antique surroundings, our workstations are all modern, curved cubes. There are no private offices, we all have cubes, even the directors and VPs. Not all office suites are laid out like this – each one has been done individually by its renter – but we inherited this one and its modern, egalitarian style from Disney.
I don’t know whether or not it will be approved. I can’t imagine redoing the plumbing and electrical for residential use without impacting some of the beautiful marble and wood features. It seems, per the news article, that the only truly protected parts of the building are the public areas, and the private areas are eligible for sledgehammer and paintbrush.
Would I want to live in the Smith Tower? I don’t think so. Pioneer Square is still a scary area after dark, with blatant drug deals, rampant homelessness, and lots of trash and human waste. (Picture courtesy of C4Chaos.) The kind of price that we’ll see on these condos will do nothing to alleviate those crushing problems! During the day, I hear emergency vehicle sirens every few minutes. Parking is often unavailable, costing $18/day and more at special event time.
What would happen to our company’s office? I have no idea. Our main offices, with some 1,000 employees, are in Anchorage. We only have 14 employees here and another 7 in a different Seattle location. Most of us in the Seattle area have the ability to telecommute, and rather enjoy that option. We do use the facility intermittently for Seattle-based collaborative work sessions, but that contrasts with weeks when only 3 or 4 folks are in the office.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.