Community Post

Live/Work in the CD: Some failures, pending success

Live/work developments have a fairly simple concept: people live upstairs or in back and run some sort of business in front. But so far we’ve had mixed success in the execution of it here in the Central District.

The project at 25th & Union that was completed last year is a good example. The Bottleneck owners were blocked by permitting issues when they tried to open up a small restaurant in that building. And Envy Grows gave it a go with a plant retail shop on the corner there, but pulled up roots and moved to Capitol Hill last month, citing a lack of foot traffic and non-existent retail community in the old space.

Additionally, the large live/work development planned for 26th & Cherry has been on ice since their last design review in November 2008.

But maybe the problems above are project specific and not a flaw in the overall concept. Yesterday Kedra announced to great fanfare that they were planning a new bar for the live/work development at 19th & Yesler. She mentioned in the comments that being able to make a home there was a big plus when compared to other neighborhood retail space. 

We may get a few other chances to see how things work out in this space. Pb Elemental recently finished up a live/work project on Union between 20th & 21st. There’s four units there priced at $400,000 each, each with a lot of glass and a loft-style layout on the interior. However, at 1,000 square feet each, they may not lend themselves to active uses such as retail, dining, or entertainment – possibly a lost opportunity to build on the existing business district that includes 20/20 Cycles, Katys, and Central Cinema (cdnews sponsors). We’ll keep an eye on them and let you know if it looks like anything interesting will get a start there.

0 thoughts on “Live/Work in the CD: Some failures, pending success

  1. I live right behind this site and participated in design reviews. My opinion on the planned buildings is quite negative. It will look dark, it is too all, it will consume almost the entire space of the lot, and the design doesn’t fit with the rest of neighborhood style (all issues raised and discussed and highlighted by the city design review panel, by the way). The building was repainted and reroofed before the sale and looks quite nice, compared to what it used to be.

    My opinion is that this location will not support work/live concepts, just like the Envy place mentioned above. We have plenty of foot traffic but not of the right kind to support 11 units.

    The current owners have put the project on hold, for financial reasons. There are only a couple of tenants, and at least 4 or 6 units are standing empty, which is contributing to the large amounts of trash upfront. I called the current owners about it and they claim they have a grassmowing service (true) that is also asked with cleanup of trash (false). I do my best to pick up but I have my own block to cover.

    The current owners are currently remodeling the empty units, and turning them into much nicer places. I think this shows their intent to keep this as a rental and can the work/live concept.

  2. I believe these are designed to be only work lofts, not live/work. They appear to have many green energy features and are designed so that a small business would invest in rather than lease a space. Obviously the design would be very advantageous to a group that desired some space easily accessible to the public with a need for work or office space.

  3. You are correct, Joanna. These are permitted/built to be office/retail only.

    IF the buyer(s) wanted to live there, too, perhaps they could get an occupancy permit for residential. I have no idea what the requirements are.

  4. I think the live and/or Work loft is a workable model for the neighborhood. What would really get things going is some more density and an anchor to give a district some focus. Jackson street is about to turn into an active area with the new apartments and retail spaces about to open. What none of the zones in the neighborhood have is a landmark to get started from. Gas stations and other plaza type businesses don’t have any there there. Little places like Katy’s start to anchor their corners but have a hard time when surrounded by empty corners. Yesler between 19th & 20th is on the verge and will be helped by the new density. It is interesting to hear people mention the right and wrong kinds of foot traffic. It seems like so much of the foot traffic is trying to get thorough the area commuting rather than exploring locally. It’s a chicken and egg problem but you have to start somewhere.

  5. I agree. When something gets built at the corner of MLK and Union, and when 23rd and Union gets more anchors, infill of maybe not restaurants so much, but small retail and storefront businesses, will be good on especially Union east of 23rd.

    The lots are really small and narrow on Union east of 23rd, so there really is no opportunity for larger neighborhood commercial. But it is right on the bus line and close to major corners/what will be major corners. The alternative on those particular plots is townhouses, and I think the love/work is much better being compatible with both the existing homes and the fact of being on a main street.

  6. I like the idea of live and/or work lofts, but they’re not a good fit for all business ideas. With Envy, it’s true that the lack of foot traffic probably hurt his business. I don’t know exactly what the business model was and how much it relied on retail sales, but similar businesses could certainly survive is that spot. Take Fleurish down Union near 13th. They’re a flower shop that is only open by appointment. I guess my point is that just because the area can’t quite support retail businesses, doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit for smaller professional and service offices.

    Of all of the new and planned construction in the area, I’m most excited about what could become of the corner of 23rd and Union. The economy may be in the dumps at the moment, but that location is just too convenient to sit idle forever.

  7. my partner and i call those ‘mullet’ buildings (business on the bottom, party on the top). almost all of them are seriously ugly and out of character with the rest of the neighborhood architecture. the one pictured above looks like a fishbowl. the fact that there was a design review is surprising, cos it seems like they ignore everything that might have made it integrate the building with the rest of the neighborhood. why does every new building going up on union between 18th & 26th look like modern crap?

    as for ‘envy’, i can’t believe that they were even thinking. they moved into the neighborhood, a couple of blocks away from the gross out and thought they would name their yuppie flower store ‘envy’. good luck with that. see ya.

  8. At $400K what kind of business could make that work on union and 2oth? That is $3K per month to open the doors at the very least. Look around anyone doing bang up business daily in the surronding neighborhood???

  9. I’ve weighed in here on CDN a few times about businesses coming and going. The attitude (I would have said ‘perspective’ but it is definitely lacking in that dept) from this mullet man and her/his partner are part of the problem. Regardless of your desire to patronize a particular neighborhood business or use its services, greater diversity in businesses within an area equates to more amenities. And more amenities mean better property values. And better property values mean happier property owners who are willing to stick around to invest in the community. This drivel about bashing a business because you don’t understand it just demonstrates one’s ignorance. And that doesn’t even tackle the ‘modern crap’ shortsightedness. I’ll save that one for another day.

  10. That’s definitely the problem. There are a decent number of businesses when you survey the huge area that makes up the CD, but there is zero concentration. Places like 2020, Central Cinema and Katy’s are a start. So is the building up the hill where Tougo and the Groovy Dance spots live. But there are so many crap buildings in the area that owners keep mopping/painting to cycle through another short-term tenant that it’s hard for a business owner to find nice, unique and affordable space that attracts compatible businesses. Would be great to see something else in (what seems to be extra space) by the Central Cinema. Would also be great to see them get a full liquor license and maybe have a more traditional bar area to go with the cafe. If you read through the postings on threads like this one, you can see that people in the neighborhood are looking for a place to hang out. The Twilight was standing room only around 11pm last night. But you go there and maybe you want to head to another bar for a drink, then you step outside and realize you are out of options that don’t involve your car.

    Columbia City works because there is a core retail/restaurant district. Madrona has it’s one concentrated street with great businesses from Cupcake Royale down to Hi Spot. Maybe the new mayor (see ya, disgraced Mayor of South Lake Union!) will not be so dang uptight about bars/nightlife and that might help the CD. Remains to be seen.

    The main problem with relying on live/work spaces is that you don’t have the option of a thoughtful landlord who can build a nice, cohesive mix of complementary businesses in a building. You get whatever the individual unit owner wants to put downstairs, which is rarely anything that targets foot traffic.

  11. Re: what seems to be extra space next to Central Cinema is occupied nicely by Reel Grrls, a non-profit that works w/ teen girls and media to give the girls higher self-esteem and build their self-expession and social skills. It’s a great program w/ wonderful staff and success stories. Their web site is or something close.