“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
After years of struggling to find tenants, two retail spaces at the John Court Apartments building at East John Court and 15th Avenue East have finally found occupants. The staff at the John Court Apartments confirmed that a branch of American Family Insurance will take one of the long-vacant spots, while the never-occupied corner space is currently being renovated by a new bakery. The bakery’s owner has requested anonymity until the unit takes shape.
The general perception of Capitol Hill is that it’s a highly in-demand place for retail businesses, but that rent for retail on the Hill is steep. In the strange case of the John Court Apartments building, rent hasn’t been the most important factor in keeping tenants away, while that legendary demand hasn’t been strong enough to overcome other concerns until just recently.
In 2011, a company called First Western Properties was in charge of leasing the John Court Apartments building. Their representatives cited many reasons other than rent prices for the retail vacancies. Primarily, they noted the lack of parking around the building as a major concern for potential tenants, as well as the size of the spaces. The large corner lot and future bakery is a 2,700-square-foot store, and First Western Properties suggested that this was too much real estate for businesses seeking space in a recession. To wit, last year Crumble & Flake Patisserie opened to great success at a tiny, 500-square-foot spot on Olive Way.
Even if a larger restaurant wanted to take the corner space at the John Court Apartments, the building’s owners have suggested that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to install the kind of ventilation system required for a commercial kitchen. Even for bakeries, many engineers and restaurant owners recommend a Class I ventilation hood, which is typically an investment of thousands of dollars when combined with cooling and cleaning systems, all of which simply don’t come standard in residential and non-restaurant commercial real estate.
Today, the John Court Apartments building is under different management. Cornell & Associates, a firm that manages more than two dozen properties on Capitol Hill, is renting the John Court retail lots. The company took on responsibility for the notoriously difficult space in a time of incredible growth in Capitol Hill business, though not necessarily for 15th Avenue. Pike/Pine and Broadway remain the top-performing retail and restaurant thoroughfares, while businesses, non-profits and even the city of Seattle have spent much of the past year shifting focus to 12th Avenue as the next hot spot.
Though it hasn’t seen a boost yet, 15th Avenue is set to transform in the next few years. Small and increasingly rare vestiges of “Old Seattle,” like self-styled dive bar The Canterbury, and small restaurants, like Chutneys Grille, are too little and too unambitious for the owners of their lots. The former will be the new home of another restaurant as soon as property owner Capitol Hill Housing makes its pick from a purported wave of inquiries, and the latter will transform from a tiny restaurant to a four-story, mixed-use building. Like much of Capitol Hill, 15th Avenue is poised to get taller, sleeker and, decidedly, less punk than the days in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Hill was considered an unreasonable financial risk for nearly any lender in the city.
Businesses on 15th Avenue, both new and old, may also see an increase in foot traffic, thanks to the extension of the First Hill Streetcar line. Originally planned to terminate at Denny Way, the extension will take the streetcar down to Aloha Street, running not only through the Broadway business core, but also parallel to the busiest segment of 15th Avenue. Generally quieter, the stretch of road running past the John Court Apartments needs such increases in density to help competing businesses thrive.