Seattle building boom tries to side-step growing pains

SEATTLE -- The city's economic engine is hitting high gear, with new construction filling up the downtown core, but can jobs and traffic keep pace with the growth?

It seems the sky's the limit in Seattle's latest construction boom. Nowhere is the growth more evident than South Lake Union, where Keegan Musser works as a software development engineer for Amazon. He rents an apartment just blocks away.

"There is the benefit of everything being close to you," Musser said.

Amazon is completing a trio of high-rise towers in Denny Triangle for up to 12,000 workers. Overall, Seattle's downtown core has 6,382 apartment units in the works, 900 condominiums and 2.1 million square feet of new office space.

"The apartments and condos are following the jobs that are coming downtown," said Jon Scholes, an economic development specialist with the Downtown Seattle Association.

A snapshot of development from Seattle Center to South Lake Union shows a dense cluster of construction, raising the question of whether it's too much, too fast. What's different about this boom period is that almost everything going up has someone lined-up to occupy it.

"There is not a huge amount of new product coming online that is not already committed," said Paul Suzman, a tenant representative with OfficeLease.

So while there is demand for this new construction, it could still come with a lot of growing pains. For example, the pitfall to apartments that appeal to people like Amazon's Keegan Musser is that not everyone can afford them.

"All the units which are being built. Will they all lease up? yes they will. the question is at what price," said Matthew Gardner, a land-use economist.

There's also the traffic to consider from thousands of people filling up these high-rises.

"We're not building more streets downtown, they are not going to get any wider," said Scholes. "It's really expensive to build parking."

Analysts say people will have to embrace mass transit to keep downtown flowing. They also say the city needs to monitor the mix of rents so middle class families don't get priced out of the downtown core.

"The people who can afford to live downtown will live downtown," Gardner said. "Those who cannot are still going to be stuck in what's a worse and worse commute."