On the Block: Metropole plan goes from boutique hotel to boutique offices

The new owner of the vacant, derelict Metropole Building shared its office conversion plans yesterday with the Pioneer Square Preservation Board. The nonprofit Satterberg Foundation paid about $5.5 million last June for the property at 423 Second Ave. Extension S., on the corner of Yesler Way in Pioneer Square.

Matt Aalfs of BuildingWork previously created a boutique hotel conversion plan for the old ownership, associated with Seneca Ventures, and he’s now designing the conversion to cowork office space for nonprofits. The restoration will probably also include a child care center, meeting/events space with commercial kitchen and room for pop-up retail by local gallerists or crafts makers.

Basically, Satterberg Foundation will become the nonprofit landlord to the same sort of nonprofits to which it makes grants — thus creating a hub for like-minded enterprises. Forterra will be the family-run foundation’s development partner. The foundation is related to the Pigott and Helsell families, both prominent Seattle philanthropists.

Most significant, says Aalfs, will be the restoration of the south portion of the building — aka the Busy Bee Cafe building — from its current two- to original four-story height. The two upper floors were lost due to the notorious 1949 earthquake that damaged so many unreinforced masonry buildings in the square.

Aalfs says The Busy Bee building was actually developed before the 1892 construction of the three-story Metropole, which was developed by Henry Yesler. His architects were likely Elmer Fisher and Emil De Neuf. The two properties were combined during the 1960s. The upper floors of the Busy Bee were once occupied by the White House Hotel. Its architects are unknown.

Damaged by the 2001 Nisqually earthquake and a 2007 fire, the combined building has a nominal 26,000 square feet. Adding back two floors to the Busy Bee would yield another possible 6,000 square feet. A small rooftop elevator penthouse would be added, and a children’s play area on the roof is being considered — as are rooftop solar panels.

Aalfs says the new owner wants a very deep-green, very sustainable building, so the project will target LEED Platinum and Salmon Safe certification, and will likely participate in the city’s Living Building Pilot Program.

The preservation board was very receptive to the plan, especially given that the Metropole has been a boarded-up eyesore for so long on such a prominent corner. So, too, was a representative from the Alliance for Pioneer Square.

Aalfs told the DJC he expected to apply for permits this year. The plan is expedited in that it already has the seismic retrofit worked out — by structural engineer Swenson Say Faget — from the prior hotel plan. If all goes well, construction could begin in 2021 and be completed in two years or less.

The Metropole will probably regain its cornice, and all the windows will be replaced. No decision has been made about the materials for the addition to the south building. That’s where the child care center will likely go. No operator has been selected, but we’ll provide the name: Busy Bee Kids.

The team also includes Ecotope, mechanical engineer, commissioning and sustainability; Travis Fitzmaurice (TFWB), electrical engineer; LPD, civil engineer; Karen Kiest Landscape Architect; Dark Light, lighting designer; RDH, envelope consultant; Environmental Works, child care design consultant; and Speweik Preservation, historic masonry consultant.

One reason the Metropole has survived so much abuse, says Aalfs, is its sturdy foundation — since it was built for future additions, like other buildings that were financed and developed in phases around the square. He estimates the original plan was for up to eight stories or so. (One hint: the Metropole originally had an elevator, rare for that time.) There’s also a usable basement with areaways beneath the sidewalks.

The Satterberg Foundation has, since its founding in 1991, awarded about $90 million to nonprofits here and in California. Some of its recent recipients have included Africatown Community Land Trust, Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas and the Children’s Alliance. Social justice and environmental organizations are often among its beneficiaries.

The foundation says it’ll announce more details about the Metropole in the future.

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