In December, Unico Properties purchased the 158-acre Longacres property in Renton from Boeing for $100 million. This month plans are emerging that would put up to 3,000 apartments and a Sounders FC soccer practice complex on the campus, which is next door to the Tukwila Sounder Station and its 13-minute commuter train trips to Downtown Seattle. The project could remake the neighborhood surrounding the station from an awkward mostly abandoned light industrial office park to a dense mixed-use neighborhood.
Boeing had previously used the campus for its commercial aviation headquarters, but has moved and winded down operations and fenced the site. That left the Tukwila Station area, which abuts Renton to the east, as mostly empty and devoid of activity. The Boeing campus was also very much in the suburban office park mold: spread out, bound by collector roads and a freeway, and covered in huge surface parking lots with minimal pedestrian permeability. Before Boeing took over the site in 1992, Longacres was a horse racing track for nearly 60 years.
For an urban neighborhood of 6,000 residents to thrive, the grid will need to be filled in, particularly for pedestrians. Otherwise the site will end up feel rather isolated and car focused.
“We think there’s a really unique opportunity to create housing there on the train line,” Ned Carner, chief investment officer of Unico, said in an interview with Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ) ahead of the announcement. “(The Sounders) are going to have a really amazing state-of-the-art training facility which we think will breathe more life back into Longacres and create some energy there as we go to lease it up.”
Unico has a great deal of existing office space to fill on the campus. “The campus has two main buildings totaling over 900,000 square feet as well as some smaller buildings, including a day care center,” PSBJ’s Marc Stiles reported. “None of the commercial space will be demolished.”
Adding 3,000 homes on the site could in turn help support more retail and restaurants that made the offices seem less forlorn and disconnected from the surrounding cities.
Exactly what Unico has in mind for the housing development isn’t yet clear. No permit activity has been reported yet on the City of Renton site, but the project does appear in a “Highlighted Projects” page. A site plan rendering suggests a row of apartment buildings along the western edge of the site, but few details have been provided.
“The aim is to revitalize Boeing’s abandoned office campus and activate the 115 acre site with transit-oriented redevelopment, including updated office and new housing (3,458 residential units), retail, dining, recreational facilities, and open space amenities,” the Renton site noted, with a completion of the first phase of redevelopment expected in 2025, apparently.
“Unico’s master plan is built around the property’s two lakes and a mile-long walking path,” Stiles added in his piece. “Carner said it’s a 10-year business plan with an overall build-out cost ‘that would be likely in excess of $1 billion.'”
Geekwire also covered the announcement and attended the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Sounders FC facility with local dignitaries like King County Executive Dow Constantine and State Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle). Geekwire‘s John Cook noted Renton has ambitions to join the tech boom that is transforming the downtown cores of Seattle and Bellevue 13 miles to the north, and said Carner talked up the I-405 freeway access, calling it “unparalleled.”
“The City of Renton has long worked to brandish its image, looking to attract high-growth employers as a diversification strategy from an economy once reliant on Boeing and aerospace,” Cook wrote. “As nearby Seattle and Bellevue burst at the seams, Renton could serve as an alternative tech destination.”
It’s also a racially diverse city, with more than half of the population identifying as people of color and/or Hispanic.
Renton hasn’t yet landed any major tech employers, Cook noted. In an earlier report, Stiles noted Renton was in one of the region’s worst-performing office submarkets. “Over a third of the office space in Renton and Tukwila was vacant despite a low average annual asking rental rate of $36.84 per square foot, according to JJL’s third quarter report,” Stiles wrote. “By comparison, the annual asking rate was $61.34 a foot around Seattle’s Lake Union, where around 15% of space was vacant.”
The city of about 107,000 has served as more of bedroom community for surrounding employment centers and it traditionally has offer some of the more moderately priced housing in the area. That is quickly changing as home prices skyrocket in Renton, as in many cities across the state. The average Renton home price has reached $716,750 after jumping a staggering 24.4% in one year, according to Zillow.
Adding 3,000 homes would be a welcome relief in such a supercharged market.
Doug Trumm is the executive director of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.