ON MONDAY, JULY 27, the first major clump of daytime residents moved into their new home base on the watery edge of the Center of the Universe—also known, to those outside the neighborhood, as Fremont. Nearly 600 tech-support and engineering employees of the Palo Alto-based Adobe Corp. now luxuriate in the spacious halls and Ship Canal views of two office blocks, put up just east of the Fremont Bridge by the Quadrant Corp., Weyerhaeuser's land-development arm.
When it's finished sometime in the next century, Quadrant's "Lake Union Center" will be a sprawling, eight-building office park complex as big as the whole existing Fremont business district. The arrival of Adobe's early birds has long been nervously—and sometimes eagerly—looked forward to. What kind of impact would the newcomers have on traffic? Parking? Trade in the neighborhood's many pubs, restaurants, and specialty shops? And, perhaps most important to many veteran inhabitants of Seattle's most '60s-spirited neighborhood: Would they... fit in?
You'd think two weeks would be long enough for the 600 transplants to make some kind of impression, but so far the shoe hasn't dropped. If any Adobees are eschewing their 75-seat in-house cafeteria for more adventurous lunching, their impact is untraceable in the number of diners at half a dozen surveyed venues. Trade at Steve Dunnington's nearby international newsstand is running as usual for high summer. Traffic congestion, particularly on two-lane Northlake Way, along the project's northern edge, is wretched—but it's been so for years, particularly at rush hour when University of Washington employees flock back to Queen Anne and Magnolia.
In the absence of perceptible impacts, Fremont's rumor mill has been working overtime. You know that parking lot Quadrant promised the neighborhood so that ordinary citizens could get through the development to the Burke-Gilman Trail? Parked solid every day from 8:30 to 5:30. Oh, and did you hear what happened to the Lake Washington Rowing Club? Members can't get through to the club's nice new building to load and unload their shells. Well, what did we tell you? Betrayed by developers again....
UNFORTUNATELY for the gloomsters, the rumors are just that, based on misinformation about the city's development deal with Quadrant. There was no deal cut for public parking within the complex. The deal, entirely at Adobe's initiative, is to allow public access to its lots during off-hours. Rowing-club access is spelled out in a 20-odd-page easement protocol.
The question of just whose property this is remains complex. The land on which the development lies still belongs to the Burke family's Fremont Dock Co., with a few complications dating back to the condemnation proceedings for the building of the Aurora Bridge in 1932. Quadrant builds the structures, but envisions selling each to other landlords upon completion. Bay Areabased Bedford Properties has already bought Adobe's quarters—all 160,000 square feet of the Waterfront Building and another 100,000 of the 140,000-square-foot Plaza Building behind it.
Adobe's Seattle office is almost wholly an in-house operation, and so brings in only a minuscule amount of outsider traffic: a few dozen people a week so far, most of them from corporate HQ come to check out the new digs. But if the present offers little ground for concern, there is still plenty to fret about in the future. Zimmer Gunsul Frasca's master plan includes five more buildings, over 300,000 more square feet, yet to be built. The Sound Mind and Body health club, open since early 1997, will add another 40,000 square feet, with space for more than 1,600 cars.
Three of those buildings have already cleared the city's permit process, and if one potential prime tenant, the Starwave Corp., soon decides to execute its letter of intent with Quadrant, construction could begin early next year. Quadrant folk are quick to point out that the site was no tabula rasa before they took charge: More than 120 businesses clustered on it, many dating back to the days when Fremont was the city's northern portal.
But right up to their razing, those businesses were mostly small, blue-collar, and water/ship/fish-related—not always comfortable with the funky new crowd who moved into their neighborhood to take advantage of low rents and a casual lifestyle in the 1960s, but at least on the same human scale. It will be sad if Fremont is overwhelmed, gussied up, and yuppified by its new neighbors. But it will be just as sad in another way if these newcomers wall themselves off in their postmodern stockade, leaving no trace but the roar of their shiny SUVs as they dash off to more upscale pleasures elsewhere.