Best of 2016: Why luxury high-rises are taking over Seattle

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The strange saga of Sonny Kahn – the Miami developer who wants to build a 102-story apartment building in downtown Seattle – took a new twist last month.

On January 4, Kahn was told by the Federal Aviation Administration that his 1,117-foot high-rise would pose a risk for air traffic at Boeing Field and helicopters at Harborview Medical Center. Kahn’s company, Crescent Heights, responded Tuesday by lowering the tower, known as 4/C, to just 100 floors. But this minuscule concession will likely not satisfy the FAA, which has said the project won’t get “a favorable determination” unless it shrinks to 965 feet, or roughly the same height as the 76-story Columbia Center next door.

Yet even if Kahn does agree to make his tower small enough for the FAA, it’s hard not to wonder whether the enormous structure would be a good fit for Seattle. The building would be not merely one of tallest apartment high-rises on the West Coast. Judging from Crescent Heights’ other projects, 4/C would also be among the plushest — a vertical mansion offering everything from 24-hour concierges to personal shopping and dog-washing, all linked by “intelligent mobile technology” that allows staff to anticipate a tenant’s every need.

None of that will come cheaply. Although Crescent Heights has declined to discuss the project, local real-estate experts estimate that even a truncated building would cost upwards of $700 million, with rents for the larger, upper-floor units easily topping $15,000 per month — doubling Seattle’s existing luxury high-rise rates, and implying a clientele which might not actually exist in the city. Some speculate that Kahn will market his building to the global elite. Others say Kahn believes booming Seattle will soon have enough upscale tenants of its own.

Either way, says Jon Hallgrimson, a broker at the Seattle office of CBRE, 4/C “is definitely a big bet on where we’re headed.”

The same could be said for much of Seattle’s high-rise apartment boom.

The 4/C project, for all its awesome scale, is just the logical extreme of a development tidal wave that is already testing the limits of the local housing market and raising questions about the community that is emerging downtown.

  

About the Authors & Contributors

Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts is a journalist and author whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Harper's, the Washington Post, Newsweek, the New Republic, and more. He covers energy, technology, and consumer culture. His latest book, "The Impulse Society: American in the Age of Instant Gratification," was published by Bloomsbury USA last year.