Talk of the Town: The Hines Project

March 2, 2015 | by Erin Sirianni

Explore +

Curious to know more about the Hines project everyone is talking about? Here’s the scoop:

The Hines project is a proposed 5-story mixed-used development that will transform our Town Center.

Whether the potential benefits (a Whole Foods store?) will outweigh possible infrastructure challenges (i.e. increased traffic) has yet to be seen, here’s what I know.

Hines property location

Hines, a privately owned international real estate company, recently acquired a block of land between QFC and Albertson’s through the purchase of three separate parcels.


Southwest view of the Hines Property

Located at the intersection of SE 29th St and 78th Ave SE, that’s where you’ll find MudBay, Veloce Velo, Seven Star Chinese Restaurant, Terra Bella, and Tuscan Stone Wood-Fired Pizza. It’s also a giant concrete parking slab.
The project will result in a dramatic transformation of the area, which any passerby will admit is in need of a facelift. The building will stand five stories tall. The ground level will be commercial space topped by four stories of residential, approximately 180 to 200 units of mostly 1 and 2-bedroom apartments.

According to coverage in the Reporter, construction may start within the year.

Community controversy

The Hines development will be the ninth significant mixed-use project to be built in the Town Center. Many passionate Islanders believe these developments are changing the “quiet, small-town feel” of Mercer Island and creating infrastructure burdens, such as increased traffic in the downtown area.

MIxed-Use Buildings in Mercer Island Town Center Photo Credit: Hines

Mixed-Use Buildings in Mercer Island Town Center | Image Credit: Hines

Save our Suburbs, a community activist group that formed in December 2014, requested that the City Council grant a six-month moratorium on all new building permits for development in the Town Center. Despite an impressive grassroots effort and hours of public comment at recent City Council meetings, they fell short of convincing the council of putting the Hines Project on a time-out.

The City Council responded by agreeing to a four-month moratorium for buildings over two stories but exempted Hines citing legal concerns and Hines willingness to engage with the community toward creating a vibrant Town Center.

The City Council will hold a public hearing this evening regarding the moratorium, but with five of six City Council members voting in favor of exempting Hines at the City Council’s February 2nd meeting, it seems unlikely that they will have a change of heart.

While less outspoken, others in the community have expressed favor for the project.  A letter from Roger Page, owner of Island Books, states:

“Mercer Island’s downtown has long been anemic. . . . We have been dying for decades. Barely a pulse now. I think change is coming. There’s a renaissance coming. Let’s not reflexively quash it. Let’s try to make a place with shared spaces, with parking spaces, with incentives for local business that engage and serve our community. We can’t just stop. We can’t move backwards. Let’s lead the new developers toward our hopes and dreams for a vibrant downtown.” (Read by City Council member Jane Brahm at the February 2nd council meeting.)

Hines community outreach

Leaving “hopes and dreams” to developers may seem a little outlandish (no pun intended), but Hines has made some good-faith efforts so far.
Hines along with Runberg Architecture Group and Hewitt, a landscape architecture firm, hosted a well-attended open house at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center last week.  I stopped by and chatted with Evan Kaseguma, a Hines representative, to find out what the open house was all about.

Hines Open House

Display boards and visitors at the Hines Open House on Thursday, February 26th.

“We want to get as much community input as possible,” Kaseguma said. “We’d like to learn from previous projects done on Mercer Island and what worked and what didn’t to make sure [our project] will be what the community wants.”

Regarding what didn’t work, he shared examples of public plazas built alongside other Town Center mixed-use buildings that are uninviting if hardly noticeable at all. Others, he said, such as Aljoya’s plaza that lines green space along a walking trail on the Lid, are welcoming and attractive.

“We really want to create a space people will enjoy,” he said.

Feedback for the public plaza, which is an amenity requirement with the addition of a fifth story, suggests placement along the length of SE 29th St.

Mercer Island Town Center Public Plazas | Image credit: Hines

Mercer Island Town Center Public Plazas | Image credit: Hines

A commuter parking possibility?

Along with a public plaza, another upside to the development may include 200 commuter parking spaces. The feasibility of this additional parking will depend on a partnership with Sound Transit to provide the funding.
The current Hines building design includes two levels of underground parking providing 400 to 500 stalls.

“We’ve already done the design of a third level on our own dime to show the opportunity for commuter parking and also for parking that might be needed for the Mercer Island Center for the Arts,” Kaseguma said.

A Vision for a Mid-Century Modern Design

Rest assured that the Hines project will not look like Fort Knox as suggested by a massing study image published in The Reporter.  At the open house, I also had the chance to chat with Michelle Holst, a Runberg architect, who pointed toward a mid-century modern design possibility.

“Our firm has always looked to create engaging spaces that are also contextual to the surrounding area,” Holst said. “We felt a mid-century modern design would be true to the character of the island, but we would love get the community’s input to confirm that.”

Whole Foods – Fact or Fiction?

That leaves the biggest question for last. Yet to confirm a signed contract, Hines has stated that they are currently in negotiations with Whole Foods that would fill the majority of the ground-level commercial space.

Additionally, at the February 2nd City Council meeting, Hines shared a letter on behalf of Joe Rogoff, Whole Foods Regional President, disclosing dozens of requests from Island residents for a store on the island, and stating “we believe it would be a wonderful area to be a part of .”

The letter went on to say: “We’ve lately been in negotiation for a location that would require a build out. I fear that a moratorium would put that work on hold or perhaps not allow the developer to consummate their project. From my perspective, that would be unfortunate.”

I’ll leave the speculation to you.

What are your thoughts about the Hines Project?  Feel free to share in the comments.

Update 6/4/15:  According to the Mercer Island Reporter, the City of Mercer Island’s Design Commission unanimously rejected the preliminary designs for the Hines property during their May 27th meeting. Additionally, at the June 2nd City Council meeting, all council members voted to remove the development’s exemption from its moratorium on downtown development projects over two stories. Hines did not receive a commitment from Whole Foods for commercial space, and the public parking agreement between the City and Hines is now tenuous.

Additional reading:

Hines, previously exempt, now included in the moratorium Mercer Island Reporter (6/2/2015)

Hines needs another reviewMercer Island Reporter (5/28/2015)

Letter by Joe Rogoff, Whole Foods Regional President, presented at the City Council February 2nd Meeting

Council passes moratorium; exempts Hines DevelopmentMercer Island Reporter

Developer obtains final piece of landMercer Island Reporter (January 21, 2015)

Another big project for Town Center – Mercer Island Reporter (November 25, 2013)