Ryan Companies to Breathe New Life Into Former Farmers Insurance Site

June 5, 2020 | by Scott Strandberg

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For decades, Farmers New World Life Insurance occupied the office complex in downtown Mercer Island at SE 32nd St and 77th Ave SE near Mercerdale Park. But the building has stood empty ever since Farmers moved their operations to Bellevue in 2018. After recently announcing their purchase of the complex, Ryan Companies – a commercial real estate firm based in Minnesota – revealed their plans to rejuvenate the site.

In April, Ryan Companies acquired the six-acre property for around $46.5 million from the building’s previous owner, the VEREIT real estate company. HAL Real Estate of Seattle was also involved in the purchase as Ryan’s local financial partner. This wasn’t Ryan’s first major purchase in Western Washington, as they just finished their renovations of the Kirkland Urban complex in May 2019.

The first step for Ryan Companies will be to modernize the aging building at the center of the property. The building, which spans nearly 150,000 square feet, will undergo extensive renovations to both its interior and exterior, as Ryan hopes to renovate the property into a desirable home for a major commercial tenant.

The developer intends to give the building’s exterior a facelift, incorporating hardscape design elements with landscaping along 77th Ave SE to the east. The north side of the building, which faces the site’s 700-car parking lot, will see sweeping changes to its plaza area, with new plants, chairs, benches and landscaping to modernize its look.

Ryan also plans to update the facade of the building, with improvements including a fresh coat of paint, as well as new windows to bring more natural light into the structure. Plans for the building’s interior aren’t yet entirely clear, but Ryan Companies has indicated that their interior renovations will be significant.

One major question that remains for this project is how Ryan plans to develop the site’s massive parking lot, which stretches along 77th Ave SE all the way to SE 29th St, nearly three blocks from the site’s southern end. Ryan says that they want to turn this area into a residential complex, but their plans are far from concrete — at this time, they simply say that they are “considering a residential use for a portion of the adjacent parking lot,” according to their press release.

Ryan Companies has already shown the region what it can do with a large-scale redevelopment project through their work on Kirkland Urban. The Kirkland site was an antiquated shopping center that Ryan overhauled into a million-square-foot mixed-use development with two office towers, an apartment building, parking, a grocery store, and several commercial pavilions.

Already – at its June 2nd, 2020 Council Meeting – the Mercer Island City Council unanimously adopted a six-month moratorium on the acceptance of permit applications for “major new construction” in the portion of Mercer Island’s Town Center Zone south of SE 29th Street – most likely aimed at putting the breaks on the acceptance of any building permits that Ryan Companies might submit to move forward with a residential development.

The Mercer Island City Council enacted a Town Center development moratorium just five years in 2015, in response to an outspoken response by Mercer Island activist group Save Our Suburbs, which opposed a proposed development at  SE 29th St and 78th Ave SE by Hines, another real estate development company. That moratorium eventually led to Hines dropping out of the project entirely – though the site was later purchased by developer Xing Hua Group Ltd. and is in design review for a mixed-use complex. This development will be smaller than the proposed Hines project since it will be built in compliance with a revised Mercer Island Town Center Development Code, which was updated during the 2015-2016 moratorium. The revised code caps building heights at 4 to 5 stories and requires more public open space and enhanced pedestrian access than the old code.

The former Farmers Insurance site is located right next to Mercerdale Park and the Mercer Island Farmers Market, two popular attractions for Mercer Island locals. The north end of the complex is also located four blocks from Mercer Island’s upcoming light rail station, which is expected to open its doors sometime in 2023. 

Learn more about this upcoming Ryan Companies development at its community outreach website: 3003-77thavese-communityoutreach.com