Seattle’s business district managers discover new resources for commercial affordability

On May 31, 2018 about 15 business district managers from across Seattle gathered together at a local startup firm – Blokable – to discuss commercial affordability. The Office of Economic Development’s (OED) Only in Seattle, Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship and Innovation teams, in partnership with the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDPDA) and Onpoint Real Estate Services, organized this peer networking event to share a model for commercial lease education workshops in Chinatown ID and Little Saigon, vet innovative solutions for affordable commercial space, and make connections between business districts.

Blokable—a local startup manufacturer of pre-fabricated housing units that are modular, or stackable, to create multistory residential or mixed-use buildings—launched to reinvent the construction and manufacturing process to be more efficient, green and affordable. Blokable units are cheaper and can deliver results faster than the traditional affordable home building process; think 21st century, tech-enabled mobile homes with a completely redesigned building, delivery and installation process and the ability for commercial uses. Imagine the possibilities! We started the event with lunch catered by San Fernando’s and a self-tour of a Blokable unit – a 300ft2 studio, fully equipped with a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, lighting and heating. The unit is mobile and can be transported on the back of a semi-truck to almost any destination. As we settled into the agenda, Aaron Holm, Blokable’s Co-CEO spoke to the group about the how the company started and the potential for commercial uses. Want to see Blokable in action? Check out the latest project in Edmonds, WA in partnership with Compass Housing Alliance.

Next, Ken Takahashi, OED’s Development Finance Advisor, introduced OED’s business services and shared the ways in which OED is supporting commercial affordability. Reasonable rents are not the only definition of commercial affordability. A broader approach includes innovative space ideas like Blokable’s products, and education efforts such as commercial lease education workshops, the second topic of the peer networking event.

Jennifer Tam, OED’s Restaurant Advocate and Shanti Breznau, SCIDPDA’s Business Development Manager, presented the model they are using for commercial lease education workshops in Chinatown ID and Little Saigon. They discussed how they developed the curriculum for the workshop series, outreach and engagement methods, and why local grassroots capacity is so critical to the success of designing and executing the workshop. The Commercial Lease Education Workshop overview provides additional details on the program, and you can get an inside look into the second workshop (Vietnamese, Simplified Chinese) that featured tenant improvements—a major factor when it comes to new and existing tenants. A unique feature of the workshop series is relationship building with business owners. Through Shanti’s connections, she knew translation and interpretation services would be essential to a successful workshop, and the content was translated into two languages – Vietnamese and Chinese.

In addition to the workshop series in Chinatown ID and Little Saigon, OED contracted with Onpoint Real Estate Services to provide city-wide workshops on broader lease education topics. Onpoint’s Managing Partner, Jaebadiah Gardner, and his staff will consult with individual business owners on their lease challenges for up to five hours for free. Please contact Yonas Seifu to learn more and get connected to Onpoint for your business needs.

Throughout the presentations, district managers were asked a guiding question – how could you adapt these services to work in your district? To close out the meeting, there was a robust conversation among all the attendees to iterate and expand on these offerings. OED will be following up individually with districts that expressed interest in hosting a commercial lease education workshop and explore partnership opportunities with Blokable to bring affordable commercial options to Seattle’s underutilized space. If you have any questions, please follow up with OED or one of our partners listed below.

More resources from the presentation can be found below:

Land use resources to monitor and track development: