Kiro 7 Seattle - Lake Washington Water taxi Southport

Developer proposes Lake Washington water taxi

KIRO 7 News Staff

RENTON, Wash. – State transportation officials will discuss possible water taxi routes from Lake Washington in Renton to tech centers in the region Tuesday.

A land developer envisions tapping Renton into local tech hubs by kickstarting a passenger ferry service that travels between destinations such as Seattle, Kirkland and Bellevue.

At 9 a.m. in Olympia, the State Transportation Commission will hear a plan from Seco Development.

Seco is developing SouthPort, an office/hotel complex situated on Lake Washington between Boeing’s Renton plant and the Seahawks Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

The company wants three $5 million-dollar catamarans, with two of them at a time running the morning and evening commutes with times of about 45 minutes to an hour. Tickets would be priced just below $10.

The company says it’s looking for area partners to help out.

More will be learned about the fate of the plan after Tuesday morning’s meeting.

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What’s the latest news about Southport’s office campus? KING5 Seattle shares an update on what’s happening here on South Lake Washington.

Development project aims to attract big tech to Renton

Jake Whittenberg

RENTON, Wash. — A new billion-dollar development at the south tip of Lake Washington is nearing completion, and project managers expect an announcement about a future big tech tenant soon.

Seco Development’s Southport mega-project in Renton includes residential, retail, commercial office space and a Hyatt hotel. But its 700,000 square feet of office space in three separate office buildings remains empty.

Rocale Timmons, senior vice president of planning and development with Seco, says the space is specifically designed for a tech company, and there is a lot of interest.

“Large tech tenants are thinking about ways they can grow responsibly, and you have to think about emerging markets like Renton,” she said.

The city of Renton has felt a growing resurgence in recent years when it comes to the local economy. Small and big companies in the tech sector are making Renton their home, including Wizards of the Coast, which created Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, and Bloqs, which builds websites.

Renton city officials also point out that private investment last year exceeded a half billion dollars.

“Anybody south of I-90 is going to be ecstatic for places like this,” said Jon Bye of John L. Scott Realty.

Bye pointed out that the Southport development is certain to improve home values in the area too.

“Not everyone wants to be in the city, and this gives a different feel than downtown Seattle,” said Bye.

Cities outside Seattle compete for tech companies to relocate

King 5 explores the opportunities for expanding companies at Southport

RENTON, Wash. — Amazon’s announcement that it will move several thousand employees from Seattle to Bellevue over the next few years is a reminder that there’s a lot of real-estate competition for tech companies and their workforces.

Some shiny new projects throughout the region hope to spur more moves and relocations with perks companies might not get in larger cities.

“We’re ready,” said Rocale Timmons, senior vice president of planning and development for SECO, which is about to open three towers of office space at the south end of Lake Washington in a project called Southport.

The complex includes a high-end hotel, conference center, shops, restaurants, and boasts panoramic views of the waterfront.

They haven’t announced any tenants yet, but hope to attract companies to a smaller city, eager to diversify its workforce beyond Boeing, which has dominated Renton’s economy for decades.

“Because of the warm political climate, we’re able to move at a fast clip to get additional office space going, in contrast to other communities in the region,” Timmons said.

In Bellevue, the Spring District development is designed specifically to help tech companies attract and retain talent, with new apartments, parks, a brew-pub, and a graduate academic institute focused on technology innovation.

The project is especially enticing because just steps away a new light rail station is under construction. The line is scheduled to open in 2023.

REI already announced it will relocate to the Spring District from Kent. Facebook plans to move in as well. Developers said there’s a strong need for the new space with office vacancy throughout the region near record lows.

But offices alone are not enough.

“They’re trying to get their employees happy and in order to do so they need that entertainment, that retail space, those restaurants. They need those amenities,” Timmons said.

Southport’s offices include bike and kayak storage, locker rooms with showers, the option of a rooftop helipad, energy-efficient infrastructure designed for technology businesses, and more than 11,000 feet of retail space.

The project will have seven to eight restaurants and is situated right next to The Landing, a sprawling shopping and dining plaza with a movie theater.

“We check a lot of boxes, that a Seattle and potentially even a Bellevue, don’t check,” Timmons said.

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SECO Development | Corporate Headshots | Nov. 2016

© Jerry and Lois Photography
All rights reserved

Daring Women: Rocale Timmons, Senior Vice President of Planning and Development at SECO Development

Since joining SECO Development Inc. nearly three years ago, Rocale Timmons has played a key role in helping the company pursue its real estate development objectives as a senior executive in charge of planning and development. Renton, Washington-based SECO, founded in 1989, specializes in urban infill and high-end mixed-use projects.

Prior to joining SECO, Timmons served as a senior planner for the City of Renton, where she had to navigate many diverse and often competing interests involved with complex redevelopment projects. Timmons earned an undergraduate degree in economics and urban planning from the University of Washington and an MBA from UW Tacoma. As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Timmons took some time to reflect on her career successes and challenges, her mentors and views on leadership, and she also shares some advice for women starting out in their careers.

Tell us about the high point of your career. What do you love about your work? Describe your proudest moment.

Having a positive impact on the built environment and the way in which we live, work and play is what I love most about my career. Before shifting to commercial real estate development, I was in the public sector for many years, as an urban planner. In that role, I experienced a significant number of proud moments, but the high point in my career path has definitely been my time working on the Southport Lake Washington development. The city of Renton is experiencing tremendous growth right now, and Southport is a major catalyst in that growth. I never take for granted the chance to contribute to this period of positive change.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in your industry? How have you addressed them?

The commercial real estate industry — especially development — is predominantly made up of white, middle-aged men. So, as a younger female executive, amplified by my being an African-American, I am an enigma of sorts. However, being an African-American female in commercial real estate hasn’t had much of an impact on my career, with the exception that there is sometimes an initial awkwardness around how my male counterparts interact with me. I don’t spend energy “proving” myself, but I do understand that it may take time for others to adjust to a different voice in the room. I count it as a teaching moment. I’m certainly learning every day. Sometimes, my presence alone helps to confront any perceived industry bias — unconscious or otherwise.

Tell us about a person who has inspired or mentored you. What key lesson did you learn from them?

My mom moved through the world with a God-given audacity and resilience I often attempt to mimic. I also credit a significant number of lessons to my brother and a core group of friends (mostly guys) from high school. They taught me the importance of loyalty, integrity, agility and humor. There really isn’t one meaningful past or present relationship that doesn’t inspire me to be a better human ― both personally and professionally.

What advice would you give to a woman getting started in her career?

Go fearlessly into rooms bigger than you. And once you get there: Be present and curious. Know you are at the table for a reason.

What can women do to improve gender equity in the workplace? What can men do?

Gender inequity in the workplace is a systematic problem not easily resolved — much like the racial and socioeconomic inequities in our society. However, I believe both men and women can take small yet meaningful steps to confront the status quo. Women in particular have to look beyond “the way things are,” and blaze their own trails. Here’s my advice: Go after that job promotion and negotiate for higher salaries. Most importantly, women should not be afraid to have hard conversations that challenge workplace biases in favor of men.

Both men and women in leadership roles can and should help to create inclusive environments where greater parity exists. First, they must identify the gender bias and then commit to solutions for improving equity. Whether that means changing hiring practices from the ground up, introducing workplace training (beyond sexual harassment), or even simply accepting female leaders, the first step is acknowledgement.

Tell us about a favorite book/show/podcast and why/how it inspires you.

Chris Voss’ “Never Split the Difference” is one of the more recent books I’ve enjoyed, and it has resulted in new methods for my negotiation style. The book is chock-full of practical lessons for negotiating. My favorite section of Voss’ book is where he states that there is a tremendous amount of space between a “yes” and “no” response, and that “no” is really just the start of the negotiation.

I also find myself returning time and time again to poems written by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet. His poems are not only inspirational but they’re both profound and digestible. A favorite: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”

Where do you find support and inspiration? How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?

I like that these two seemingly different questions were coupled together. While I never aim to network just for the sake of networking, I do focus a significant amount of energy on developing relationships, simply because I rely on them for both support and inspiration. I don’t just want a business card to add to my Rolodex. I prefer to be present and have a meaningful exchange, if only for a few minutes. And often, these brief interactions grow into rewarding, long-term connections.

What are the most important characteristics of a good leader? What leadership traits are overrated?

I believe the most valuable leadership trait a person can bring to a company is authenticity. Authenticity creates an environment where individuals feel comfortable bringing their own intrinsic qualities to the table. I also prioritize respect of others. I believe everyone on my team is my peer, even though we have different functions and responsibilities.

In my opinion, expertise is a generally overrated leadership trait. While it may contribute to good leadership, it isn’t a prerequisite. As a developer, I am often not the expert in the room, and I rely heavily on others — architects, attorneys, engineers, etc. — to inform my decisions.

What would you do differently in your career if you had a do-over.

The story of my career is still being written, but if possible, I would turn back a few chapters and enjoy the journey a bit more. Mostly, I would have liked to have been more patient with myself. I also would have liked to grant myself a little more grace to evolve.

What would be the title of your autobiography?

Because I’m still unfolding my story, today’s title would be “The Prelude: My Heart Knew the Way.” Who knows what the title will be 10, 20, or 30 years from now! Naming the book is the furthest thought from my mind. I am most excited to write the pages.

We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. Feel inspired? Join us for our second Daring Women event on May 21, 2019.

A mockup of the proposed Topgolf facility in Renton, Wash. (Via the City of Renton)

Talks begin to bring Topgolf Entertainment Complex to Renton

Talks begin to bring Topgolf Entertainment Complex to Renton

RENTON, Wash. — Sports fans get ready. Renton may soon be home to a new state-of-the-art Topgolf sports and entertainment complex.

Enthusiasm about Topgolf is running high.

“It’d be awesome! Friends and everybody who thinks they know how to golf and everyone who says they know how to golf, let’s go out and have a few drinks and have some food,” said Christian Wilborn, who lives in Renton.

Topgolf officials have already created design plans for a nearly 14-acre property, located just South of The Landing shopping center. But Renton Mayor Denis Law says more steps have to be taken before the deal is sealed.

“I know that they’ve come in with some ideas. It’s kind of a pre-proposal. They’ve had a community meeting to discuss their plans. Our staff is working with their staff to figure out how we can put this all together,” Mayor Law said.

Last year, Topgolf held an event at Safeco Field to give fans a taste of what they offer. The Topgolf in Renton would include bars, restaurants and indoor games, and it’ll also offer low and high-rise apartment units.

“Going back to the Southport development, we’ve got thousands and thousands of employees are there every day and are looking for things to do when they get off work and restaurants to go to,” said Mayor Law.

Wilborn plays at Renton’s Maplewood Golf Course and says he loves the idea of Topgolf coming to Renton, but he isn’t too thrilled about having more housing units.

“Too many are already moving here. I’m a Washington native. So I don’t like it,” Wilborn said.

Mayor Law says it’s too early to say just how much of an impact Topgolf will have on Renton residents. But from the response he’s getting so far, a lot of people are looking forward to having fun and hitting a few rounds at Topgolf.

Mayor Law also says about half of Topgolf’s guests are not golfers so it’s entertainment for everyone.

A mockup of the proposed Topgolf facility in Renton, Wash. (Via the City of Renton)

Topgolf to Seattle? High-tech sports entertainment company proposes facility in Renton

Topgolf to Seattle? High-tech sports entertainment company proposes facility in Renton

A mockup of the proposed Topgolf facility in Renton, Wash. (Via the City of Renton)

Fast-growing high-tech sports entertainment company Topgolf has its eyes on the Seattle area with a new proposal to build a driving range facility on a nearly 14-acre parcel of land in Renton, Wash.

Topgolf is in preliminary stages to construct a new 3-story building as part of a mixed use development project nearby Boeing’s 737 production facility in Renton, a suburb 12 miles south of downtown Seattle, GeekWire has learned.

Topgolf held an initial community meeting on Thursday. It has yet to submit an official application to city planners.

“We are actively working to bring Topgolf to Renton and hope to have some exciting details to share in the near future,” said Devin Charhon, Topgolf’s director of real estate and development. GeekWire recently spotlighted Renton’s promise as a potential tech hub, with its proximity to Bellevue, Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport.

The proposed high-tech golfing site is a sprawling vacant lot just south of The Landing, a massive shopping and dining complex that opened in 2007. The 13.68-acre site is a former Boeing property; the airline giant sold it in 2010 for $10 million to an entity called ITF Developments, which is run by Gibson family, former owners of an aerospace-technology company from nearby Tukwila.

Preeti Shridhar, communications director for the City of Renton, said the mixed use development project would also include high-rise and low-rise apartment buildings; structured and surface parking; pedestrian-oriented space; a storm drainage detention facility; and other associated underground utilities.

“We are very excited and would love to have Topgolf in Renton,” said Shridhar.

(Topgolf Photo)

Topgolf has previously expressed interest in opening a facility in the Seattle region. It applied for a venue in Tacoma earlier this year. The company opened its first Pacific Northwest location in Portland two years ago and held a pop-up event at Safeco Field in 2017.

Q&A with Topgolf’s CEO about the popular sports entertainment company

“As a Seattle resident, I am the biggest advocate for having Topgolf in my backyard,” Erik Anderson, the co-chairman and CEO of Topgolf Entertainment Group, said at the GeekWire Sports Tech Summit in 2016. “We hope to make that dream a reality sometime in the next few years.”

Topgolf operates nearly 50 driving-range-meets-bowling-alley venues across the U.S. that welcome more than 17 million guests per year. Topgolf averaged 35,000 visits per day in 2017.

Its buildings feature 6-person hitting bays with microchipped golf balls that let people aim at targets and earn points. They also include bars, restaurants, hundreds of TV screens, indoor games, free WiFi, and space for music shows and corporate events. More than half of Topgolf guests are non-golfers.

Technology plays a key role for the Topgolf experience. The high-tech balls and sensor-laden targets allow customers to play games with different scoring formats.

“We’re able to create a game that is much more accessible to anybody,” Topgolf Media President YuChiang Cheng told GeekWire in 2016. “With traditional green grass golf, it’s pretty hard and quite frustrating to get the ball into a little hole. By having this technology, we can reward the player incrementally for the things they are doing. It’s much more open and there is less friction; it rewards all people participating.”

Topgolf, which originally started in London nearly two decades ago, also owns shot tracking technology Toptracer; operates its own Topgolf Tour; and will build esports lounges at six locations in 2019.

Renton, meanwhile, has undergone a resurgence in recent years in Seattle’s shadow and could be on the verge of becoming the newest Pacific Northwest tech hub. Real estate developer Seco Development is building a triumvirate of office towers designed for tech companies close to the proposed Topgolf site and also has plans to operate a water taxi between Southport and Seattle/Bellevue.

Editor’s note: GeekWire reporter Nat Levy contributed to this story.

The Dock

Renton’s resurgence: Built on Boeing’s back, this city is poised for a tech boom in Seattle’s shadow

As the sun sets over Lake Washington, a juxtaposition emerges in Renton, as the new Southport campus is flanked by a Boeing plant where 737 jetliners are constructed. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

RENTON, Wash. ― Manly Grinolds isn’t a fan of change. After all, the retired aerospace contractor has been coming to Rubattino’s for breakfast since he was 7 years old.

“This apartment, the one over here on Second and Main, that’s out of place,” Grinolds says, pointing in the direction of a new six-story complex in downtown Renton. “And it took away some of our view.”

Across the red counter at Renton’s oldest restaurant, Carl the Cook, as he prefers to be known, joins the conversation about this city’s future. Carl sees the proverbial writing — or dollar signs — on the wall. A growing economy, driven by a population that spiked 30 percent to more than 100,000 in the past decade, has created opportunity for investors.

“If you have money to play the Monopoly game,” says Carl, “you might really love Renton.”

Manly Grinolds, 61, was born and raised in Renton, Wash. and has been eating at Rubattino’s since the 1960s. He doesn’t like some of the changes happening around him, but still loves his city. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Twelve miles south of downtown Seattle, on the southeastern shore of Lake Washington, bordered by a giant regional mall on one side and a popular wildland park on the other, Renton has long been the butt of its larger neighbor’s jokes ― a city mostly disregarded with the exception of its Boeing assembly plant and the dreaded “S-curves” along Interstate 405. In a 1991 airing of the beloved Seattle TV show Almost Live, comedian John Keister called Renton a “pit.”

But times are changing. Momentum is building. Renton could be on the verge of becoming the newest Pacific Northwest tech hub.

Previously: GeekWire is hitting the road: We’re headed to Renton

Along the way, this city is emerging as a case study in both the promise of the new economy and the difficult challenges that come with it. Just how far can the tech boom extend beyond Seattle? Can Renton stay true to its longtime residents and their values? And if the transformation takes hold, can this city avoid problems such as housing affordability, gridlock and other challenges that have accompanied similar transformations elsewhere in the region and the country?

Blake Diers, a senior account manager at Amazon, is one of many tech employees who are migrating south from nearby neighbors such as Seattle or Bellevue, where the tech boom has caused housing prices to skyrocket. Diers believes that Renton could become not only a place where he and his girlfriend can afford a house with a yard, but also a major employment hub.

“Bringing in high-paying technology jobs is the only way Renton will be able to get out of the persona that has developed over the years and fix a lot of the problems that the city of Seattle has not been able to fix,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for economic development, better schools, decreased crime, and a tangible vision for a walkable neighborhood district.”

Renton has been home to Boeing’s 737 assembly plant since 1966. The popular planes take their maiden flights from the Renton airport. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Renton is home to a handful of small tech startups and Wizards of the Coast, the geeky company behind Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. Boeing is the city’s largest employer with more than 16,000 people helping assemble 737 aircraft, the best-selling jetliner in history, on a 229-acre site with 4.3 million square feet of building space. Paccar has a sizable manufacturing campus, and a flurry of aerospace suppliers call Renton home.

There are nearly 62,000 jobs in Renton, with an average salary of $54,315, according to Payscale. But the city, located just six miles from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is nowhere near the scale of the global tech and engineering hubs that have formed up north.

That could change if one real estate developer has its way.

Perhaps the most visible sign of Renton’s growth is the new Southport project, a triumvirate of office towers designed for tech companies totaling approximately 730,000 square-feet, right next door to Boeing’s factory on the shores of Lake Washington, adjacent to a 57-acre park, and just off Interstate 405. It also includes a completed apartment project and hotel.

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Seco Development, the real estate company behind the site, has plans to operate a water taxi between Southport and Seattle/Bellevue. It built Southport specifically with the growing tech industry in mind. [Editor’s Note: Seco is the underwriting sponsor of this kickoff of the GeekWire on the Road series.]

“Tech companies that are household names will all be present [in Renton] because this is the most logical place to grow in this region,” said Seco Development CEO Michael Christ. “I don’t see it happening further out. I don’t see any other place that has the availability and scalability of land.”

Tickets: GeekWire Live Podcast event in Renton at the Hyatt Regency at Southport on Nov. 1

There’s also a push from City Hall to help encourage development, make Renton more business friendly, and not rely so heavily on one industry or company such as Boeing. It issued more than 5,700 business permits in 2017 and private investment in the city eclipsed $500 million last year.

Denis Law, the city’s mayor since 2008, wants to attract tech companies of all types to Renton.

“I would love to see that,” the mayor told GeekWire last week in an interview at his office. “I would love to see a young workforce and young families coming into the area.”

Even with that enthusiasm, most large tech companies that have planted roots in the region in recent years — including Salesforce, Facebook, Google, Apple and dozens of others — have chosen the high-tech clusters of Seattle or Bellevue.

Renton Mayor Denis Law took office in 2008 and is the city’s first three-term mayor. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

But Renton has room. There is 4.3 million square feet of office space, according to Colliers International, the most of any market in South King County, and that doesn’t include the new Southport office buildings. Triton Towers, a 3-building complex on a 19-acre lot just off I-405 and SR-167, has more than 230,000 square feet available. New hotels including the Hyatt Regency and Hampton Inn have also recently opened.

Renton also has the priciest office rent across South King County, but the square-foot rate ($35.16) is cheaper than in Seattle or Bellevue.

While Renton proper isn’t chock-full of tech talent, it’s still in close proximity to the surrounding cities. Chris Cocks, president of Wizards of the Coast, said the company — founded by a former systems analyst at Boeing — uses the location of its 500-person Renton office as a recruiting advantage.

“It’s a fairly easy location for a lot of people to get to,” he said.

Gavin Fysh, founder at Bloqs, a Renton-based website developer, said his employees come from all around the region.

“If your startup is heavily-funded, go to Bellevue. You can afford heavy rents; you can afford the excess; you’re going to be poaching people from the large tech companies,” he said. “But if you do it like we did, building a more traditional business, I would suggest coming to Renton. It’s less expensive rent and you can get cool space that’s available.”

Gavin Fysh, founder at Bloqs, speaks with GeekWire at his company’s downtown Renton office. (City of Renton Photo / Ava Van)

But is Renton cool enough to attract young tech workers and up-and-coming companies that might grow into the next Microsoft or Amazon?

While it may not be quite as hip as Seattle or as fancy as Bellevue, the vibe in Renton might appeal to those looking for something different.

“In the long run, I think Renton will never be Seattle or Bellevue, but its own unique city with a different lifestyle and characteristics that I am personally learning to love,” said Alysha Perisho, another Amazonian who recently moved to Renton.

Added Sean Greenlee, a Starbucks executive and former U.S. Navy officer who arrived in Renton five years ago: “It’s not as overly pretentious as Bellevue and the money communities. There’s a lot of balance.”

Mary Hudspeth opened Four Generals Brewing two years ago in downtown Renton with her husband and son. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

People in Renton are “fun, kind, and caring,” said Mary Hudspeth, who helped open Four Generals Brewing in downtown Renton two years ago with her husband and son. It has been easy to make friends, she said. People look after each other here.

“It’s a funky place,” Hudspeth added. “But it’s really cool.”

Marley Shain Rall opened up The Brewmaster’s Taproom in 2016. “Until our taproom opened, there wasn’t a craft beer scene in Renton,” she said. (Will Forester Photo)

A flurry of new bars and restaurants have opened up around Renton, both at The Landing, an 11-year-old 600,000 square-foot shopping center, and downtown, where a series of revitalization projects are set to begin.

Marley Shain Rall owns The Brewmaster’s Taproom, another craft beer hotspot that has quickly turned into a popular local watering hole. Rall previously worked at non-profit organizations and helps organize monthly fundraisers at her bar.

She said Renton has a good mix of both new residents and longtime locals that get along with one another.

“Renton is really resilient,” she said. “It hasn’t had the turmoil you find in a lot of places where you have different economic zones mixing.”

Grinolds, the Renton native who has lived through the ups and downs in this city, knows that change is inevitable. And after all these years, he’s still eating at his favorite spot, volunteering for the high school basketball team, walking around the 29 parks, and enjoying life up the hill with his dogs and wife.

“If you move here, you’ll like it,” he tells me at the Rubattino’s bar over brunch last week. “I wouldn’t stay if I didn’t like it.”

Roots of Renton

A 737 final assembly line at Boeing’s Renton plant. (Boeing Photo)

Renton’s manufacturing history started decades before Boeing. The Denny-Renton Clay & Coal Company and The Seattle Car Manufacturing Company — known today as Paccar — both had Renton plants that opened in the early 1900s, a result of booming business up in Seattle. The city was named after Captain William Renton, a lumber and shipping entrepreneur whose investments helped lead to coal production in the region.

World War II sparked an economic surge for Renton. Paccar built B-17 wing spars and Sherman Tanks. Boeing arrived in 1941, opening its first production facility that pumped out B-29 heavy bombers.

“Population exploded overnight and we did not have the infrastructure,” said Sarah Samson, curator of collections and exhibitions at the Renton History Museum.

Sarah Samson, curator of collections and exhibitions at the Renton History Museum. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Could history repeat itself in Renton, with another boom in Seattle spilling south? Add a potential major tech company landing at Southport, as politicians and developers so desire, along with a budding healthcare industry (Providence and Kaiser Permanente, which has a 29-acre campus in Renton, already employ thousands), and Renton will be dealing with some serious growing pains.

Vicky Baxter, CEO of the Renton Chamber of Commerce. (Vicky Baxter Photo)

“The city will change radically as it has in the last 15 years,” said Vicky Baxter, CEO of the Renton Chamber of Commerce, who relocated from Newport Beach, Calif. five years ago. “Some people will embrace the change and others will not. My hope is millennials who are attracted to Renton for all the attributes found here will engage in public service, continuing to build on the legacy of successes.”

Transportation and affordable housing challenges are top of mind for Mayor Law, who called traffic around Renton “horrendous.”

While Renton’s central location makes it well-positioned, it also causes major highway backups in and out of the city. The evening commute from Seattle to Renton and Bellevue to Renton exceeds 20 minutes, according to INRIX data, but that can oftentimes go longer with the current traffic conditions.

Law also said the city needs to get creative with its housing mix, “so people who aren’t necessarily living on two six-figure incomes can afford to live and work here.”

Policy leaders will need to balance creation of affordable housing with an increasing amount of mid-century homes being torn down and turned into multi-million dollar properties.

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Renton had the fastest population increase of any Washington city between 2000 and 2010. That has led to higher housing prices: the median home value last month was $467,000, up from $338,000 in 2008, according to Zillow data. But the spike isn’t as pronounced as Seattle, where the median home value went from $427,600 to $739,600.

“Renton’s advantage is rooted in being a more affordable city with access to Seattle jobs,” said Skylar Olsen, Zillow’s director of economic research and outreach.

Median rent values are more similar — $2,236 for Renton in September, compared to $2,479 in Seattle. Still, rents have increased 34 percent over the past five years in Renton.

That means people may not be able to afford Renton any longer, just like how some long-time Seattleites have been pushed out.

Will Renton keep its funk?

The Jimi Hendrix Memorial sits at Greenwood Memorial Park, where the legendary musician was buried. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Renton’s population is 49 percent white; 19 percent Asian; 17 percent Hispanic; and 8 percent black. More than 100 languages are spoken inside its school district, which is the eighth-most diverse in the nation, according to Niche. It’s home to top-rated cuisine from around the world, from Thai to Mexican to Indian. (One of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s favorite restaurants is in the city.)

Popular attractions cover a wide spectrum. There’s the Jimi Hendrix Memorial; the Northwest’s first IKEA; and the Seattle Seahawks headquarters, which is packed with football fans who flock to the VMAC during training camp.

Even Renton’s library has a funky twist: it’s the only one in the U.S. built over a river.

Randall Olson, manager at 8-Bit Arcade Bar. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

And for the geeks, there’s a giant Fry’s Electronics, an impressive comic book shop, and the 8-Bit Arcade Bar, another a local favorite. That’s where you’ll find Randall Olson, a manager at 8-Bit who has the best beard in Renton.

“It’s a fun place to be,” said Olson, 32, a life-long Renton resident. “Everyone thinks they have to go to downtown Seattle to go have fun. They don’t know what Renton is like.”

But not all of the geeks feel welcome. Renton City Comicon, known as RenCon, moved its geekfest to nearby Tukwila this year after what organizers claimed was a lack of political support for the festival, which was seeking $30,000 in supporting funds from the City of Renton.

“Renton is a blue collar town. It’s the Boeing guys. And it’s a World War II coal mining town…. Right now, Renton is really struggling to find its next identity,” RenCon’s Ben Andrews told last month.

That raises the question: Can Renton maintain its unique culture and small town feel as more tech companies and money and newcomers possibly start to change the dynamic of the city, much like what happened to Seattle and Bellevue?

A lot is riding on the 2019 election, said Marcie Palmer, a former Renton City Councilmember. Next August, residents will vote for mayor and three city council positions.

“I don’t know if I’d call it a ‘battle’ but there is a growing influx of new ideas and younger energy which views Renton differently than long-time participants,” she said. “With new ideas and energy, there is definitely resistance to change from some who have been the decision-makers for many years. The 2019 elections will be the most interesting in over a decade and could likely change the future of Renton.”

James Williamson moved to Renton from Ballard 14 years ago and has worked at St. Charles Place Antiques ever since. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

James Williamson credits younger leaders at City Hall for helping make Renton a better place to live and work compared to when he first moved to the city from Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood 15 years ago.

“It used to be where you couldn’t walk downtown Renton without being picked on by teenagers at the transit center or a drug user or having needles everywhere,” said Williamson, who works at St. Charles Place Antiques. “You can’t find that here as much anymore.”‘

Williamson knows Renton has a bad reputation. But he feels strongly that Renton is changing in a positive way.

“Get out of the damn vehicle and walk around, because Renton is not what it used to be,” he said. “It’s changed for the better and will continue to change for the better.”

Steve Morales (left) and Alex Castillo work at Dpad Retro Gaming & Collectables in downtown Renton, (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Renton seems to be getting more popular, said Steve Morales, owner of the Dpad Retro Gaming & Collectables video game store that opened last year. Morales welcomes the idea of more businesses setting up shop in the city and believes it will help grow the local economy.

Alex Castillo, a manager at the store, agreed. He knows housing costs and property rents may rise if a big tech company lands in Renton — and he’s fine with that.

“There will be more population because of that company,” Castillo said. “They will be exploring the city and ideally it brings in more customers. Yes, it could mean our rents increase. But for us, we might be able to survive because of that constant flow of traffic.”

GeekWire reporters Nat Levy and Kurt Schlosser contributed to this story. 

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