Market Perspectives – Complex Site Development

Demand for centrally located property in Seattle remains high, despite health and economic concerns from the Covid-19 global pandemic. But geographic constraints, in addition to the waning supply of developable parcels, makes new development increasing difficult.

GIS views these market obstacles more like opportunities — for specialization. We have a long history of developing and constructing buildings on highly complex urban parcels characterized by the following conditions:

  • Environment clean-up
  • Tight urban parcels
  • Steep slope sites

Oftentimes, we find ourselves taking on development projects that many of our competitors pass on, for a variety of reasons. One example is the Park 12 townhome community, on a former dump site, we built recently near the Spring District. The site was close to sensitive wetlands, and GIS restored a portion of a salmon-bearing creek that runs through the property.  We also replaced fallen trees with new plantings home to a wide range of at-risk birds and insects.

Our team is currently constructing GIS Plaza, situated on a tiny (quarter-block) parcel in downtown Bellevue. The site is too small for traditional subterranean parking, so we’re installing a fully mechanical parking system at the building, with the help of noted partner SkB Architects. It’s Bellevue’s first of its kind, providing 21 stalls in a space that typically would accommodate just seven cars.

Steep-slope sites have historically deterred developers, specifically for single-family homes. Not GIS. We recently built one of the region’s most tech-advanced homes, Alta Vista, in Bellevue. It’s located on a 100% slope so, like any successful project, we needed experienced partners. Our structural engineer Pasko with CK Engineering, helped us to install 29 auger cast pilings, some 75 feet long, to retain the hillside and provide stability to the home, which sold in 2017 for $2.6 million.

Project Site Tour

Madison Plaza in Kent

GIS recently started construction on Madison Plaza, a 7-story mixed-use residential building with 157 market-rate units over a 2-floor retail podium. The site is unbeatable — just steps away from Kent Station, the ShoWare Center, and a host of other local service and lifestyle amenities.

Designed by IHB Architects, Madison Plaza features a robust on-site amenities program – 1,200 SF of ground-floor retail, secure entry lobby, water features, fitness center, game-room lounge area, bike storage and washing, turf and dog run, BBQs and a 12,000-SF rooftop gathering space, to name just a few. The building will also have 157 parking stalls for residents and their guests.

Madison Plaza is perfect for working professionals, particularly those in the tech space. And, there’s tremendous demand for upscale apartment homes in the area, with most existing projects at least 3 years old. Construction will be complete in approximately 24 months. 

The Executive Minute

Eugene Gershman, CEO, GIS Companies Group

 Q: What are the most critical issues facing the future health of our industry?

A: There are several, for sure, with a couple that immediately come to mind. First, the regulatory climate has become a major issue for new project development and permitting, especially with the complexity of commercial projects, evolving infrastructure, and the recent pandemic. The barriers to entry are now so high that the separation between giant projects and infill developments is becoming wider and wider every year.

The other issue, which is related, that I think about frequently these days is the remote-work environment. Its adoption in construction and real estate has been pretty seamless, in fact. But as industry professionals become used to remote working, it’s getting harder to convince them that real, one-to-one face time remains critical for problem resolution, team cohesion and collaboration. In addition, measuring employee performance remains a significant issue — and sometimes, a challenge — in today’s remote work environment.

 Q: What are our most profound obstacles to growth in this region?

A: Overregulation is by far the most profound obstacle to growth in our region. Real estate development is such a complicated process, requiring such a lengthy approval process, that it sometimes can create unnecessary barriers. These barriers limit supply, which in turn causes indefinite cost escalation. A typical commercial project takes between 18 to 24 months to permit, on average. Inconsistencies in review process, and uncertainty in jurisdictional interpretation of certain codes can increase the cost of new projects — therefore, causing an ultimate increase in housing prices. A more streamlined approval and permitting process for single- and multi-family residential projects could help significantly reduce housing costs, an outcome that we can all embrace.

Q: Describe a couple of opportunities for market expansion that GIS will leverage moving forward

A: GIS is focused on multi- and single-family residential projects. We are greatly concerned with the homelessness crisis in our area and would love to bring an affordable housing project to the market in the near future.

Q: How has Covid-19 had a positive change on the way you conduct business on a daily basis?

GIS was able to set up a reliable remote work environment to allow our office to perform most of their required tasks from home (excluding construction field operations). In the beginning of lockdown, we introduced company-wide weekly “virtual happy hours,” which have become important team-building exercises. These meetings are optional, but most team members do sign in for some social interaction every Friday afternoon. We play virtual games, share stories, and tell jokes, which is very important for people who do not normally interact on a daily basis.

Q: What do you believe is truly unique about the Puget Sound region compared to other markets?

A: I think it’s our access to top-level talent in this market. I learned in early 2000s when attending UW’s Foster School of Business that students who move to this area, and those who grow up here, do not typically move away. With the tremendous growth of tech and aerospace companies, the Puget Sound region is quickly becoming a major new workforce hub. That became especially evident when large tech companies from the Silicon Valley began establishing their secondary location in this market — Apple, Facebook, and Google, to name a few.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

A: First, I am pretty hands on. I like diving deep into issues, interacting personally with clients and investors, and participating in project meetings. It is becoming more challenging as the company grows, so I am dedicating more of my time to company growth and development.

Q: Who has had the most profound impact on your career?

A: Definitely my father. He literally and figuratively raised me to join and run the company. When graduating college with a degree in economics, I initially thought that I would make my own career in the financial services industry. However, after completing my MBA a few years later my father gave me an opportunity to set up and run a small branch office of GIS. My finance background helped me to get started, but with his guidance I was able to advance my leadership skills.

Q: Name a public figure (in or outside your industry) you most admire, and why

A: I’d have to choose business/tech leaders like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs for their charisma, devotion to their goals and bravery when faced with adversity.

Q: Name an interesting movie you’ve seen recently that has changed the way you look at life

A: “The Game Changers,” a documentary. I recently eliminated most animal products from my diet. I didn’t go on a very strict plant-based lifestyle as the film suggests but drastically reduced my meat and poultry consumption. I still enjoy seafood or fish once or twice a week and do have occasional cheese, but otherwise mostly eat plant-based food.

Q: What do you do in your spare time (assuming no Covid restrictions)

A: I rarely have spare time, but I am passionate about music. I continue studying music theory and practicing guitar and piano — time permitting. It is also fun to jam with my kids, who are getting more and more fluent in music these days. I am happy to admit that my oldest daughter (13) is a much better piano player than I am. We started learning together when she was 5.

 GIS In the News

Eastside Development Company Ramps Up With Bellevue, Kent Projects

Puget Sound Business Journal, Mar. 16, 2020

Real Perspectives Podcast: Ryan Grams and Eugene Gershman, GIS Companies Group

The Registry Seattle, May 21, 2020