Design option C for the Leary Hotel. Image courtesy of SDCI.

New hotel in Ballard to be named Leary Hotel, design details revealed

Developer responds to criticism

Plans for a new hotel in Ballard are drawing the attention of Balladites and details for what the new six-story hotel on Leary Avenue will look like were revealed at a recent design guidance meeting; plans show the building aspect will be keeping with the historic Ballard aesthetic.

Three design options were presented at the meeting at the end of October, and the Seattle Department of Construction Design Review Board preferred the developer’s preference, which was option C.

Plans for project #3025228 show a five-story hotel with four live-work units, 10,500 square feet of retail and below-grade parking for 213 vehicles. Mike Skidmore of Skidmore-Janette Architecture Planning Design presented at the meeting. It was confirmed at that the building exterior would be brick and stone base to middle with cornerstones that are similar to buildings on Ballard Avenue, a historic district.

“We want to create a building that has a sense of permanence. We are not trying to recreate the past, but we want to respect the past and do something with a material that has a permanence that will weather well and that is a key element to all three of our massing options,” said Skidmore.

Other details about infrastructure were revealed, such as the parking entryway being on Leary Avenue, the City possibly constructing curb bulbs at Vernon and 20th Avenue Northwest and a 10–foot green space walkway separating the Eagles building to the north.

The property at 5244 Leary Ave N.W. was once owned by the Salmon Bay Aerie of the Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E.) but was sold to Jim Riggle – owner of the new hotel, the Olympic Athletic Club and Hotel Ballard – last year after a controversial battle among members and trustees.

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Site at 20th Avenue Northwest and Leary Avenue where Leary Hotel is planned to be constructed.

Riggle commented on the project.

“We had our planners design the green space walkway of the Leary Hotel to be consistent with our purchase agreement, and we did take special consideration to develop a pleasing green space walkway,” said Riggle.

Riggle also confirmed that the new hotel would be called the Leary Hotel.

“As someone who has lived and worked in Ballard for most of my life, I am proud to be planning my second hotel, the Leary Hotel. It is named for the street it is on. It has been great working with my current hotel team to plan the second one, and I look forward to the next steps in the planning process. … We do not view the Leary Hotel as an overly-large projects and we feel that it fits the scale of the neighborhood’s newer buildings. … Not only are we proud to be planning our second hotel in Historic Ballard, we are also excited to create a hotel that keeps with the historical look and character of the neighborhood.”

Ballard News-Tribune readers expressed concern for what the hotel would look like and named the aspect of Hotel Ballard to justify their concerns. A recent BNT report quoted comments from The Stranger that revealed some Seattle residents’ opinion of the hotel aesthetic.

"You don't see any problems with a behemoth of yellow stucco punctuated by air conditioning vents and balconies that wandered in from a Southern Plantation mail-order catalog? You have no qualms about archways of chalky, chunky sandstone on loan from the Magic Kingdom collection? The entire Hotel Ballard facade (and the hotel interior, I'm told), screams of money without context or taste."

"Horrid horrid horrid hotel. ... It looks it was transplanted from suburban Phoenix."

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Jim Riggle received praise and criticism for the design of Hotel Ballard. The stark contrast shows the traditional red brick seen in the historic district of Ballard and the sandstone and stucco of Hotel Ballard. Shane Harms/Ballard News-Tribune

Riggle responded to the criticism.

“Your article in the Ballard News Tribune was the first we have heard of criticism of the sandstone look. … Our success is thanks in part to the beautiful rooms, the level of personalized customer service we provide and the unique and lively neighborhood of Ballard that our guests are able to enjoy.”

“In order for us to be able to begin planning our second hotel, we first had to ensure the success of Hotel Ballard. When we planned and built Hotel Ballard not many people felt that we would be successful and many had their doubts. …We continuously receive compliments on the look and design of Hotel Ballard. … Please remember, the design of Hotel Ballard was approved by the Ballard Avenue Landmark District Board. They would only approve building plans that thoroughly match the design elements of the Ballard Ave Historic District.”

Incidentally, Riggle was on the District Board when the design for Hotel Ballard was approved, something many Ballardites shared criticism of. Abiding to board rules, Riggle abstained from voting during the design decision and was not in the room during the presentation and discussion.

Other criticism has been pointed at Riggle. He was recently called “shady” when the Olympic Athletic Club offered their members paid membership to the Eagles fraternity in order to sway a vote in favor of Riggle purchasing the Eagle’s property. A flyer OAC circulated in their club told members a 400-unit parking structure would be constructed at the site if Riggle secured the purchase. The vote favored the sale, but plans for the property changed.

In addition, Riggle was also criticized in 2011 when the OAC was sued for attempting to void lifetime OAC membership contracts when it changed their name on their business license but retained the same governance (Olympic Racquet and Health Club to Sewanee, Inc).

Despite the criticism, Riggle believes he’s helping the Ballard community by constructing the hotel and that it will bring economic growth by adding new jobs and bringing visitors to Ballard.

“The Leary Hotel will provide more jobs for Ballard residents and create more business for the surrounding restaurants, retail shops and service providers. It will allow family visitors, tourists and business travelers alike to stay in Downtown Ballard and allow them to enjoy all that Ballard has to offer.”

“Having two hotels that fit the historic look and character of the neighborhood is keeping with our goal to celebrate the history of Ballard and my family’s attachment to it. Remember, I live in Ballard, as have the generations before me and as will the generations after me.”

There will be one more public meeting for the project coming up in the next few months but it has not been scheduled. After the early design guidance phase is over and if the project is passed it would also need a Master Use Permit, which requires SDCI to examine the design and environmental impacts.

Follow the Ballard News-Tribune as this story develops.

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