There Goes The Neighborhood -- The Only Thing For Sure As Adobe Raises A Giant, $50 Million Complex Is That Fremont Will Never Be The Same

Lenin might call it an outsized ode to capitalism. The Fremont Troll might glare more menacingly at the thought of all the cars that will pass by. An eyesore, exclaims Caroline Dodge, the real-life manager of the Still Life in Fremont Coffeehouse. Blarney, counters landowner Suzie Burke: The mega office-retail complex taking shape on her property in fact will knit the community together.

More than Fremont's larger-than-life statue of Lenin, its Volkswagen-clutching Troll or the huddled commuters perpetually Waiting for the Interurban, Adobe Systems'new headquarters rising above the Fremont Bridge has become the talk of this self-proclaimed Center of the Universe.

Will folksy, artsy Fremont go upscale? Will rents blow through the ceiling? Will the neighborhood choke on traffic?

While merchants say they welcome the chance to do more business, they're also worried they'll be priced out of their leases, views will be blocked and Fremont, a haven for small businesses surviving on cheap rents, will lose its soul.

"We've known that part of the canal was going to get developed. It's been no secret," said Charlotte Buchanan, owner of GlamOrama, the clothing and variety store on Fremont Avenue North. Nevertheless, "it's kind of like St. Helens going off. You never thought it really would until it blew."

While she believes Adobe was a good choice as a tenant, Buchanan said she wishes the area could have been developed differently, perhaps with a public market and some bed and breakfasts.

"(But) reality sets in," Buchanan said. "There is more money developing it in a big way."

Quadrant, a subsidiary of Weyerhaeuser Real Estate, has been planning an office-retail development along the Lake Washington Ship Canal for years. Called Quadrant Lake Union Center, the development includes Adobe's two-building complex and plans for up to six more buildings on the east and west sides of the Fremont Bridge.

Quadrant broached the idea in 1989 for land it would lease from Suzie Burke's Fremont Dock Co. It opened a 40,000-square-foot Sound Mind & Body fitness center on the west side of the bridge last year.

But it wasn't until late last year, when the Adobe project began to eclipse views from the Fremont Bridge, that the magnitude of the development hit home.

Along with the loss of views, merchants, customers and residents are concerned about traffic snarls. The Red Door Alehouse at North 34th Street and Fremont Avenue North has lost street parking from construction. Adobe, a publisher of desktop software, will be bringing in 550 employees when it moves to the site in July from Pioneer Square. Compounding the situation, Seattle is talking about closing in several years all or part of the Fremont Bridge for six to 20 months of seismic repairs.

"It is like everything is being done at once, and not to the benefit of the neighborhood," said Alfa Zinkus, co-owner of the Red Door.

Of course, there is a flip side to the Adobe project, too, one that Zinkus and other local merchants readily acknowledge.

"Yeah, it's going to be 550 new faces to feed. I mean, everybody in town is thrilled for the business," said Dodge, general manager of the Still Life on North 35th Street just off Fremont Avenue North.

Like others, Ron Reed, manager of the Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop on Fremont North, sees Adobe as a progressive neighbor.

"If I was going to have a large corporate office in there, I would rather have it be Adobe," Reed said.

Adobe officials say they're eager to be involved in Fremont and the broader community.

Proponents say it is too early to judge the Quadrant Lake Union Center's effect on the surrounding neighborhood. While views will be blocked, the public for the first time will have direct access to the shore of the ship canal, thanks to a new plaza and set of steps that will cascade from 34th, past the Adobe offices and down to a picnic area by the water. Quadrant also is extending the Burke-Gilman Trail along the water's edge under the Fremont Bridge.

"People may not quite see what is there yet," says Burke, whose father, J.R. Burke, ran a millwork and industrial center on the southern half of North 34th Street. "I tell them we are knitting the damn city back together here. We are going to have four corners in Fremont instead of two holes in the ground. Can you imagine that?"

Today, Suzie Burke is the largest landowner in Fremont with more than 30 acres of industrial and retail property. In addition to the 20-acre Quadrant site, she's landlord to such businesses as the Red Door Alehouse.

"This community has suffered from not having one large business," Suzie Burke says. "In the U-District you have the University of Washington and Safeco Insurance. In Ballard, you've got Ballard Hospital. We haven't had that since my father closed the mill."

Right now, the $50 million Adobe complex, wrapped in yellow moisture barrier, looks massive and out of place. But Barbara Chilcote, the Quadrant vice president overseeing the project, said the buildings' bulk will be broken up by varying heights and exterior materials.

On the building fronting 34th, for example, one part will be red brick. The middle portion will have ribbed metal bands, and another section will be a sandy-colored brick. It will have some whimsical touches, in keeping with Fremont's character: a series of "laughing fish" will hold the frames of buildingcanopies in their mouths. Public art will dot the site.

As for traffic, Chilcote noted Adobe is not your typical 9-to-5 company. Some workers will begin arriving around 6 a.m. Others won't leave until 9 p.m. or later. The Quadrant project will provide on-site parking. Workers will be encouraged to take buses, bikes, or van- and car-pools, said Julie Humling, Adobe's director of business services.

"I can't say there will be fewer cars because that doesn't make sense," Chilcote said. "I can say Adobe has a very, very aggressive commute-trip-reduction program. The fact that Adobe has people coming and going at all different times of the day and night will help spread the traffic out."

With parking and congestion already a problem, the neighborhood is bracing nonetheless.

It also is waiting to see what kind of stores Quadrant will put into the Adobe project's 5,000 square feet of retail space.

"We're all concerned that rents might go through the roof," said Lena Parsons, owner of Troll Art, an arts-and-craft supply store a block north of the Adobe project. "I think it is going to bring a whole new clientele to Fremont. What I've decided is this: It is either going to make me or break me."

Quadrant has not leased that space, but it will not be putting in national chains or fast food restaurants, Chilcote said. It is looking for "Fremont-friendly"stores that people who live and work in Fremont will want to patronize.

With Fremont's growing popularity, base retail rents were escalating before the Adobe project. They now reportedly go for between $12 and $24 a square foot a year. Quadrant is asking between $15.50 and $18 a square foot for retail space in the Adobe development, Chilcote said.

A planned Fred Meyer store at Salmon Bay between Fremont and Ballard also added to community angst. A group of local residents and merchants - Save Our Industrial Land (SOIL) - recently withdrew its appeal of the project after the Portland-based merchandiser agreed to put 38 percent of the 19.9-acre site off-limits to retail development for 30 years and to promote marine and industrial uses on 7.6 acres; commit $105,000 to neighborhood traffic, pedestrian and bicycle-path improvements; and design a store compatible with the industrial area.

The long-standing Fred Meyer controversy dissipated the energy of a number of Fremont activists, said Tom Sparks, a neighborhood leader.

"They didn't have a lot of energy left over to put toward the Adobe project," despite their opposition to its size and bulk, he said.

Adobe's Humling said she understands how residents might be shocked to see the buildings for the first time.

"What they don't see yet is the public spaces they haven't had before: the plaza, the landscaping, how they'll be able to walk from the Interurban to the water. They don't see the good parts yet."

Suzie Burke, the property owner, thinks Fremont will change less than people fear it will.

"Fremont is funky, friendly Fremont," she said. "In five, 10 years from now, it's going to be funky, friendly Fremont. You don't change Fremont readily. Fremont changes you. I think Adobe is looking forward to that."

Lee Moriwaki's phone message number is 206-464-2320. His e-mail address is: ------------------------------- Construction completed:

1. Sound Mind & Body Gym

40,000 sq. ft.

Under construction: 2. Adobe Waterfront building

161,000 sq. ft. 3. Plaza Building

93,000 sq. ft. Adobe, 37,000

sq. ft. office; 5,000 sq. ft. retail.

Future construction: 4. Evanston Building

50,000 sq. ft. 5. Canal View Building

50,000 sq. ft. 6. Phase II-West

162,000 sq. ft. 7. Lake View Building