Hi-Lands Shopping Center property stays vacant after developer drops project

The Solera project, slated to create 670 residential units, now lacks a developer

The 11-acre project meant to replace the Greater Hi-Lands Shopping Center has been dropped by the company involved, according to city staff.

The Solera Project, which would include 670 residential units including town homes, a commercial space, daycare and two public streets, no longer has a developer after Quadrant Homes dropped the project. Meanwhile, the shopping center stands vacant unless a new company takes interest or the current property owner makes changes.

If not, the shopping center might instead sit as a blight for the Sunset area. It might also hurt other property redevelopment in Sunset, city councilmember Randy Corman said. Renton has made substantial investments in the area with utilities, sewers and water in preparation of this project.

“This shopping center has been ground zero of the Highland redevelopments for probably 20 years at least,” Corman said.

The loss of the Solera Project came as a shock to Corman at the March 18 Committee of the Whole meeting. He said at the meeting he didn’t want to end up losing everyone’s favorite Thai restaurant to just sit with a dilapidated shopping center for a length of time.

Corman later said he spoke with city administrator Chip Vincent afterwards who reassured him others might be interested in developing the project.

The entitlement of the site, approved by the hearing examiner, is good for five years for another company to purchase from Quadrant, Renton Senior Planner Matt Herrera said. Since that remains, Herrera said it’s not all doom and gloom. And the project could possibly be split by different companies as well.

However, if developers wish to change the project they will need to submit a new application, he said.

An interested party would also need to buy the property. The owner of the Greater Hi-Lands Shopping Center had not yet sold the site to Quadrant.

The city was unhappy when the owner chose to evict tenants, including a longstanding barber shop, before the deal had even been completed, Herrera said. He said the city didn’t have any control over the owner’s choice, but it wasn’t ideal.

“They hadn’t sold the property yet and were already evicting tenants. And then this happens,” Herrera said.

Corman also said he was disappointed, and doesn’t understand what led the eviction to happen so early.

Jennifer Bell, managing agent for Great Hi-Lands property with JSH Properties, said she was unable to comment.

Quadrant knew there was likely contamination on the site, from an old dry cleaner that had been closed for years. Herrera said he assumes Quadrant realized the cost was more than they initially thought to clean it up.

In addition to this, Quadrant lost it’s mixed-use construction partner, meant to construct the day care and commercial space buildings.

Quadrant’s Vice President for Land Acquisition Pete Nichols said they were unable to discuss why they left the project, but did say the cleanup costs for the laundry had been accounted for.

Since Quadrant is a home developer, they weren’t able to move forward on the town home-portion of the project until the mixed-use building was started, as a condition of approval by the Hearing Examiner in the purchase of sale agreement.

That condition would remain in place for any company that decides to takeover the project, Herrera said.

In land-use documents, the city and Quadrant had just renegotiated the original condition on Jan. 30 to construct the mixed-use building first, after the hearing examiner found the city didn’t have that authority. Instead, the condition is that the mixed-use building must have permits paid first before town home construction begins.

As a resident in the area, Corman said it’s important there’s a shopping and retail component in this project.

It’s unfortunate after all the efforts and negotiation that went in with the city and Quadrant for over a year, Herrera said.

“It’s a lot of work, and probably the largest project I’ve ever worked on,” Herrera said. “I’ve been doing this for 14 years and it was exciting to work on this.”

It was a huge shock for Herrera, after the time and work went into this, that they dropped out. He said he felt they had a good working relationship.

“In my experience, it doesn’t happen very often where applicants walk away after getting their entitlements,” Herrera said.

Nichols said Quadrant also had a positive experience with the city, and that Solera will be a great project for the Sunset neighborhood. Again, he said Quadrant was unable to comment on the internal decision to leave the project.

Construction hadn’t yet started, it was anticipated for early next year. It’s still possible, if a company were to quickly swoop in, to start construction in 2020.

Herrera said the code allows very minor modifications, but a new developer can’t do anything major like changing the density or move around buildings. Because of this, Herrera said he’s not concerned the project could drastically change.

The construction permits for this project are several million dollars and the chances of someone walking away after investing that money are slight, Herrera said.

“If things are going to fall apart, it’s going to happen during the entitlement period before construction starts,” Herrera said.

The Solera Project was currently in that period.

For now, responsibility for the empty shopping center rests with the current owner, Herrera said. A representative for the property was unable to comment on if they will be doing anything with the shopping center in the interim.

Corman said it’s really important something happens quickly with the center. It might even be best for the current owner to tear down the shopping center, he suggested.

While they can probably handle six to 12 months, Corman said if it looks to be two years of an empty shopping center council will probably look into that.

“We’re trying to do a revitalization, not end up with a shuttered shopping center,” Corman said at the meeting. “It’s been such a long road to get here.”

The Renton Reporter previously covered the details of the Solera Project and the eviction of one of the tenants of the Hi-Lands Shopping Center.

A vacant coffee stand sits among what was the Greater Hi-Lands Shopping Center. Quadrant Homes, the developer set to build on the property, recently backed out of the project. Photo by Haley Ausbun.

A vacant coffee stand sits among what was the Greater Hi-Lands Shopping Center. Quadrant Homes, the developer set to build on the property, recently backed out of the project. Photo by Haley Ausbun.