Fred Hutch leases historic Lake Union Steam Plant building

Deal will expand Seattle campus in 2019 and help accelerate cancer research
Steam plant as seen from Lake Union
The historic Seattle City Light Steam Plant overlooking Lake Union will house laboratories and support services for up to 200 Fred Hutch employees beginning in fall 2019. Photo courtesy of Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has signed a 10-year lease for the historic Seattle City Light Steam Plant building located just up the street from its South Lake Union campus.

The deal, signed June 5 by the Hutch board of trustees with building owner Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc., will provide research space on a 1-acre waterfront site for up to 200 Hutch employees. They are expected to move in the fall of 2019 and will occupy lab and office modules built by ZymoGenetics, a biotechnology firm that converted the historic electric power generating plant into a modern research center in 1993 and has occupied it ever since.

Overlooking Lake Union in the heart of Seattle, the landmark Steam Plant is easily recognized by motorists on Interstate 5 because of its six smokestacks — nonfunctioning replicas installed when the property received historic preservation status in 1994.

Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch, said the renovated industrial facility — a six-minute stroll from his office at the center of the Hutch’s Robert W. Day campus — was an ideal addition.

“With world-class lab space already onsite, the Steam Plant saves us time that [constructing a new lab building on campus] would otherwise require, while providing another base for the critical work our growing team of researchers, faculty and staff do every day,” he said.

Gary Gilliland
Dr. Gary Gilliland, Fred Hutch president and director Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Gilliland has appointed an internal committee to evaluate which research teams and staff might be located in the new facility. The committee is expected to make recommendations to Hutch leadership by September.

Terms of the new lease, which takes effect in June 2019, were not disclosed. The Steam Plant will provide the Hutch with 106,000 square feet of space, including five floors for laboratories, support services and offices; and two levels of parking below the building.

The right place at the right time

In its new role, the Steam Plant will continue to house advanced cancer research. Current occupant ZymoGenetics, founded in 1981 to develop proteins for treating cancer, was one of the first biotechnology companies in the U.S. The company’s renovation of the Steam Plant was an important addition to the science-based industries starting to settle in South Lake Union.

In 2010, ZymoGenetics was sold to New York pharmaceuticals giant Bristol-Myers Squibb, which in December 2016 announced it would not renew the Steam Plant lease when it expires next May. Hutch leadership, in the midst of hiring new faculty for an accelerated push to develop new cures for cancer, was immediately interested in the property.

“When you are nearly out of lab space, with all the recruiting that is going on, this facility allows us to continue to grow,” said Scott Rusch, vice president for Facilities and Operations at the Hutch. “This is a smaller increment of growth than constructing our own new building, but we can occupy it next year, as opposed to three or four years out for a bigger, more expensive option.”

Rusch said the laboratory space that will become available should be attractive to recruits as well as current faculty. “It’s an iconic building,” he said. “It’s right on the water. It has floor-to-ceiling windows and lots of natural light. The views from the lab benches are incredible.”

A new chapter to Hutch history in South Lake Union

Kelly O’Brien, vice president for Philanthropy at Fred Hutch, said she believes the ready-to-occupy nature of the Steam Plant will be attractive to donors who wish to help faculty members outfit new laboratory space or launch new research programs. The Hutch plans to raise funds to support the expansion and infrastructure for collaborative science.

The move to the Steam Plant not only expands the Hutch campus; it also opens a new chapter in the history of the Hutch, which acquired the South Lake Union campus site in a series of real estate transactions beginning in 1988. Since then, that once rundown district has become one of the most desirable tracts in the country for high-tech businesses, large and small.

“We staked out this corner of Seattle early on,” O'Brien said. “Look what else has grown around us: South Lake Union became a hub for innovation and science.”

Read more about Fred Hutch achievements and accolades.

Sabin Russell is a former staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. For two decades he covered medical science, global health and health care economics for the San Francisco Chronicle, and he wrote extensively about infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. He was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and a freelance writer for the New York Times and Health Affairs. 

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