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Like Sinatra, Seattle developer Martin Selig's defining song could be 'I did it my way'

Frank Sinatra's defining song "I did it my way" would be equally appropriate for Seattle developer Martin Selig, except that Selig, at the age of 77, continues to do it his way.

 

"His way" includes buying or constructing buildings on his own (meaning no partners) at a relentless pace, taking far-flung solo trips on his Harley Davidson motorcycle (he recently returned from circling Switzerland) and turning out paintings that demand a high price when he donates one to a charity auction.

At a recent question-and-answer session at the Columbia Tower Club as part of the 30th anniversary activities of the club Selig founded atop the 76-story building that is his signature project, which is also marking 30 years, he reflected on his decades impacting the face of Seattle-area development.  

Selig bought his first building and founded Martin Selig real estate in 1958 while still a college student and recalled at the q and a session that he put $2,000 down on what was a $50,000 building on the edge of University Village, which came into existence later on.

That first purchase began a process of acquisition and development which today has Martin Selig Real Estate having developed more than 7.7 million square feet of first-class mid- to high-rise office space, representing about a third of the downtown Seattle office market.

Selig first got involved in shopping centers, building them then bringing in occupants before selling them.

He used the proceeds from sale of the shopping center to buy his first building, a one-story structure in the Lower Queen Anne area that in 1969 led to the development of his first commercial office building, which was a five-story, 60,000-square foot project.  

That began a process in which Selig developed a building a year over the next two decades, including the Columbia Center, which he explained to the audience was "merely like building eight buildings at a one time."

Once part of a group of local CEOs who donned leathers and rode off together on their Harleys to become known as "Hell's Rotarians," Selig has seen the group mostly retire and put away their bikes, leaving his trips to be solo ventures.

He told the audience at the Tower Club interview that he is sending one of his bikes to Rhode Island for the Newport Jazz Festival, after which he plans to travel home across Canada.

Asked what he worries about, Selig replied "I don't worry about anything."  

That despite the fact that as he remade Seattle's skyline, he was no stranger to what others might view as treading on the financial brink during several economic downturns, surviving by selling off some of his key properties including in the late '80s the Columbia Center where we were doing the interview.

 

But as a well-known Seattle real estate broker once joked, "he's been the cat with nine lives."

 

Referring to his riding, painting and other personal activities, Selig summed up "as long as you can do whatever you want to do, it makes what you have to do at work easy."

Asked about his succession plan, Selig said: "I leave the future to Goldman Sachs," noting he has no particular thought of guiding his real estate company into the hands of his kids. The answer was in response to a question about his thoughts on media mogul Rupert Murdoch's unabashed and high-profile effort to put his children into ascendant roles in his company.

"They come and go in the business," Selig said of his three children, noting that Lauren, the oldest of two daughters, is now a producer with several movies at the Venice Film Festival, and that his son, who has been living in Israel, is returning to Seattle to enroll in real estate at the UW.Youngest daughter, Jordan, still in her 20s, has been acquiring, fixing up and leasing residential properties in Germany.

 

Meanwhile, his pace of development activity shows little sign of slowing with planned future buildings sharing space with his paintings on his office walls.

I asked Selig about the total absence of partners in his years in the business and he replied that while partnerships may start out well, inevitably a disagreement will arise and that diverts attention from the business focus.

Selig is a close watcher of politics and at one point in our interview said to me: "I thought you might have some political questions."

"So if I were to ask you a political question, what would it be?" I responded.

"Who is going to win the Republican presidential nomination?' he replied. So I bit and asked that question.

"It will be a brokered Republican convention, with none of the numerous candidates having enough delegates from the primaries to capture the nomination," he predicted. "Then the convention, which won't be able to agree on any of the candidates who have been competing bitterly through the primaries, will settle on Mitt Romney."

Considering that if Selig buildings, past and present, were color coded on a perspective photo of Seattle, they would dominate the picture, he actually is less visible than people might expect, making little effort to grab the limelight.

Thus, as Mike Kunath, founder and principal at the investment advisory firm Kunath, Karne, Rinne and Atkin, and a friend of Selig's for a quarter century or more put it: "Selig's contributions and his legacy are understood or appreciated by maybe 10 percent of people here."

Putting those contributions in perspective may not happen until Selig finally slows down.

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Concern among Seattle business people that Delta turning from Alaska partner to predator

There's a growing concern among Seattle-area business leaders that they are seeing a once mutually beneficial partner relationship between Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines changing to one in which Delta seems to be moving from partner to predator.  

There is an obvious agreement within the business leadership that losing Alaska would be a significant blow to the economies of Seattle and the state. And that is leading many toward a conviction that the business community can't merely stand on the sidelines to watch to see what the outcome is of a battle between the world's second largest airline and hometown Alaska.  

Thus if those expressing such concerns are accurate, then Seattle will need to shed its "Seattle Nice" image for a time to forcefully take a position in support of Alaska.

"The business community must take sides in this and do so forcefully and visibly and an important part of its message is that Delta is actually not good for Seattle," suggests Joseph Schocken, president of Broadmark Capital, a successful Seattle boutique merchant bank that focuses on emerging companies.  

"Delta is anti-Boeing, and thus anti-Seattle, with both its dollars and its political clout," Schocken said. "With its dollars, it buys Airbus planes rather than Boeing's and with its political clout it opposes the Ex-Im bank that is important to Boeing's success," he added.

As I talked with various people in the business community, there was an expression of the need to have a pro-Alaska effort, even a forceful one, but not an Anti-Delta one, lest that generate sympathy for the Atlanta-based airline since it is a very successful airline that employs a large number of people and successfully serves parts of the region's air-carrier needs.

Yet as each got into the competitive aspects of the issue, comments frequently turned from support of Alaska to negative on Delta.

As business people discuss this Alaska-Delta struggle, there is a logical defense of free-markets competition but a dark view of competitors who turn predators. And I detected growing sense that predator is what Delta's competition with Alaska has devolved into.

One who best summed up the competition issue was John Fluke, whose family's business leadership, investment focus and philanthropic involvements are widely known and respected, who said: "The notion of free markets and competition are absolutely necessary to the success of our economic system and the effort to gain advantage over competitors, ethically pursued, benefits customers."

But Fluke suggested that the current competitive activities amount to Delta "abusing" the definition of competition, saying "its tactics with everything from current pricing to their philanthropic outreach with nonprofits here are likely to last only as long as it takes to drive Alaska into submission."

"If that happens, then airline tickets will eventually cost more, route structures will become less accommodating and Delta's support of important philanthropic causes will be lower and that would be abusing the real meaning of competition," he added.

Woody Howse, whose Cable & Howse Ventures basically launched the venture-capital industry in this region, exemplified the enthusiasm of Alaska supporters when he said "Alaska Airlines is one of the most community minded, customer serving and socially contributing corporations in our region."

But his comments also quickly turned against Alaska's challenger, noting his view that "Today Alaska Air is being attacked vigorously by the Carpet Bagger Delta Airlines, coming to town with Airbus (not Boeing) airplanes and viciously attacking the Alaska Air routes with competing schedules.  Our Northwest Community must band together and support the company that has so supported us through the good as well as difficult times."

    

"With Delta's current actions and apparent ulterior motive in Alaska's hometown hub, engaging in a process intended to squeeze Alaska Airlines with the objective of acquiring, we customers need to be very alert to the probable outcome if Delta is successful," Howse added.

Mike Kunath, principal and founder of Kunath, Karren, Rinne & Atkin LLC, a successful Seattle investment advisory firm, summed it up succinctly as: "Alaska has been a true supporter of the region. Delta never will be."

Herb Bridge, longtime Seattle civic leader and philanthropist as well as chairman and CEO of Ben Bridge Jeweler for several decades before guiding the company into acquisition by Warren Buffet, notes that corporate acquisitions themselves are not evil.

"It is possible for an important local company to be acquired in a way that allows it to retain local control and oversight, as happened with our acquisition by warren Buffet," Bridge said. "But when the acquisition is pursued in a predatory rather than a friendly manner, not only the shareholders of the pursued company but the community it serves are losers. There is nothing beneficial about Delta's pursuit of Alaska."

Alaska CEO Brad Tilden, retired CEO Bill Ayer and board members are reluctant to get into any Delta-bashing conversation, preferring to focus on Alaska positives.

Ayer, who as Alaska chairman and CEO for a decade before retiring in early 2012 guided the carrier through some of the industry's most tumultuous times, told me "The question of whether Alaska could remain independent has been raised for decades."   

"Our response was that a locally based, independent airline was better for customers, the community, employees, and investors. While there were no guarantees of remaining independent, all we could control was our own performance, and our chances were much better if we did a great job for each of those stakeholders," he said.

 

And as Tilden puts it, "The transformation over the last decade has been all about cost. We're trying to balance low fares and lots of service to the destinations (passengers) want, with a strong and successful company that can grow and buy new airplanes and has the capital to add new services."

 

The financial results are impressive as the parent company for Alaska Airlines and its regional sister carrier Horizon Air made a record $508 million profit in 2013, and the stock continued a steep ascent to five times its value from just five years ago.

 

What needs to happen is for Delta CEO Richard Anderson to be convinced by those who know him well, and that includes some in Seattle, that he is risking a serious downside in creating the potential for an in-your-face attitude among Seattle business people on behalf of Alaska.

For as Schocken summed it up: "There needs to be a real corporate campaign to encourage flying Alaska, discouraging flying Delta and make it unpleasant, hurting Delta's bottomline so Anderson decides that not only isn't it going to be as he thought, but shareholders and board members are getting unhappy.'"

     

Evidence that neither Fluke, Howse nor any of those who echo similar sentiments about Delta targeting Alaska are out of line is Delta's own home page where it headlines "Exclusively for Seattle, 2x miles all year long."  

But Delta's sharpest critics could suggest with a smile that what happens when you click on that link on Delta's home page might prophetically point to where Delta would be for Seattle if they were to push Alaska into a merger. The click leads to a page that says "the requested page could not be found."

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Chihuly gift of 12th-Man art, new challenges for cancer facilities boost Gilda's Club visibility

Renowned blown-glass artist Dale Chihuly is creating an exclamation mark for the role of the 12th Man in the Seattle Seahawks' Super Bowl victory by crafting a dozen Seahawk-color seaform pieces to be sold or auctioned to benefit Seattle Gilda's Club and its cancer-support network.

 

And the Seahawks will be closely involved, led by star wide receiver Golden Tate. With a grandmother who died of breast cancer, Tate quickly became a supporter of Gilda's Club after learning of its work, and then attracted his teammates to play in the annual Gilda's golf-tournament fundraiser.

 

The Chihuly dozen will be replicas of the blown-glass piece by Chihuly that was a key in the wager between Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and his Denver counterpart and was to be auctioned off to benefit Denver homeless in the event the Seahawks lost.

 

The sale of the Chihuly pieces will be the pizzazz for Gilda's club visibility this year. But visibility of a different and more lasting sort is growing within the healthcare community in the Northwest in the past couple of years because of the club's focus on the emotional impact of cancer on the sufferers and their families.

                                                                                 

Cancer-care medical centers are coming under increasing pressure to provide services beyond the medical to the whole patient, as well as patient families. And that has opened a new door for Seattle Gilda's Club, which now has contracts with three area hospitals to provide those services, often referred to as compassionate care.

  

Anna Gottlieb

"We now have contracts to provide services to Overlake and Children's hospitals and the Muilticare system, which encompasses Auburn, Gig Harbor, Puyallup and Tacoma," Gottlieg noted, adding that the arrangements represent 20 percent of last year's revenue for Gilda's Club.

 

And the programs Gottlieb's organization is putting in place, both in the community and with the hospitals, are bringing a much broader awareness of Gilda initiatives that have been unfortunately little known to the general public until recently.

 

Seattle Gilda's Club was founded in 1996 by Anna Gottlieb and the doors to its building opened five years later, the first Gilda's Club in the West.

 

Gottlieb explains her commitment to the Gilda's cause, including weathering the years of financial struggle, by recalling that her mother had breast cancer "and no place to go, no one to talk to. I was 12 at the time and that sort of thing sticks with you."

 

It was the bond of both having endured their mothers' cancers that brought Dr. James Bianco, the CEO of Cell Therapeutics Inc. (CTI), to become the major business-community force behind Gilda's, including bringing business practices to the operation of the non-profit.

 

He had known Gottlieb from her involvement with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where Biano had been a doctor working with Nobel Laureate Donnell Thomas before he launched CTI, which is seeking to create a range of oncology products.

 

Mike Kunath, A principal in the Seattle-based investment advisory firm of kunath Karren Rinne and Atkin LLC, was among those introduced to Gilda's Club by Bianco and he has helped Gottlieb with the business focus.

 

 "Until now Gilda's Club has been largely unknown and under loved, but that's changing," said Kunath. "Now when cancer strikes a family, the second call is likely to be to GC."

 

Now back to the Chihuly glass pieces. Bianco developed a close friendship in recent years with Chihuly and in a dinner conversation that included Golden Tate about an event to provide financial support for Gilda's Club, Bianco threw out the idea of doing 12 glass pieces in honor of the 12th man. Tate quickly bought into the plan, Bianco recalls.

 

"I asked 'what if your studio could do 12 of the Seahawk-color seaforms and announce that Golden Tate, Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman invite you to a special event?'"

 

He said Chihuly instantly agreed, but wanted to get the $10,000 price the seaform pieces usually go for.

 

"I said we needed to start the prices on them at $12,000, keeping with the 12th man theme of it all," Bianco added.

 

A date for the event hasn't been pinned down, but will likely be in May. They also don't yet know whether they can do an auction of any of the pieces because of uncertainties relating to use of the 12th Man beyond the Seahawks reach.

 

In discussing the challenges facing hospitals, Gottlieb says "Health care systems do not do a good job of assessing distress in patients and need to pay more attention to the whole patient. We can help with patient satisfaction and help medical centers keep their own patients. We can take the burden off hospitals and workplaces."

 

"Patients are unhappy with their care and are demanding more services," she says.

 

With respect to the emerging program opportunities for Gilda's, Gottlieb says "Our strongest programs are in the education arena. We have lectures, put together symposiums on all cancers, facilitate workshops and we take lectures out in the communities. We have been to Bellingham, Bremerton, and all over the South Sound."

 

"We run the only summer day camp in the Northwest for families living with cancer," she added. "We do camp for three weeks in the summer for kids, ages 5-12, who have a parent with cancer or have lost a parent to cancer, and we do a cancer program for the kids. We are now doing the camp in in Tacoma and will soon branch out to other locations around the State."

  

In addition to overtures from cancer-care hospitals elsewhere in Washington, and in Oregon, a group in Eugene has been pressing Gilda's Club to extend its presence there. And Gottlieb says she has now been in communication with cancer-care facilities beyond the Northwest.

 

And one program Gottlieb is hopeful of taking nationally.

"We started a writing contest for teens with cancer or who have a parent or friend with cancer," Gottlieb said. "We have collected over 1,500 essays and we have given out scholarship money, over $75,000 in the past seven years." My goal is to take this to a national level.

 

Looking ahead, Gottlieb suggests "Our biggest area of future growth may be in the survivorship area, which is screaming out for help. Particularly with what patients call 'lost in transition.'"

 

"Patients are released from care with no plans, no idea of what is next and symptoms can linger for years and years," she says.

 

"Cancer is now a chronic illness for many and they still need help long after diagnosis, areas where we can really step in and help with more education and address many issues, since patients need help finding their new normal and navigating their way back to work and relationships and life in general."

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