A few months ago, at George Rolfe’s retirement party, an MSRE student gushed, “Oh my god, is that Liz Dunn? We all want to be just like her.” Dunn’s name is synonymous with the sustainable repositioning of beautiful old buildings into some of the coolest urban hubs, so naturally, the next generation of real estate leaders is a bit star-struck. Before she became a leading developer/Seattle real estate celebrity, Dunn was a Microsoftee. She was given a significant amount of responsibility at a very young age which helped her develop confidence, along with an incredibly strong work ethic, and set her up to lead her own company, Dunn & Hobbes. Today, Dunn describes her days as “extremely hectic and eclectic… on any given day my activities might range from talking to a lender or sending financials to my investors, to figuring out how best to fix a leaky roof, designing new building signage, or finding a musician to play at a retail pop-up fair. We also own and run a couple of operating businesses, including the Cloud Room which is a member-based coworking space with a lounge and bar, and a company that operates band practice rehearsal rooms.” Dunn’s work is a romantic blend of historic and edgy, combined with some of the hottest venues, restaurants and retail. This creative approach to development is instrumental to Dunn’s vision. “It is extremely important to us that our projects and tenants add to the city fabric. That means searching for authenticity, innovation and great design, and at a more practical level, goods, services and experiences that might be missing in a neighborhood, and are of a quality that will elevate their surroundings.”
In addition to her very diverse work with Dunn & Hobbes, Dunn has participated on numerous Boards and City committees related to urban development. She is a self-proclaimed “huge pro-density advocate” and believes that there needs to be a shift in Seattle policy when it comes to development. “[Big players] are bringing massive amounts of capital and deploying it in our city at a scale that is not conducive to creating an intimate pedestrian-scaled human environment… This is the difference between building a piece of real estate, which is a financial transaction, vs. making a piece of city which requires a lot more thoughtfulness about scale, eclecticism, excellence in street level design and tenant selection, how the project is going to evolve and age over time — and the opportunities that are being permanently lost as our older commercial building stock is replaced… We need to stop measuring density in square feet and start measuring it in 24-7 human activity.” Dunn & Hobbes leads by example: their projects are renowned for uniting density and older commercial building into vibrant, beautiful places.