September 14, 2018

Alumna helps shape Seattle skyline

Kristin Ryan '89 employs a collaborative approach to development
by Allyson Irish

Walking up Virginia Street to meet Kristin Ryan ’89 at her downtown Seattle office, there are signs of construction everywhere: cranes, trucks, orange cones. They have become as ubiquitous as good coffee in this seaside city. 

For the past few years Seattle—the fastest growing U.S. city in a decade according to census data—has experienced a massive housing crunch as employees from major companies such as Amazon and Facebook have relocated there. It’s a nirvana for real estate developers. So it’s easy to see why Ryan, a partner at the real estate firm barrientos RYAN, decided to move here in 2011.

“There was clear opportunity for growth in the city,” says Ryan, whose company promotes a unique collaborative philosophy in building places for people to live, work, and play. “We care deeply about the quality of the buildings that we’re putting up and that they are genuine to the community.”

One of Ryan’s current projects will construct approximately 450 units of mixed-income housing along with space for retail, a clinic, a community center, nonprofit organizations, and a high school. The new “campus,” located in Seattle’s Othello Square neighborhood, is adjacent to a light rail station guaranteeing easy access to the city. 

The financing approach for the project includes a mechanism that will allow rental income to flow back into the nonprofit organizations. While this required a lot more work than the typical development financing model, where money generally goes back to the developer and the equity partner, Ryan says it’s worth the effort. “I’m the one who’s willing to do the crazy, complex, mixed party financing things,” Ryan explains.

According to census data, Seattle is the fastest-growing U.S. city in the past decade.

Ryan grew up in Evanston, Ill., and found her way to Andover at the suggestion of her grandfather, who happened to attend an event at Milton Academy and thought his “geeky” granddaughter would flourish at a similar school. Granddad was right. Ryan entered Andover as a lower in 1986 and immediately loved the multitude of academic offerings. 

“I was like, ‘I can take Constitutional Law! And I can take Chinese!’ I fell in love with that,” says Ryan, whose brother Jonathan also attended Andover.

After PA, Ryan went to Yale and received a sociology degree. Afterwards, she started an organization for children orphaned by the AIDS crisis and was planning to focus on a career in nonprofit public health. But then karma intervened. 

Ryan instead decided to get an MBA, and while attending Columbia she happened to meet a friend who offered her a job in real estate. Ryan accepted and immediately fell in love with the industry. 

She worked for 10 years doing all aspects of the job including property management and development and working on retail, multi-family, and office properties. In 2009, she landed at the NYC-based Jonathan Rose Companies, known for its environmentally responsible and affordable approach to housing. Though Ryan enjoyed the job, she eventually tired of the intense city living. So in 2011, she drove out West with her three-month-old son, and the rest is history.

Having lived in Seattle for close to a decade now, Ryan says she is beginning to feel less like a transplant. She’s happily raising two children, has adjusted to the mostly cloudy climate, and—most of all—is delighted to have a career she enjoys while also helping others. “I consider it a gift to help develop something that makes others’ visions come true and that supports communities. It is what I love doing.”

Categories: Alumni, Magazine, Magazine Online

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