Is Seattle the Emerald City or Crane City? A view of city’s construction boom from up top

SEATTLE — Seattle is, of course, known as the Emerald City. But because of a construction boom that we’ve seen, some say Seattle is known as “Crane City”, too.

Just drive into downtown Seattle and you see construction cranes all over the city landscape. To get a peek into Seattle’s future, all you have to do is look up.

For this story, up is where we went — 174 feet off the ground to be exact.

Climbing several sets of ladders, with no harness, one step, at a time, with 2nd and Stewart Street down below.

Al Daniel, a crane operator for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302, makes this climb every day at 6:30 in the morning. Originally from New Zealand, Daniel has worked in construction for several years. He’s worked in Seattle since the early 1990s and he’s seen the downtown skyline change firsthand.

"This seems to be the place,” he said. “I mean, it's picking up. Everywhere it's picking up.”

The project that Al is currently working on will eventually be the new Charter Hotel.

Construction company Skanska said the hotel is slated to be 16-stories tall. It will have 229 guest rooms and will have 16,250 square meters of space. It will also be adjacent to a 40-story apartment tower.

This is just one of four projects Skanska is working on in Seattle, including the Nexus Condominiums on Howell, 2+U—an office building at Second Ave and University, and the new Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus. However, their work in Seattle spans decades, with notable projects like Benaroya Hall, McCaw Hall, and most recently 400 Fairview in South Lake Union and the Brooks headquarters in Fremont.

But Seattle has recently been termed the crane capital of America. In a January 2017 article in The Seattle Times, the city had 62 construction cranes at the end of 2016.

The life of a skilled crane operator is no easy feat. For one, you're dealing with the elements. Crane operators are constantly monitoring for rain, thunder and wind.

"Of course, if the wind gets too high, you have to stop anyway,” said Daniel “You can't run these cranes in the wind. The side loads and the wind is pretty intense.”

Daniel said for example, if there are high winds expected and it’s the end of his shift, an operator typically puts the crane in ‘weather vane’ mode, which allows the crane to free swing in the wind.

“You do not (want to) be here on a weekend and you get 80 mile-per-hour winds and the crane is side-on to the winds,” said Daniel. “It’s not good for it.”

A crane operator can’t do his job without a person on the ground telling them where and how to pick up things. Al said the position of “rigger” is important to his work. The rigger acts as the eyes and ears for the crane operator.

At the Charter Hotel project, that person is Rob Miller.

“We like to keep it repetitious,” said Miller. “We don’t want to have any accidents.”

The other question Al gets asked a lot is how he goes to the bathroom up there.

"The crane is short enough where I can run down if I have to, but after a while you go in the morning, you go at night,” he said.

He also said he keeps a bottle nearby just in case he needs to urinate.

Overall, the job outlook is bright for construction jobs, especially in the region.

In Washington state alone, the U.S. Department of Labor expects more than 1,300 job openings every year for the next decade.

“I don`t think it's really stopped,” said Daniel. “It's had its ups and downs. But we have a lot of guys in our union making good money for a long time now. It's great for the economy, it's great for the guys doing it."

The Downtown Seattle Association also said the apartment and condo construction is especially strong -- with 6,000 new units being built over the next year.