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Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Fed to move Seattle branch to Renton, buy Boeing land

By J. Martin McOmber and Mike Lindblom
Seattle Times staff reporters

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In its day, Longacres was hardly known as a prime location for fiscal responsibility, but one of the nation's pre-eminent financial institutions is going to call the former horse-racing track home.

The San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank is moving its 54-year-old Seattle branch to the Longacres Business Park in Renton, a deal that will provide a much-needed psychological boost to the city and could help the Seattle Monorail Project as well.

The bank is buying nearly 11 acres of surplus Boeing property for a roughly 100,000-square-foot building that will be used mostly for handling cash. It would not say how much it is paying for the land or what the development would cost.

Seattle officials had hoped to keep the bank in the city. The branch's high-profile location on Second Avenue between Madison and Spring streets helped anchor Seattle's financial district for decades.

But a little more than a year ago, the bank announced it was searching for a new location, mainly because officials wanted more land to buffer the building for security reasons, spokeswoman Lily Ruiz said.

Construction of the Renton branch could begin next year and be finished in 2007, Ruiz said. The new branch will be slightly smaller than the current one because the bank plans to lease a separate location for its check-processing operation.

Boeing bought the Longacres racetrack in 1990, developing about one-third of the 205 acres for the company's commercial-airplanes headquarters.

Renton has struggled to deal with Boeing's sharp contraction in recent years. The vacancy rate for office space in the Renton and Tukwila area is about 30 percent, nearly twice that of downtown Seattle, according to real-estate listing service Officespace.com.

The arrival of the Fed will do little to change that. But it could help improve Renton's image and attract other companies, said Alex Pietsch, the city's economic-development director.

"This is a marquee entity to have in a community," Pietsch said. "When you think about the Longacres site, you have Boeing on one end and the Federal Reserve on the other, and that is a pretty powerful collection."
 
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To help seal the deal, the city is considering building a $2.5 million street extension to provide access to the Fed branch.

The Fed's move is good news for the Seattle Monorail Project, which wants to build a station at the existing branch in time for opening day in mid-2009. Serving the city's tallest office towers, the Madison street stop would be one of the four busiest on the proposed line.

"We've said all along that we feel pretty good about our ability to gain control over the site, and that continues," said Tom Weeks, chairman of the monorail governing board. "The sooner, the better."

Uncertainty about the station was a major reason the Downtown Seattle Association, skyscraper developer Martin Selig, and major owners along Second Avenue publicly opposed the monorail in recent months.

But supporters believe the monorail ultimately will wind up with it because the monorail authority could wrest the land from a private buyer by condemning the property.

Selig, who helped finance the defeated monorail-recall measure on last week's ballot, said such a land grab would wind up in court and suggested he'd bid on the property when it goes on the market.

"I'd love to take a swing at building that myself," he said. "It's right across the street from some of my stuff."

J. Martin McOmber: 206-464-2022 or mmcomber@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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