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Originally published November 26, 2012 at 7:36 PM | Page modified November 27, 2012 at 7:50 PM

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Viaduct’s pending demise spurs apartment-tower plan

Developer Harbor Urban’s site, now in the shadow of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, would have unobstructed views once the highway is demolished

Seattle Times business reporter

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The downtown portion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct won’t be torn down until 2016. But the waterfront redevelopment that city officials and business leaders maintain the demolition will trigger may already have started.

City permit records reveal that developer Harbor Urban approached Seattle planners earlier this month about building a 16-story apartment or condo tower on property that’s now in the viaduct’s shadow.

It’s the first big private-sector development proposal to surface in the viaduct corridor since Seattle voters ended the debate over the aging roadway’s fate last year, approving a tunnel to replace it.

Harbor Urban’s 0.35-acre site is on University Street between Alaskan Way and Western Avenue. It’s now a parking lot leased to Seattle Steam, which operates a plant next door.

With the viaduct gone, the property’s value could skyrocket. Any building there would have unobstructed views of Elliott Bay and the Olympics.

City and business leaders also are working on a $400 million plan to remake the central waterfront with a boulevard, parks and pathways, a public swimming pool and a beach.

Harbor Urban’s preliminary plans call for 165 apartments or condos, 8,000 square feet of ground-floor shops and restaurants, and parking for 130 vehicles.

The tower apparently would comply with current zoning, which limits building heights to 160 feet.

It would be about the same height as Waterfront Place, a 30-year-old condo and office building two blocks away that also backs up to the viaduct.

The limited information available from the city’s Department of Planning and Development database gives no indication as to when Harbor Urban might break ground. But construction is hardly imminent; the company hasn’t applied for land-use or building permits yet.

Harbor Urban representatives could not be reached Monday. Nor could the property’s longtime owner or architecture firm Hewitt, also listed as a project contact in city records.

Seattle Steam CEO Stan Gent said Harbor Urban has spoken with him about the project. “They wanted to know if it was OK to build next to us,” he said. “I said sure ...

“But it’s very early.”

Harbor Urban, formed earlier this year when Los Angeles-based Urban Partners acquired Seattle’s Harbor Properties, has been one of Seattle’s busier apartment developers.

It just opened a complex in Columbia City, and has projects under construction downtown and in West Seattle and in the Roosevelt neighborhood.

City officials and business leaders have said the viaduct’s demolition won’t spur construction of a wall of high-rise condos on the waterfront, in part because zoning limits building heights, and in part because some older buildings are protected historic landmarks.

Existing buildings that line the viaduct between Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market are more likely to be renovated and put to new uses than torn down, planners have said.

Parking lots, however, are considered ripe for new construction. “It’s much easier to build on them,” Seattle land-use economist Matthew Gardner said Monday.

Harbor Urban’s project most likely is years away, he said, but once the viaduct is gone, west-facing units there could command premium prices or rents.

“It makes sense for (Harbor Urban) to tie up property now,” Gardner added. “You only get so much waterfront.”

Another property owner in the viaduct corridor also is touting its future.

The owners of the turn-of-the-century C& H Building, on Alaskan Way South near South Main Street, put the three-story brick warehouse up for sale this month, asking $3.2 million.

“Perfect for conversion to apartments or condos,” the listing reads. “When viaduct is removed it will be wide open to the Sound, with no structure in the way of the view.”

Eric Pryne:

or 206-464-2231

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