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Originally published November 5, 2014 at 12:06 AM | Page modified November 5, 2014 at 2:23 PM

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Rainier Square redo will put apartments high in the sky

The developer behind Seattle’s second-tallest skyscraper proposes to add more floors for luxury apartments that would be the highest in the city.


Seattle Times business reporter

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The developer behind Seattle’s second-tallest skyscraper proposes to add more floors for luxury apartments that would be the highest in the city.

Seattle-based Wright Runstad has enlarged its planned tower on the site of the current Rainier Square shopping mall, adding eight more stories for large, pricey apartments. Those apartments could be convenient for well-paid workers in the tower’s 35 floors of offices.

The firm revealed the changes in its recent application for a master permit for two downtown buildings — a 58-story tower and 12-story hotel — that would open in phases from late 2017 to mid-2019. The $600 million project, which would start with demolition of the Rainier Square mall, could break ground late next year.

The site is in the central business district between Fourth and Fifth avenues and Union and University streets, bordering the retail core and near arts institutions like The 5th Avenue Theatre and Benaroya Hall.

“What we aspire to is to have the project really capture that locational energy,” said Wright Runstad CEO Greg Johnson.

Rainier Square is part of the University of Washington’s roughly 10-acre Metropolitan Tract in the heart of downtown. Three Seattle pioneer families donated the land in 1861 as the university’s original location.

UW’s Board of Regents picked Wright Runstad in May to redevelop Rainier Square and manage Rainier Tower, the adjacent white-pedestal office building that will remain. The developer has deposited $2.5 million with the UW while it seeks the master permit and works on securing an anchor tenant and hotel operator.

Its latest proposal raises the tower’s height from 800 feet to 850 feet, offering 790,000 square feet of office and about 180 apartments that fill floors 40 to 58.

The developer added more floors to the tower for apartments but also bumped up the average size per unit to over 1,000 square feet. The average monthly rent will be about $4,000, Johnson said.

Wright Runstad expects Rainier Square’s apartments will be the only offering in the city with units so high above street level. Most Seattle apartments and condos top out at about the 40th floor, Johnson said.

For example, GID Development Group’s 2030 8th Avenue building, a 355-unit luxury-apartment tower under construction in Denny Triangle, is 41 stories. Holland Partner Group’s Premiere on Pine at 815 Pine Street tops out at 440 feet. And Path America is building a 41-story hotel-and-apartment tower in Belltown.

None of the Rainier Square tower’s apartments will have balconies. But there will be amenities for residents on the 38th and 39th floors, including a fitness center, wine storage and a theater.

“This is the area where you’ll be able to open up sections of the facade and have your outdoor experience for the apartment dwellers,” Johnson said.

If demolition of Rainier Square mall begins in the fourth quarter of next year, the developer expects to have the lower floors of the 58-story tower ready for office tenants by late 2017, and the upper office floors in early 2018. The apartments would be ready for occupancy between mid-2018 and mid-2019, Johnson said.

The lower office floors are as big as 34,000 square feet. As the tower rises and tapers, the smallest office floors would be about 15,000 square feet, Johnson said. As a result, more tenants couldhave their own floors, depending on their needs, and not have to share space with other tenants.

As Seattle’s second-tallest skyscraper, behind Columbia Center, Rainier Tower will be easily visible on the horizon. Wright Runstad proposes to add texture to the exterior for visual effect — randomly distributed folded metal panels protruding about 12 inches from the facade.

“It’ll be a prominent building, and we wanted it to not just glow at night but sparkle at other times of the day,” Johnson said.

Members of the city’s design review board have criticized the proposed tower’s flat roof, saying Seattle towers over 40 floors all feature sculpted shafts or tops with interesting shapes.

Harry Murphy, an observer, said in an email to the city that he imagined “an eye-catching top” like the angled roof of the Citigroup building in New York City.

Meanwhile, the luxury hotel has been reconfigured to avoid blocking views of Rainier Tower’s pedestal from University and Fourth. Designers have shifted the structure closer to the office tower and lowered it from 15 to 12 floors, reducing capacity from 200 rooms to 150 rooms.

The developer expects to open the hotel in late 2017.

Wright Runstad is in the process of selecting an operator for the hotel. Its brand will compete with the Four Seasons, Johnson said.

The redeveloped site will also have a total 30,000 square feet of retail in the tower and hotel.

Once Wright Runstad obtains its permit and financing, the developer’s two 80-year ground leases — one on the future tower site, the other on the hotel site — would begin. At the end of the 80-year period, the UW would become the owner of the tower and hotel.

A similar process played out Friday, when the UW’s long-term ground lease with Seattle-based Unico Properties expired. As a result, the UW wholly owns the seven buildings Unico developed and managed over the past 60 years. The UW picked Unico to continue managing and leasing the five buildings aside from Rainier Tower and Rainier Square.

“We have prepared for a long time for the momentous transition of one of the most unique and historical parcels of land in the Western United States,” said Todd Timberlake, the UW’s chief real-estate officer, in a news release. “Together, we’re laying the groundwork for a metamorphosis of the downtown Seattle Central Business District.”

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com On Twitter @sbhatt



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