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Thursday, February 23, 2006 - Page updated at 12:35 PM

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City Hall opens to raves

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

The magic moment came after a year-and-a-half of construction, several years of planning and a $10 million cost overrun: Bellevue residents walked into their new City Hall for the first time.

They were met Wednesday with the building's showcase, a gleaming two-story concourse with floor-to-ceiling windows. The views of Mount Rainier and the Cascades were obscured by clouds, but residents still had quite a sight.

"It was worth it," said Karly Johnson, 65, who walked over from his downtown Bellevue apartment. "Even though it went over the budget a little, it turned out nice."

Visitors raved about the concourse's liberal use of wood: pillars between the windows and narrow panels lining the ceiling. The earth-toned, epoxy terrazzo floor, with a design inspired by the current of a river, also drew praise.

The city bought the old Qwest building, at 450 110th Ave. N.E., about three years ago for $29 million. Some residents said the old, concrete structure was ugly, and the city's revamp to the exterior — with terra-cotta brickwork and silver, metallic panels — drew mixed reviews.

But inside, it was hard to tell the building wasn't brand-new, with the exception of a rusty heater or two in the bathrooms.

"It's very handsome inside," said Christine Compton, who walked across the street on her lunch hour. "I'm pleasantly surprised."

Unlike the old City Hall on Main Street, the public is only allowed on the first two floors, which make up the concourse. To see city employees on the other five floors, residents must get a visitor's pass.

This focuses more activity on the concourse, and it was a busy place Wednesday. People paid utility bills, met with planners about blueprints and received pet licenses and police reports. Residents said they were able to get their business done smoothly.

The floors were brimming with a mixture of city employees, residents, movers and construction workers still finishing up the building's landscaping and exterior. While city employees gave tours, the sound of jackhammers and saws could be heard outside.

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Upstairs, the city's 900 employees were settling in, and moving boxes still lined the walls.

The first day was not without some problems. Some toilets weren't working, and just about everyone had difficulty finding their way around. City employees took questions about staircases and bathrooms, and in some cases asked the construction workers, who seem to know the building better than anyone.

A few people got stuck in one of the elevators around lunchtime, but firefighters got them out quickly, employees said.

The opening had at least one unexpected benefit. The building is not close to many restaurants, and at midday, throngs of city employees were seen walking back to City Hall with Subway sandwiches.

Azad Hirji, owner of the Subway across the street on Fourth Street, couldn't have been more pleased.

He tried to sell his store after the Qwest employees left and business declined a couple of years ago, but his store was back on the upswing this week, thanks to City Hall.

"Luck was on my side," he said. "Everybody is happy."

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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