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Originally published December 12, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 12, 2007 at 1:25 PM


Seattle envisions new Civic Square

London has its Trafalgar Square, New York has its Rockefeller Center and Seattle now wants its Civic Square. Across the street from City...

Seattle Times staff reporter

London has its Trafalgar Square, New York has its Rockefeller Center and Seattle now wants its Civic Square. Across the street from City Hall, politicians want to build a public plaza and high-rise tower they hope will help revitalize the south end of downtown.

To get its signature square, the city is considering a complex deal selling half a city block for $25 million to Triad, the Seattle developer that would build and own the 40-story tower of offices and condos. Seattle wouldn't get much in cash from the sale — just $4.5 million — because Triad would subtract the cost of designing and building the city-owned plaza.

Observers say it's hard to gauge whether the city would get a good deal for a rare development gem — an empty downtown block. The City Council's land-use committee today will discuss whether to approve the sale. The full council plans a vote Monday.

If approved, construction on the $350 million project would start in 2009 and end in 2011.

The $25 million bid from Triad breaks down to $975 per square foot. Another empty downtown lot, at Fifth Avenue and Stewart Street, recently sold for $2,315 per square foot, but analysts say the two are not comparable.

"It's impossible to make any direct correlation because of the unusual nature of the development agreement," said Matthew Gardner, a land-use economist in Seattle, citing the city's specific environmental and design goals for this project.

"Any situation when you first mention that they're paying $25 million, it sounds like a deal. But when we look at it and know that there are all these other scenarios involved ... it makes it very unique."

The block formerly was home to the Public Safety Building, which was torn down in 2005. Since then, the site has been little more than a block-sized hole surrounded by fences and bordered by low-income housing, the county courthouse and a hotel under construction.

In the latest design proposal, a curved tower of 22 stories of office space would rise on the Cherry Street side of the block and narrow into 17 stories of 155 condos. Lower stories would be used for retail.

The city wants the tower to be built to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standard, and an international team of well-known architects and designers would work on the project.

The developers would make an annual contribution of $340,000 to the city for the operation and maintenance of the plaza on the south side of the block, along James Street.

The city would get $420,000 in lease payments each year for separate retail shops built on the plaza.


Income from the developer would pay for operations and event programming, such as concerts or festivals.

City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck, who was in the group that selected the developer, says the city would get a good deal.

"It can't be looked at in terms of a simple land sale because it's more complex than that," said Steinbrueck, who chairs the land-use committee. "The value we're getting is a permanent and sizable open civic space and an income stream to go with it."

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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