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Originally published Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 10:00 PM

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Sunday Buzz

Bravern office-tower deal one of the biggest in the hemisphere

Bravern's big deal; Chase grant to help the little guys; buy a ray of sunshine.

Seattle Times staff

Developer Schnitzer West's sale last fall of the two office towers at its Bravern mixed-use project in downtown Bellevue was a big deal.

A world-class deal, as it turns out.

The $410 million sale was the eighth-largest real-estate transaction in the Western Hemisphere in 2010 — and the 24th-largest sale on the entire planet, according to a new report from commercial real-estate research firm Real Capital Analytics.

Schnitzer West sold the towers and The Bravern's underground parking garage to Principal Real Estate Investors of Des Moines, Iowa, the real-estate arm of insurance giant Principal Financial.

They fetched top dollar because both towers are leased long term to Microsoft. Schnitzer still owns The Bravern's high-end shopping center and two residential towers.

The Bravern office sale was part of a global rebound in commercial real estate in 2010, spurred in part by easier credit and low interest rates, according to Real Capital Analytics. Transactions of $10 million or more were up 44 percent worldwide, according to its report.

Seattle was the planet's 26th-busiest market. One other local sale made the list: Cole Real Estate Investors' $310-million acquisition of City Center Plaza — another downtown Bellevue office tower, also fully leased to Microsoft — ranked 19th in North and South America.

— Eric Pryne

Chase grant to help

little guys

Chase didn't get to be one of the nation's most powerful banks by giving away money, especially to other financial institutions.

But on Monday it's announcing a $4 million grant to Enterprise Cascadia, a nonprofit lender that serves small businesses too tenuous or unconventional for big, mainstream bankers.

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Cascadia President John Berdes calls it "really powerful money." He says the donation, the largest in the nonprofit's 15-year history, can be leveraged into $20 million worth of loans to job-creating enterprises that range from child-care centers to oyster farms.

One such growing business is Seattle woodworking company Meyer Wells, which salvages downed or diseased urban trees to make furniture and architectural elements.

Co-founder and President John Wells says the firm, originally a wood shop, has added a sawmill in Graham and a large new shop in Sumner as it taps "a growing market for green building materials, especially those that are local." Clients include Starbucks, Tutta Bella, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the University of Washington.

But borrowing money for its expansion proved difficult. "We were nonstandard — banks don't invest in sawmills. They don't understand what we are trying to do," says Wells. "We tried in earnest, and when it came to the final deal they just said no."

Cascadia, however, was willing to lend several hundred thousand dollars. That's a lot of borrowing for a company whose revenue last year was just north of $1 million. But Cascadia makes it work. Because it's not regulated like a bank, it can look at a borrower's expected growth and make riskier loans, says Berdes.

Its borrowers have struggled during the downturn, but Berdes says Cascadia's loss rate in 2009 and 2010 was "just about 2 percent" — a figure many banks would envy.

"When you consider we were banking some more-marginal customers, that's pretty good," he says.

Cascadia, based in Ilwaco, near the mouth of the Columbia River, operates in Western Washington and Oregon. The Chase grant will help carry the nonprofit's work in both states. Berdes says the goal is to expand Cascadia from about $105 million in assets to $200 million over the next five years. Chase is giving $25 million to nonprofit economic development lenders in four states, in a move it considers complementary to its own small-business lending.

"This is extraordinary timing on Chase's part because there is so much need out there," Berdes says. "We can do more together than we can separately."

— Rami Grunbaum

Buy a ray

of sunshine

Stanley Florek is trying to get people to see the light.

His company, Fremont-based Tangerine Power, is looking to spark interest in "crowd-funded clean energy systems" — solar-panel arrays funded by local community members.

Florek is working on Tangerine's first co-op project, a $40,000 solar-panel setup on the roof of the Frances Anderson Community Center in Edmonds.

To finance the solar system, Tangerine Power is selling interested parties $1,000 chunks of the project — Florek calls them SunSlices.

Once the system is running, the solar power will be paid for, and used by, the community center, replacing around $4,000 of traditional electricity purchases annually. Florek said the initial investment should be returned within 10 years, at a rate of about $100 a year per SunSlice.

Chris Herman, chairman of the group Sustainable Edmonds, initiated the partnership with Tangerine after looking into greener alternatives for city energy use. Sustainable Edmonds hopes to have all the necessary permits and agreements finalized by mid-February, he said.

The solar panels should last at least 30 years, Florek said. After the initial 10-year deal expires, investors could reach a new agreement with the city.

Florek and his team at 2-year-old Tangerine — CFO Andrew Boyd and Chief Customer Officer Marc Pollard — hope to facilitate more such deals.

Edmonds resident Carlo Voli was the first person to buy a SunSlice. Voli said that his interest in green power began with a few solar panels on his own roof to offset his energy usage. When he heard about Herman's plans, he decided to invest in the co-op model, rather than adding more to his own system.

"The idea of combining renewable solar power with a cooperative model like this was extremely attractive," he said.

PCC Natural Markets also pledged money for a SunSlice in the Edmonds project.

Although Tangerine won't begin actively marketing the project until all of the arrangements with Edmonds are finalized, the Frances Anderson project has already raised $14,000 solely through word-of-mouth.

Voli said the chance to jump-start the effort was inspiring.

"I think it's just a wonderful example that can be replicated by a lot of other cities and communities and organizations around the state," he said.

— Nick Visser

Comments? Send them

to Rami Grunbaum:

rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com

or 206-464-8541.

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