The former Seafirst Bank tower on Fourth Avenue, a grande dame of downtown Seattle architecture in need of some TLC, has been bought for...

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The former Seafirst Bank tower on Fourth Avenue, a grande dame of downtown Seattle architecture in need of some TLC, has been bought for $162 million by Texas developer Hines in partnership with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

The 50-story skyscraper known as 1001 Fourth Avenue Plaza was Seattle’s tallest building for 16 years after it opened in 1969.

It’s across the street from the 3-year-old IDX Tower, which Hines sold in December for a record Seattle price of $411 a square foot.

The purchase of 1001 Fourth Avenue Plaza from Seafo Inc., completed last week, works out to a more modest $230 a square foot. Hines plans $30 million in renovations.

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“It’s really a classic building,” Hines Vice President Rob Hollister said. “It just needs some attention.”

The aluminum-and-glass-encased tower, whose look echoed the celebrated Seagram Building in Manhattan, was nicknamed “the box the Space Needle came in” because it was slightly taller than the Seattle landmark.

Designed by Seattle architects NBBJ, it was the first skyscraper to use a Vierendeel frame structure, which supported the building on four huge columns at its corners and allowed for open interiors and better views.

The tower is across the street from Seattle’s newest architectural landmark, the Central Library. The neighborhood is seeing a flurry of activity:

• The 41-story Union Bank of California building, just east of the IDX tower, sold last fall for $100 million;

• Three blocks to the north, Washington Mutual is building its new headquarters;

• Just west of there, a new Four Seasons hotel and condo development is planned.

The 1001 Fourth Avenue building is about 13 percent vacant, with more space becoming available as tenants move to the IDX tower later this year and in 2006. Hollister said that will allow interior renovations to be done with less impact on tenants.

“It’s a building whose fundamental potential we really believe in,” Hollister said.

Tom Boyer: 206-464-2923 or tboyer@seattletimes.com