How does Mayor Ed Murray’s latest plan for the hole across from Seattle City Hall compare to one then-Mayor Greg Nickels drew up almost a decade ago? Murray officials argue it’s a better deal.

Share story

When is a $16 million real-estate deal worth more than the $25 million agreement that it would replace?

When it involves Seattle’s on-again, off-again effort to sell a long-empty block across the street from City Hall and to get a new public plaza in the process, officials say.

Mayor Ed Murray’s latest plan to revitalize the hole in the ground calls for Bosa Development to build a residential high-rise there after buying the property from the city for $16 million.

That may sound like a bad deal compared with the agreement Seattle made with Triad Development in 2007, when Greg Nickels was mayor. The once-promising Triad plan — stalled by the recession, then killed last year amid accusations of political dirty dealing — was valued at $25 million.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

But Murray officials insist the tentative pact with Bosa is actually the better bargain.

The Triad plan was worth $25 million because that was the estimated cost of the Civic Square public plaza that the company was going to build next to a high-rise with living, office and retail space.

Put another way, the city was going to get an amenity rather than cash, said Julie Moore, spokeswoman for Murray’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services. Seattle was going to retain ownership of the land below the plaza.

Under the new plan, the city would get both, Moore said. Bosa would build a public plaza on the site similar in size to what Triad was going to construct and would hand over $16 million in cash, as well.

With the Triad plan, the city would have had to pay for the plaza’s upkeep. But under the new plan, Bosa would own and take care of the plaza instead. The company would give the city a permanent easement to run activities there.

“An easement will provide for public use as previously intended, yet the city will no longer be responsible for ongoing operating and maintenance costs,” Moore said.

Bosa would build a high-rise for its own purposes on the rest of the property, just as Triad was going to do.

The block has been a hole in the ground since the 2005 demolition of Seattle’s old public-safety complex.

When the mayor announced the new plan last month, he said he would use Bosa’s payment to help residents and businesses across the city cope with development.

Murray said the money would be allocated to as-yet undetermined projects “such as a cultural center for longtime residents to maintain neighborhood character or a job- training program focused on good-paying jobs in the community.”

Several local real-estate brokers contacted by The Seattle Times about the $16 million deal declined to comment on whether the city would be getting a fair price for the block between Cherry and James streets and Third and Fourth avenues.

A Chinese company recently paid a similar sum — $17.1 million — for property near Pike Place Market where it plans to build a residential high-rise. But that site is only 8,748 square feet, while the city’s block is 57,120 square feet — more than six times larger.

The city and Bosa must still negotiate final terms, including details of the easement and the exact size and location of the plaza, so something could still go awry.

Murray initially thought he had put together a new deal in March with Touchstone Corp. But that plan, which had Triad transferring its development rights to Touchstone in a private pact, collapsed when Touchstone was unable to line up investors.

The latest plan has Triad selling its development rights to Bosa.

Why Triad still has development rights at all is something of a mystery. The company’s agreement with the city was supposed to expire for good last year.

In October 2015, Murray promised to give Triad the boot after a City Council candidate accused an executive at the company of trying to shake him down. Yet nearly a year later, officials are still working with Triad.

Everyone involved has been tight-lipped about the situation, but the mayor in July revealed that the threat of Triad suing the city has kept officials from severing ties with the company.

Murray says he expects to send the Bosa agreement to the council for approval next year. He says construction would start in 2018.

Bosa recently developed the Insignia condominium-tower project in the Denny Triangle neighborhood.