A Seattle official says transferring the Civic Square project to a new developer could result in a better deal for the city.
Seattle may be able to strike a better deal for redeveloping property across from City Hall without scuttling the existing Civic Square plan and starting over, an official says.
The city’s contract with Triad Capital Partners to build on the vacant city-owned block was supposed to expire Thursday, leaving officials free to re-imagine the property’s future and seek a new agreement. Mayor Ed Murray in October vowed to go that route after a Triad executive was accused of trying to orchestrate a political shakedown.
But the mayor decided at the last minute to give Triad 60 extra days to try to transfer its contract rights to another company.
The transfer would keep Seattle tethered to a project that’s languished since 2007, when officials selected Triad to build on the site. And it could mean a payout for Triad a few months after Murray said the company didn’t deserve to do business with Seattle.
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But Fred Podesta, director of the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, said Thursday the city may be able to make the project better as part of Triad signing its rights over to another company. That would be a double score for Seattle because something would get built faster, with better terms, Podesta said.
Tenants groups have criticized the existing plan for including no affordable housing.
“We’re in discussions,” Podesta said. “Will everything be exactly the same or will there be changes? That’s what we’re trying to figure out. There could be renegotiation.”
If Triad finds a suitable company and secures city approval, officials would transfer the project’s permits and design approvals to the new partner, as well, Podesta said.
The goal is to get work under way while Seattle’s economy is still booming, he said.
“This might be a good way to bring this forward. We don’t want to wait too long.”
The plan has been for the city to sell most of the block between Cherry and James streets and Third and Fourth avenues to Triad in exchange for it building a $25 million public plaza alongside a residential tower with retail spaces. Since 2005, when Seattle’s old public-safety complex was razed, the site has been a hole in the ground. During the economic downturn, Triad struggled to secure financing.
Podesta declined to comment on what Triad might hope to gain from the transfer of its contract rights. Triad CEO Fred Grimm didn’t return a request for comment.
One wrinkle relates to a lawsuit filed by a group of tenants who said city officials last year renewed Triad’s land-use permit for the Civic Square project illegally.
Though the tenants settled with Triad in late October for $700,000, after Murray promised to cut ties with the company, a clause in the agreement means Triad must pay another $5 million if the Civic Square project is built by anyone, said Knoll Lowney, attorney for the tenants.
Before it settled, the lawsuit was part of the scandal that turned Murray against Triad.
City Council candidate Jon Grant, who worked with the plaintiffs before leaving the Tenants Union of Washington State to run, was approached by a Triad executive during his campaign.
In return for Grant’s help ending the lawsuit, the executive said he would try to make a political committee poised to spend against Grant’s campaign go away. The candidate refused and filed an ethics complaint.
Grant, who lost his race to Tim Burgess, urged the mayor Thursday to launch a new public process to determine how the Civic Square property should be used.