Recently discovered damage to downtown Seattle's historic First United Methodist Church sanctuary will require repairs and delay construction of the 660-foot Fifth and Columbia Tower next door.

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Recently discovered damage to downtown Seattle’s historic First United Methodist Church sanctuary will require repairs and delay construction of the 660-foot Fifth and Columbia Tower next door, the owner of both properties said Wednesday.

Daniels Development had planned to start digging a deep hole for the distinctive, asymmetrical skyscraper’s foundation and parking garage this summer. Now, work may not start until early March, President Kevin Daniels said.

The target completion date for the 43-story office tower, originally mid-2010, has been moved to July 2011.

The 1908 sanctuary had been scheduled for demolition before Daniels, a leading historic-preservation advocate, bought the church property last year. He said he would preserve it and build an office tower next door on the site of a 1950 church annex.

But when workers demolished the annex this spring, they exposed part of the sanctuary’s south wall that had been hidden for nearly 60 years and found its terra cotta facade crumbling, Daniels said.

The damage apparently happened when the annex’s concrete wall rammed against the sanctuary during earthquakes, Daniels said. Some of the century-old building’s decorative brickwork is resting precariously atop the weakened terra cotta, he said.

Crews plan to start repairs in a few weeks and should finish in September, Daniels said. But if excavation for the office tower started then, workers would be at the bottom of the planned 100-foot hole in December or January, he said, and that would be problematic.

“You never know when you’re going to hit a spring in the winter,” Daniels said. “You could end up spending a lot of money.”

Any drainage problems could threaten the foundations of the sanctuary and the neighboring 1904 Rainier Club, he said.

Digging the hole and repairing the sanctuary wall at the same time probably is possible, Daniels said, but it would be complicated and risky.

Delays in getting a city permit for the excavation also influenced his decision, Daniels said. The construction schedule now for Fifth and Columbia calls for digging to start no later than March 1.

Some commercial real-estate brokers predict that the downtown office market could soften in 2009 or 2010, in part because several big new buildings are scheduled for completion then.

But Daniels said those prognostications didn’t influence his decision to wait.

The other buildings under construction, mostly in the Denny Triangle, don’t really compete with his project in the downtown core, he said. He had targeted 2010 because that’s when several big downtown tenants will be in the market for new space.

The $300 million Fifth and Columbia project has construction financing, and its steel and custom glass have been ordered, Daniels said: “If I had my druthers, I’d still be starting now.”

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com