Share story

Will someone please take the 90,000-square-foot former Federal Reserve branch?

Vacant since 2008, the fortresslike gray concrete structure at 1015 Second Ave. has become the ugly duckling of downtown Seattle real-estate.

On Dec. 5, the federal General Services Administration (GSA) plans to auction it: The starting bid is $5 million, according to the federal website.

On Wednesday, another effort to find a use for the property — as a public school for the growing population of downtown kids — fell apart after Seattle’s School Board said it didn’t have the money to retrofit the 1950 bank building.

It was the latest in a series of failed efforts to give the property a new identity since 2008, when the Seattle branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco moved its operations to a new campus in Renton.

In 2012 the Fed handed title over to the GSA, which manages federal property. The GSA concluded it would cost between $30 million and $40 million to bring the building up to modern standards for office tenants.

While the parcel’s zoning allows unlimited building height, historic-preservation rules block any developer from demolishing the fortress, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Any buyer is bound by a deed covenant that requires state permission before any alterations can be made to the building’s landmarked exterior and main elevator lobby. The two-story vault underground and teller lobby, which aren’t landmarked, also can’t be remodeled without state permission.

“You’re underwater the minute you pay for that land because of the landmark rules and the condition of the building,” said real-estate broker Craig Kinzer. “You’ll have a dead block for the next 20 to 30 years.”

Developers have successfully repurposed other former Fed branch offices that are on the National Register: The Fed’s former San Francisco district office, originally built in 1919, is now known as Bently Reserve, a conference center. The former Los Angeles branch, built around 1930, was turned into The Reserve Lofts, a 79-unit loft apartment property.

Readers have some cool ideas for creatively reusing the former bank building in Seattle. Chris Guizlo, at The Fearey Group, suggests turning the vault into a restaurant and speak-easy. “Password would change weekly,” Guizlo said in a tweet.

Or maybe a car-collecting billionaire looking for unique downtown digs to stash his billions will ride to the rescue? The building’s parking garage has 23 parking spaces.

“That building always reminds me of the ‘Men In Black’ HQ,” said Tim Ellis, a real-estate blogger. “Would make a great evil-genius lair. Howard Schultz or Jeff Bezos maybe.”

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or On Twitter @sbhatt