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A Swedish pension fund plans to bet big and build tall in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood with three residential towers.

Alecta, one of the world’s largest pension funds, with more than $75 billion in assets, will make its pitch to a city design review board Aug. 21 for the tallest of the trio, a 30-story tower at Columbia Street and Eighth Avenue.

Its plans for a 24-story tower at Terry Avenue and Jefferson Street and a 23-story tower at Boylston Avenue and Seneca Street have already received city approval.

The pension fund didn’t pick Seattle because of the University of Washington’s Department of Scandinavian Studies. Or because of the pancake breakfasts at the Swedish Cultural Center just north of downtown.

No, it comes down to surging job growth, especially at tech firms, and the fact that many of their workers want the urban lifestyle.

“This is a city where everyone wants to live right now,” said Alecta spokeswoman Natalie Price.

At an average construction cost of $54 million each, the three towers would collectively add about 830 market-rate units in a neighborhood with three major hospitals. The 30-story tower at 800 Columbia St. is also just blocks from Seattle’s central business district.

Alecta’s bet on Seattle started in December 2010.

The pension fund bought the parking lot at Seneca Street and Boylston Avenue for $4 million and two parcels on Jefferson Street and Terry Avenue for $5.4 million. Both sites were previously owned by developers who had proposed residential high-rises but lost the properties to foreclosure during the financial crisis.

Then in early 2012, the pension fund spent $7.9 million in two deals to acquire three adjacent lots on Eighth Avenue.

Its 504 Terry Avenue project, previously owned by bankrupt developer Michael Mastro, is the only one that involves demolishing existing housing: the San Juan Apartments, a 42-unit complex built in 1959, and a three-story house converted into an office.

— Sanjay Bhatt:

206-464-3103 or

In this Washington, top paper’s not for sale

When billionaire Jeff Bezos dipped into his savings to buy The Washington Post on Monday for $250 million, it seemed to
prompt a question locally: Did he ever consider buying The Seattle Times?

After all, it’s in his backyard. It’s another independently owned newspaper that’s struggled financially in the past decade and could be looking for deep-pocketed owners. And for a bargain hunter, The Times’ value, presumably, has declined precipitously as the industry has withered.

But if Bezos was interested in buying The Times, he never approached the Blethen family, which holds a controlling interest in it. So says family patriarch and Times publisher Frank Blethen. And just to be clear, Blethen quickly added that the paper isn’t for sale, even if Bezos did call.

— Jay Greene:
206-464-2231 or

State’s limits on payday loans are paying off

As payday lenders across the nation fight efforts to limit interest rates on their loans, the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica reports that Washington state’s 2010 law is serving as a successful template for other states.

An excerpt from ProPublica’s larger look at the payday-loan industry:

In 2009, consumer advocates in Washington state managed to get a law passed that limited borrowers to no more than eight payday loans in one year.

Lenders would still be free to charge annual rates well into the triple digits, but the law would eliminate what critics say is the worst aspect of payday loans: borrowers caught in a cycle of debt by taking out loans over and over.

State data from 2009, the last year before the reform bill went into effect, shows two-thirds of these borrowers took out eight or fewer loans in 2009.

Meanwhile, about two-thirds of loans went to borrowers who took out nine or more loans in 2009.

As expected, Washington’s reform has not affected most borrowers. According to a 2011 report from state regulators, only about 24 percent of borrowers had taken out the maximum eight loans over a 12-month period.

But the total number of payday loans has plummeted. In 2009, Washington borrowers took out more than 3.2 million payday loans. In 2011, the last year for which data are available, the number had plunged to 856,000.

During the same time, the number of payday-loan stores in the state dropped by 42 percent.

The law “worked way better than we expected,” said Marcy Bowers, director of the nonprofit Statewide Poverty Action Network.

Meanwhile, the industry, which opposed the 2009 law, has recently pushed legislation to allow high-cost installment loans in the state, a typical response by the industry to unwanted limits on payday loans.