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Skanska USA has signed a deal to lease a downtown block owned by the Samis Foundation and develop an office tower at Second Avenue and University Street, officials announced Thursday.

The commercial developer envisions a 725,000-square-foot tower that will open in 2019 as part of a long-term ground lease on the foundation’s properties spanning the block between First and Second avenues and University and Seneca streets. The lease does not include the historic Diller Hotel at the corner of First and University.

While Skanska said it hasn’t determined the office tower’s height or number of floors, the zoning code allows unlimited height for nonresidential uses on the parcel fronting Second Avenue and up to 240 feet on the two parcels on First Avenue.

There are two buildings and a play yard on the site now, county records show: On Second Avenue, the six-story Galland Building has an 11.5 percent vacancy rate, according to A two-story retail building on First Avenue is home to a coffee shop, grocery and restaurant, among others. The vacant corner of First and Seneca is used as a play yard.

Skanska’s proposed tower is called 2&U.

“The location of 2&U is really at the seam of our city,” Lisa Picard, executive vice president for Skanska USA Commercial Development in Seattle, said in a statement.“We want to create a fresh and compelling experience between the waterfront and the rest of downtown that invigorates the work environment for companies having, or seeking, an address in the core.”

The Samis Foundation owns 11 historical buildings in Pioneer Square and two city blocks in the downtown core, as well as about 500 other properties in Washington state. It was established by shoemaker-turned-real estate mogul Sam Israel in 1987, seven years before he died, to fund Jewish education projects. Samis sold one of its most prominent properties, the venerable Smith Tower, in 2006 for $47 million.

Skanska approached Samis more than three years ago about developing at Second and University, officials said.

“Skanska’s inspiring vision for our property will provide long-term value to support our philanthropic mission,” said Eli Almo, a member of the foundation’s executive board. “This vision will strengthen this most critical area of downtown Seattle, creating a long-lasting, memorable impact on the quality of life in our city’s business district.”

The ground lease was signed on Nov. 1. Jim Reinhardsen of Heartland advised the foundation on the deal. The Skanska team for 2&U includes Connecticut-based architect Pickard Chilton.

2&U will be Skanska’s fourth development project in the Puget Sound region since it opened its Seattle operations in 2011. Its first project, Stone34, the energy-efficient headquarters of Brooks Sports, opened in June.

Skanska also is building 400 Fairview, a 14-story office building in South Lake Union, and Alley 111, a mixed-use apartment building in downtown Bellevue.

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