The owner of the historic Smith Tower in Pioneer Square is scaling back its proposal to turn all of the building into residential condominiums...

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The owner of the historic Smith Tower in Pioneer Square is scaling back its proposal to turn all of the building into residential condominiums, papers filed with Seattle city agencies indicate.

It now plans to convert just 12 top floors in the skinny part of the tower into condos, with a single unit on each floor.

Walton Street Capital, the building’s owner since 2006, created a big buzz last February when it sought — and ultimately got — permission to convert all but the ground level of the 38-story office tower into 150 condos.

But Michael Allmon, Walton Street’s local operating partner, said at the time that conversion of the whole building wasn’t a sure thing.

Several calls to Allmon on Friday and Monday were not returned. But Walton Street’s architect, NBBJ, has asked the city’s Pioneer Square Preservation Board to approve minor alterations to the 1914 tower’s exterior that it says are needed to change 12 floors — from 22 through 33 — from offices to condominiums. Floors two through 21 would remain as offices, the application says.

Walton Street also applied last month for a building permit for the 12 condos.

The floors slated to remain as offices contain about 11,000 square feet of floor space each. The floors scheduled to become residences are smaller, about 2,000 square feet each.

The condos “are going to be incredibly unique,” said Matthew Gardner, a Seattle real-estate economist. “The people who live there will be stepping out of the elevator and into their living rooms.”

Gardner also applauded Chicago-based Walton Street for retaining offices on the lower floors. “It’s the best of both worlds,” he said.

The downtown-office market is booming, he noted, while the condo market may be slowing. “This would certainly limit one’s exposure,” he said.

The 462-foot Smith Tower, for half a century the tallest building west of the Rockies, has been called Seattle’s best-loved skyscraper. Its ornate, 35th-floor Chinese Room, still popular for receptions, and its antique elevators, still operated by humans, are part of local lore. Allmon said last year that those features would not be changed.

Changes to the building’s exterior must win city approval because the Smith Tower is a designated landmark and part of a historic district. Walton Street’s proposals include an intercom system at the main entry for residents and their guests, and a wood-and-glass fence around a deck for residents on the 22nd floor.

The Pioneer Square Preservation Board is scheduled to consider those changes Jan. 16.

The Smith Tower contains about 260,000 square feet of office space. The building’s Web site lists 80,000 square feet now available for lease below the 22nd floor, including four full floors that are vacant now and two more than will become available April 1.

But Gardner said Walton Street probably held back on signing up new tenants while the building’s future was under review. The space should fill fairly quickly now, he added.

It’s unclear how much the building’s current tenants know about the owner’s plans. Several on floors scheduled for conversion to condos said they knew nothing.

But Bridget McDonald, office manager for Cozi, a software company that occupies part of the seventh floor, said her company had been told of Walton Street’s plans, and had recently leased more space.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231