Unico Properties acquired 100-year-old Smith Tower, Seattle’s oldest skyscraper, on Wednesday for $73.73 million.
The purchase of the Pioneer Square historical landmark is the fourth big deal by the Seattle real-estate investment and management firm in the past three months. Unico bought the property from a CBRE partnership that foreclosed on it in March 2012.
“We’re honored to own and invest in the iconic Smith Tower,” said Ned Carner, Unico’s vice president of acquisitions, in a news release.
Built in 1914, the 42-story Smith Tower was Seattle’s skyline darling long before the Space Needle arrived in 1962. When Smith Tower opened, it was the fourth-tallest building in the world and, for nearly 50 years, it was the West Coast’s tallest.
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The purchase includes the neighboring Florence Building, a 4,800-square-foot structure with offices above a retail store, according to public records.
Unico plans to invest in upgrades to the elevator, restrooms and amenities in the historic Chinese Room and observation deck on the 35th floor, the top of the tower’s commercial section. The company said it also plans to work with the Seattle Underground Tour to include a trip to the Chinese Room and observation deck as part of its itinerary.
The upgrades to the Smith Tower will “further solidify its reputation as a premier city landmark that offers a superior corporate image for both professional services and creative and technology firms,” Carner said.
The buildings were acquired in 2012 by affiliates of CBRE Capital Markets in New York through a trustee sale with a bid of $36.795 million. No cash changed hands because CBRE was owed $44 million.
The previous owner, Walton Street Capital of Chicago, bought the buildings in 2006 from the Samis Foundation for $44 million and initially planned to convert them to condos. That plan, which sent office tenants fleeing, imploded with the bursting of the housing bubble.
In June 2012, Smith Tower’s vacancy peaked at 86.6 percent, according to OfficeSpace.com. Since then, the vacancy rate has come down to about 27 percent.
Unico said Wednesday it will own and manage the 264,346-square-foot office building. Tenants include shoe designer Dolce Vita, suite operator Regus and three technology firms, Projectline, Cozi and Portent.
About 70,000 square feet in the building is vacant, a Unico spokeswoman said, with the largest office space offering 11,000 square feet.
Unico has gone on a buying spree since its long-term ground lease on the University of Washington’s Metropolitan Tract in downtown Seattle expired on Oct. 31.
In November, Unico bought the Grand Central Building, a 110,000-square-foot complex of three brick buildings at 216 First Ave., for $16.5 million. Constructed in 1889, the Grand Central Building will be “a premier location to a broad set of companies” once the Alaskan Way Viaduct is removed, the company said.
Last month, Unico teamed with Seattle-based Laird Norton Properties to buy Skanska USA’s Stone34 office and retail building in the Fremont neighborhood for nearly $70.1 million.
And on Dec. 31, it bought Pemco’s headquarters in South Lake Union for $51.75 million.
With the latest deal, Unico said it’s bullish on Pioneer Square’s future.
The neighborhood is transit-rich, with access to Union Station, light rail and the bus tunnel. Weyerhaeuser boosted the neighborhood’s prospects in August when it announced its headquarters would move from Federal Way to Pioneer Square in 2016, when a new building at 200 Occidental Ave. S. is complete.
Material from Seattle Times archives was used in this report.