Seattle has at long last sold a vacant block on prime real estate across from City Hall where plans for a tower and public plaza have been mired in problems for 15 years.
The developer that closed on the purchase of the property Dec. 17 has continued to experience delays in obtaining a land-use permit needed to start construction.
Still, the closure marks a breakthrough in the city’s attempt to revamp the site. Under an agreement struck in 2017, Vancouver, B.C.-based Bosa Development paid the city $16 million, will build a 58-story residential high-rise and will own the entire block. But the company must also build a 25,000-square-foot plaza, make that space available to the public through an easement and pay at least $5.7 million in fees for affordable housing.
The downtown block between Third and Fourth avenues and Cherry and James streets, where the city’s old Public Safety Building was demolished in 2005, has been a hole in the ground for so long that rogue trees have grown inside the abandoned site.
Seattle leaders have for more than a decade envisioned the block’s redevelopment as including a “civic square” that could complement public spaces at City Hall and the Seattle Justice Center, which were built on the blocks directly uphill.
But multiple plans collapsed over the years. A pact put together by Mayor Greg Nickels stalled during the Great Recession and was aborted by Mayor Ed Murray, who struggled to sever the city’s ties with the original developer and had tentative deals with two other companies break down before Bosa jumped in.
Besides paying the city $16 million for the property directly, Bosa agreed to buy the original developer’s rights to the project for an undisclosed sum.
When the City Council approved the deal, a schedule called for Bosa to get its land-use permit in August 2018, then close the sale and start work in early 2019. But the developer has now spent more than two years answering questions and making changes in consultation with the city’s downtown design-review board.
A request for comment made to Bosa’s land-use attorney Saturday didn’t immediately yield any comment from the company.
The city was supposed to provide a land-use permit before the sale, but Bosa waived that requirement to meet a Dec. 31, 2019, closing deadline, said Melissa Mixon, spokeswoman for Seattle’s Finance and Administrative Services department.
At this point, construction may not begin until many months into 2020.
“We can’t predict a start date for the construction” because that will depend on how quickly Bosa can make review-board corrections, said Wendy Shark, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections.
The 2017 agreement says Bosa must pay the city delay damages of $500 to $5,000 per day for not completing the project on time, but the developer has until March 2023 to complete the plaza and until March 2025 to complete the high-rise, and those times can be extended due to circumstances including permitting delays.
Bosa’s tower design calls for 423 apartments, about 38,000 square feet of commercial space on the lowest three levels and about 500 parking spaces.
The developer’s plaza design includes a semicircular upper plaza along Fourth Avenue, garden terraces with water tumbling downhill next to James Street and a lower plaza with chairs and London Plane trees along Third Avenue, where an entrance to the Pioneer Square transit station is located.