Construction may not begin until early 2020, 15 years after the city’s old Public Safety Building was demolished and the valuable property became a hole in the ground.

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Seattle’s newest plan to sell a long-vacant block across from City Hall and have a private developer build a residential high-rise and a Civic Square plaza on the troubled site has slipped a year behind schedule, prolonging the life of an embarrassing downtown eyesore.

The deal approved by the City Council last year included a timeline that listed August 2018 as the target date for Vancouver, B.C.-based Bosa Development to obtain a land-use permit for the downtown project. The schedule said that would clear the way for the sale to close and would enable Bosa to start construction in early 2019.

But Bosa is still refining the project’s design in response to recommendations by a city review board and likely won’t secure a permit until late summer 2019, said Bryan Stevens, spokesman for the Department of Construction and Inspections.

That means construction may not begin until early 2020, an astonishing 15 years after the city’s old Public Safety Building was demolished and the valuable property became a hole in the ground.

Meanwhile, the housing market is changing. Inventory is up, rents have leveled off in the past year and home prices have dropped.

The project is in no danger, said Jack McCullough, a land-use attorney working on the permit for Bosa. The developer’s design calls for a curved 57-story tower with ground-level retail space along Cherry Street.

Bosa’s design also includes an upper-plaza area along Fourth Avenue, a terrace area abutting James Street and a lower-plaza area along Third Avenue.

The sale is on track to close in 2019 and the project will be built “in a timely manner,” McCullough said in an email.

Bosa’s deal says it must pay delay damages if it fails to complete the project on time. The damages range from $500 per day for a delay of up to 30 days to $5,000 per day for a delay of more than a year.

Though Bosa is behind in obtaining its permit, the developer has until March 2023 to complete the plaza and until March 2025 to complete the high-rise, according Cyndi Wilder, spokeswoman for the Finance and Administrative Services department. Not unless Bosa breaks one of those deadlines will the damages kick in, and the deadlines can be extended under certain circumstances, Wilder said.

Bosa’s Seattle office declined a request for comment.

Bosa Development plans to build a 57-story residential tower and a public plaza across the street from City Hall in downtown Seattle. This view is from City Hall toward Elliott Bay. (Bosa Development)
Bosa Development plans to build a 57-story residential tower and a public plaza across the street from City Hall in downtown Seattle. This view is from City Hall toward Elliott Bay. (Bosa Development)

The city has since 2005 envisioned part of the block becoming a high rise and the rest becoming a public plaza. The idea has been for the plaza to serve as a “civic square,” complementing public spaces inside and outside City Hall and the Seattle Justice Center, which were built in the early 2000 on the blocks directly uphill.

But the endeavor has repeatedly run into problems, and the pit in view of the mayor’s office has become a symbol of City Hall ineptitude, languishing through two real-estate booms and a housing crisis.

The site has been vacant so long that, behind the wood panels that enclose the site, trees have sprouted and moss covers the concrete.

In 2007, then-Mayor Greg Nickels put together a plan for Triad Development to build a high-rise with office and retail space and with housing. The city was going to gift part of the property to Triad and the developer, in lieu of payment, was going to build a $25 million public plaza on the rest.

But the project stalled during the Great Recession, when Mike McGinn was mayor, and then died in 2015, when Ed Murray was mayor, after Triad became embroiled in a political mess.

Murray initially vowed to cut ties with Triad but the threat of a lawsuit kept him from doing that, and his administration instead sought a deal allowing Triad to transfer its rights to a new developer.

Plans to partner with Hong Kong’s Great Eagle and Seattle-based Touchstone broke down, one after the other, before Murray struck a tentative pact with Bosa. He initially said construction could begin in 2018 but negotiations took longer than expected.

The current plan says Bosa will buy the property for $16 million and build both a residential high-rise and a 25,000-square-foot plaza. The developer will own the entire site but make the plaza available to the public through a permanent easement.

The $16 million will go to a city program that helps community organizations with anti-gentrification projects. Bosa also will pay the city at least $5.7 million in affordable-housing fees. For an undisclosed sum, Triad will assign its rights to Bosa and walk away from its relationship with the city rather than sue.

The design Bosa submitted earlier this year called for a semi-circular upper plaza to mirror an existing plaza across Fourth Avenue outside City Hall. Next to James Street, the design showed water tumbling down a slope with terrace steps. Along Third Avenue, a lower plaza included restaurant seats and London plane trees.

The design said the tower would have 500 housing units, 24,500 square feet of retail space and 640 parking spots. That may be too much parking for a project that’s supposed to incorporate entrances to the Pioneer Square transit station, some public comments said earlier this year.

In May, the city asked Bosa to respond to questions and recommendations by the Downtown Design Review Board. Board members wanted more details on the plaza spaces and were concerned about the man-made stream making the site hard for pedestrians to navigate. They also wanted to know more about the look of the tower-wall materials that Bosa intends to use.