King County Executive Ron Sims has proposed building a 28-story tower to replace the county's administration building in downtown Seattle...

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King County Executive Ron Sims has proposed building a 28-story tower to replace the county’s administration building in downtown Seattle.

The existing structure, built in 1970, is conspicuous for its goldish tint, stubby profile and crisscrossing diagonal lines. “The ugliest building in the world,” Sims called it Tuesday.

His proposed replacement has been trimmed from an original 42-story concept that provoked objections from some Seattle city leaders. It would have required a controversial zoning change and threatened to cast shadows on City Hall and a future public plaza along Fourth Avenue near James Street, across from City Hall.

The tower would be built on the site of the existing county building. The site is just southeast of the city’s plaza site, potentially blocking late-morning sun there.

To maintain a bright streetscape, the county, the Wright Runstad development firm and architects from NBBJ are working on a stair-stepped shape, in which the upper floors are smaller than floors near the street. An unreleased preliminary design includes terraces, said County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, R-Federal Way.

The project requires $350 million for construction, relocation of county departments and demolition of the old structure, said Kathy Brown, county facilities-management director.

But officials said the project would break even, without new taxes. The county could raise $140 million by auctioning off its King Street Center in Pioneer Square, current headquarters for Metro Transit; save money on office space the county leases; collect rent on surplus space in the new tower; and avoid the costs to refurbish and operate the old administration building.

Prospective occupants include the county executive’s office, County Council, the finance division, Washington state general administration, the Seattle Housing Authority, and street-level retailers. King County Elections would move to Renton.

Sims is seeking $591,000 to study the redevelopment project.

Von Reichbauer said the council would perform “due diligence” before any decision. He wonders how to replace the existing skybridge, which carries prisoners between the jail and county courthouse; could that be done without building a costly tunnel? But he said it seems wise to stop leasing space and to replace the 1970 building with one more earthquake-resistant.

Councilman Bob Ferguson, D-Seattle, said his priority is to determine whether the proposal makes financial sense. “The argument that ‘it’s an ugly building’ doesn’t move me,” he said.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or