Safeco's recent decision to expand its University District headquarters could force Sound Transit to find another site in the neighborhood...

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Safeco’s recent decision to expand its University District headquarters could force Sound Transit to find another site in the neighborhood for its proposed light-rail station.

The agency’s board last year tentatively approved a station under Brooklyn Avenue Northeast between Northeast 43rd and 45th streets, in front of 310-foot Safeco Plaza. That was before Safeco announced in April that it would keep its headquarters in the University District, build two office buildings near the existing office tower and move 1,300 workers there from its Redmond campus.

Ron Endlich, Sound Transit’s project manager, told the board yesterday that Safeco’s new buildings will be built on property Sound Transit had planned to use as a staging area for station construction.

If the agency doesn’t build at least part of the station in conjunction with the insurance company’s projects, he said, it would be “virtually impossible” to build it later.

There’s a problem with that, however: Safeco plans to start work next year and finish in early 2008. Sound Transit’s schedule, in contrast, is fuzzy.

It currently doesn’t have the money allocated to build light rail north from downtown; the agency hopes to put a tax package before voters in 2006 that’s likely to include financing to extend the line. Endlich said construction of the University District station isn’t projected to start until 2008 at the earliest.

Yesterday he presented the board with a choice: Either speed up design of the Brooklyn station and advance up to $50 million to build the underground station’s shell — or find another site.

Safeco and Sound Transit have been talking, Endlich said, and some construction costs might be shared, but “we don’t fully know what Safeco’s interest is.”

Safeco spokesman Paul Hollie said, “There’s been a spirit of cooperation on both sides. … We’re all committed to working this out, whatever that means.”

The Sound Transit board considered two other potential underground-station locations last year before choosing the site near Safeco.

One is a block north, on Brooklyn between Northeast 45th and 47th streets. That’s a longer walk from the University of Washington campus, Endlich noted. And district residents and businesses oppose it, in part, because of potential construction impact on the historic Best Western University Tower Hotel.

The other site is on the university campus near the Burke Museum, east of 15th Avenue Northeast between Northeast 43rd and 45th streets.

Theresa Doherty, UW assistant vice president for regional affairs, said the university isn’t ruling out that possibility.

But a station on campus wouldn’t do as much to revitalize the University District as a station on Brooklyn, she added.

No engineering work has been done on those two sites since the Sound Transit board picked the Safeco location last year, Endlich said. He estimated that it would take 10 to 12 weeks and $200,000 to $400,000 per site to catch up.

Though the Sound Transit board made no decision yesterday, several members said the agency should stick with the original site. Safeco’s plan to bring in more workers makes that location even more attractive, said Edmonds City Councilman Richard Marin.

Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, the board’s chairman, suggested that the agency consider working with Safeco for now and giving the insurance company a final answer next year.

When Safeco announced it would stay in the University District, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and other city officials cheered. Nickels spokeswoman Marianne Bichsel said yesterday that the mayor still supports the company’s expansion plans, despite the complications it has created for Sound Transit.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com