Developer says construction will start next month at long-vacant pit across from Seattle City Hall

Work could finally begin next month on the long-vacant site across the street from Seattle…

Work could finally begin next month on the long-vacant site across the street from Seattle City Hall, where economic downturn and bizarre political scandal derailed past development plans and left a pit in the heart of downtown for more than a decade.

Bosa Development said Wednesday it expects to begin construction in April on a 57-story tower with 422 condos, retail on the ground level and a public plaza. The tower should be finished by 2026, the developer says. 

The city issued a permit Wednesday to allow for shoring and excavation at the site, according to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections. Future permits for construction of the tower will be issued in phases, a department spokesperson said. 

Groundbreaking would mark a significant milestone for the troubled site where city leaders have long hoped for a public plaza along with private development. Now, two years into the pandemic, politicians and business groups are eager to polish downtown’s reputation.

In a statement Wednesday, Mayor Bruce Harrell called the project “an exciting step forward in our shared efforts to revitalize downtown.” 

The site between Cherry and James streets and Third and Fourth avenues has been empty since 2005, when the city’s old Public Safety Building was torn down. 

A plan in 2007 for Triad Development to build a high-rise and a “Civic Square” plaza at the site stalled during the Great Recession. Then, in 2015, Triad was caught up in allegations of a political shakedown when then-City Council candidate Jon Grant accused a company executive of offering to make a political action committee opposing Grant go away if Grant helped settle a lawsuit against Triad. That lawsuit, supported by the Tenants Union of Washington State when Grant was head of that organization, challenged a permit for the project and resulted in a settlement.

After the alleged shakedown attempt, then-Mayor Ed Murray said he had “no desire” to develop the property with Triad, but the city ran into legal trouble trying to extricate itself from the deal. Triad attempted to transfer its interest to another developer, Touchstone, but that fell apart.

Eventually, the City Council authorized a new development deal with Bosa, a British Columbia-based firm, in 2017. Councilmember Kshama Sawant was the lone vote against the plan at the time, calling it a “sweetheart deal.”

That deal said Bosa would pay $16 million for the land and at least $5.7 million in affordable housing fees, while also requiring that the project include a public plaza of at least 25,000 square feet. The agreement includes potential fines for delayed completion of the project.

The new tower will include one-, two- and three-bedroom condos, some with views of Elliott Bay, and a rooftop pool on the 57th floor. The 25,000-square-foot plaza will include an upper plaza on Fourth Avenue, a water feature that “cascades down James” Street to Third Avenue, “extensive landscaping” and a glass elevator connecting lower and upper plazas, the developer says.

The addition of new condos downtown will test buyers’ appetites after pandemic shifts in the housing market. In 2020, the market for in-city condos took a hit as white-collar workers sought out more space to work from home. 

Interest appeared to return in 2021, when the number of condo sales in downtown and Belltown climbed 77% from 2020. Prices were basically flat, though. The median condo in downtown and Belltown sold for a median $645,000 last year, $5,000 below the 2020 median, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Cranes are scattered across downtown and South Lake Union at the sites of planned high-rise towers, many with lush amenities. But the vast majority of those are set to be apartments to rent, not condos to buy. 

“By and large, most households downtown are going to be renters,” said Elliott Krivenko, director of market analytics at the real estate data firm CoStar.

In the area spanning Sodo to South Lake Union and the waterfront to west Capitol Hill and First Hill, 1,167 condos are currently under construction, compared to 7,241 apartments, according to the Downtown Seattle Association. According to CoStar, the average rent for a new lease on a one-bedroom apartment downtown is $2,312.

This story includes material from the Seattle Times archives.