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Originally published July 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 26, 2007 at 2:18 PM

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Four Seasons, luxury hotels and condominiums return to Seattle

The Four Seasons is returning to Seattle next summer, this time in the heart of a once-seedy neighborhood. Its very high-end hotel and...

Seattle Times business reporter

Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences

 

Location: Southwest corner of First Avenue and Union Street.

Scheduled opening: Summer 2008

Floors: 21

Hotel rooms: 149

Condominium units: 36

Prices: Hotel-room rates have not been set. Condo units are selling for about $2,000 a square foot, or $2 million to $10 million.

Features: Spa, ballroom, water-view restaurant, outdoor pool and fire pit.

Source: Seattle Hotel Group

Kathleen Taylor glanced over her shoulder at the pink marquee with the double-entendre slogan, "Bare us in mind," and with no discernible sarcasm remarked, "Great, isn't it?"

Taylor, president and chief operating officer of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, was talking about the Lusty Lady strip club, situated in an old downtown Seattle building near First Avenue and Union Street. "It's such a landmark for Seattle," she said.

By this time next year, the Four Seasons plans to open a 149-room luxury hotel next to the Lusty Lady with 36 condominiums overlooking Elliott Bay.

The $120 million project marks the Four Seasons' return to Seattle and, some say, the continued transformation of a once-seedy section of downtown into a place where people increasingly want to live, work and play.

The building is going up near Pike Place Market, the Seattle Art Museum and Washington Mutual's new headquarters, as well as the Lusty Lady.

"If I could pick my neighbors, that's not one I'd pick," said Denny Onslow, chief development officer at Harbor Properties, referring to the strip club. Harbor Properties built Harbor Steps apartments in the 1990s and next year plans to open the Marketside Flats apartments nearby.

"At the same time, they haven't affected our abilities to rent high-end apartments. It's part of the urban fabric."

As Taylor donned a hard hat Tuesday moments before touring the Four Seasons project, Mimi Gates, director of the Seattle Art Museum, saw her on the sidewalk. "Wait until you see what's going to happen to this whole area," Gates said with enthusiasm.

So far, 23 condos being built at the Four Seasons have sold for about $2,000 a square foot, according to people involved with the project. Prices for the remaining 13 range from $2 million to $10 million.

And that's not the total cost. Monthly dues cost an additional 97 cents a square foot, or $1,261 to $9,700 for units between 1,300 and 10,000 square feet. Dues cover gym and pool privileges and a 24-hour concierge.

For an extra fee, Four Seasons staff will shine shoes, park cars, cater parties — even water plants.

"They're estates that happen to be in a high-rise, with someone else to put the chemicals in the pool and fill the refrigerator," said John Oppenheimer, managing partner of Seattle Hotel Group, which is working with Four Seasons to develop the 21-story building.

Art patrons Virginia and Bagley Wright plan to move from the Highlands gated community just north of Seattle to an eight-room unit in the building, but other buyers' identities are still a closely held secret.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates reportedly considered taking up residence there, a rumor that gained traction this year when he was part of an investor group that took the Four Seasons company private.

"The buyers in that project — you'd either know who they are or what they invented," said Matthew Gardner, a Seattle real-estate economist.

Oppenheimer, who also is involved with running the Bell Harbor International Conference Center, said nearly all buyers are from the Seattle area. "That's a real compliment to downtown."

Developers say condo sales help pay for rising land and construction costs, and that without them new luxury hotels would be hard to justify economically.

Projects like the Four Seasons are able to proceed despite a nationwide slowdown in home sales because target buyers have "an awful lot of money, and they make choices based on their preferences, not necessarily market conditions," Gardner said.

Toronto-based Four Seasons managed Seattle's Olympic Hotel at Fourth Avenue and University Street from 1982 to 2003, when the Olympic's new owner turned management over to Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.

A group of Seattle-area businessmen, including Oppenheimer, former Mayor Paul Schell and Tom Alberg of Madrona Venture Group, had hoped to buy the Olympic and keep the Four Seasons management.

"It was a very intense period, but through that intensity we got to know each other in a rapid, rapid way, and we wanted to do something else together," said Taylor, who at the time held the title of president of worldwide business operations for Four Seasons.

Schell, Oppenheimer and Alberg formed Seattle Hotel Group and in 2005 bought a half-acre site from Washington Mutual for $9.9 million, a middle-of-the-road price based on what similarly sized properties downtown were fetching, said Nick Papa, a research analyst with the Grubb & Ellis brokerage firm.

Four Seasons agreed to manage the property for 80 years.

Tuesday afternoon, Taylor stood on the eighth floor where hotel rooms are slated to be added and looked out over the Seattle Aquarium to sailboats bobbing on the bay.

"Wonderful, absolutely wonderful," she said.

Taylor, who oversees a little more than 30 projects in some stage of development worldwide, lives and works in Toronto and visits Seattle about once a year. For now, though, she stays at the Fairmont.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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