New Burien center finally built; now Town Square just needs people
Burien Town Square, a $193 million development that marks its grand opening today, is designed to turn "10 acres of nothing" into a city center and revive Burien's downtown, but a struggling economy has slowed parts of the project.
Seattle Times business reporter
Burien Town Square grand openingToday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Fourth Avenue Southwest and Southwest 152nd Street, Burien.
Ceremony: Ribbon-cutting at 10 a.m.
Tours: New library, city hall, park and selected condo units.
Extras: Refreshments and entertainment provided.
Burien became a city 16 years ago. The new Burien Town Square makes it look more like one.
Thanks to this ambitious development, Burien now boasts its first underground parking garage, the largest public library in South King County and its first building that might qualify as "tall."
Today this city just west of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport celebrates completion of the first phase of the project, more than a decade in the making. Burien's leaders hope the 10-acre, $193 million public-private enterprise will give their city the center it has always lacked.
And, perhaps, rectify a 40-year-old civic slight.
Phase One includes a three-story building housing the new King County branch library and Burien's first real city hall; a seven-story building — Burien's tallest — with 124 condos atop 20,000 square feet of retail space; and a one-acre park and plaza studded with art.
Burien Town Square isn't coming to market in the best of times, city officials and their private-sector development partner, Los Angeles-based Urban Partners, acknowledge.
The condos, like new units everywhere, are selling slowly; the retail space hasn't yet been leased.
Groundbreaking for the remaining phases — another 250 or 300 condos, and up to 50,000 square feet of additional retail — has been pushed back.
"I support Town Square. I think it's great — but the timing was off," says Jim Hughes, who has owned Sal's Deli, a few steps from the new development, for 30 years. "The economy caught up with all of us."
Still, Mayor Joan McGilton says the project already is achieving one of its goals: reviving a sagging downtown. New shops and restaurants, including a brewpub, a wine bar and an Irish pub, have opened along Southwest 152nd Street, downtown's chief thoroughfare, since Town Square was approved.
"They wouldn't be here if they didn't see a market," she says.
City employees moved into their new digs at Burien Town Square last month. The library opens today.
"The real test starts Saturday," Rosenfeld says. "The next 60 to 90 days will be really important."
"Sea of asphalt"
Burien Town Square stands on land that's been associated for years with Burien's commercial decline.
Much of it was graded in the 1960s to make way for a regional shopping mall, City Manager Mike Martin says, but the developers abandoned it and built Southcenter in Tukwila instead.
The mall drained business from Burien's main-street retailers, compounding the insult.
Stores, offices and restaurants eventually were built on the property, all surrounded by vast parking lots. It's where parents took their teenagers to learn to drive, McGilton says.
Burien residents voted to incorporate in 1993. Right away the new leaders of this city of 31,000 began talking about developing a central gathering place, a focal point that also might give downtown — and city tax revenues — a boost.
The site that became Burien Town Square was an obvious candidate.
"Every one of us hated that sea of asphalt," McGilton remembers. "For downtown to have 10 acres of nothing was just remarkable."
Rosenfeld agrees. "This was sort of a make-or-break moment for Burien," he says. "They were seeing growth pass them by."
The project proved a complex undertaking. City officials developed a plan, then acquired all the land from its various owners — the last parcel through a bitter condemnation proceeding.
They won federal and state grants. To attract residential developers, they agreed to not impose property taxes for 10 years.
The city chose Urban Partners, which specializes in mixed-use, often transit-oriented development, as its private-sector partner in 2003. It inked a development agreement with the firm in 2005, then sold it all the property slated for residential and commercial development two years later.
For Rosenfeld, it was a homecoming of sorts. His family has owned a shopping center a few blocks away since 1963.
Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System, says he was dubious when Burien officials approached him eight or nine years ago about a sharing a building. Now both he and Martin say they're excited about the potential synergies.
On the ground floor, for instance, only a glass wall separates the library entrance from the City Council chambers. People patronizing the library may drop into government meetings and fortuitously get more involved, both men say.
This branch is different from others, Ptacek says, "because of the relationship to the place that we're going to help build."
Hughes, the deli owner, is counting on library patrons to help replace the customers he lost when the office building once on the site was torn down.
Martin says the library and the new park also should feed off each other. Burien's weekly farmers market is scheduled to move to the park next month. Streets through the development can be blocked off to create more space for concerts, festivals and other special events.
And the city has created a temporary sculpture park, dominated by a 30-foot-tall scrap-metal piece first displayed at Nevada's Burning Man festival.
Tough time for condos
Buyers have put down deposits on about 45 of the 124 condos, Rosenfeld says, but most pre-sales date back to 2007, before the housing market nose-dived. "It's a lot more difficult now than it was — I don't deny that," the developer says.
Prices at Burien Town Square range from the mid-$200s to the mid-$600s. Two sales have closed so far, according to county records.
Some buyers — many of them longtime Burien residents looking to downsize — are having trouble closing because they can't sell existing homes. Urban Partners is working to restructure those deals, Rosenfeld says.
Rosenfeld says he hopes today's celebration will jump-start sales. Burien is one of the region's best-kept secrets, he maintains: relatively affordable, vibrant, close to the airport and closer to downtown Seattle than most people think.
"There's an outdated picture of Burien that's stuck in a lot of people's minds," he says.
Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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