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Originally published February 9, 2013 at 9:00 PM | Page modified February 10, 2013 at 8:36 PM

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2 towers long on ice show signs of thaw

While one downtown tower suspended by the recession is officially going ahead again, two others are moving more cautiously.

Seattle Times business staff

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Word of the planned fall groundbreaking of the long-delayed, 660-foot Fifth and Columbia Tower got us to wondering about the status of two other proposed downtown skyscrapers on hold since the Great Recession turned the office market on its head.

The bottom line: The developers of 36-story Madison Centre and 42-story Civic Square aren’t ready to pull the trigger yet. But both projects are showing signs of life.

Seattle developer Schnitzer West recently approached city planners with some proposed design modifications to Madison Centre — formerly known as the M5 Commerce Centre — at Fifth Avenue and Madison Street.

The project has been on ice since 2008.

Schnitzer wants to add a little more retail, redesign the common areas and increase the building’s footprint by 3,000 square feet, a change that also means trimming two stories off what had been a 38-story office tower to comply with zoning limits.

The proposed tweaks are designed to better address what tenants want now in an office building, says Steve Cook, Schnitzer’s senior investment manager in charge of the project.

But, unlike Fifth and Columbia’s developers, Schnitzer says it won’t start building Madison Centre without significant preleasing.

“We’re very positive on where the market fundamentals are headed,” says senior investment director Pam Hirsch, “but we’re not looking to go spec [build on speculation] on a building that big.

“And lenders aren’t interested either.”

But prospective tenants are showing interest in the 750,000-square-foot tower, she adds, and Schnitzer plans to launch a major marketing effort next month.

Civic Square also has been on hold for more than four years, since shortly after city planners issued developer Triad Development a land-use permit for the project.

“By that point, the world had collapsed,” says Brett Allen, Triad’s senior vice president

Triad won a city competition in 2006 to redevelop the block between Third and Fourth avenues and James and Cherry streets, where the Public Safety Building once stood.

Its plan: a civic plaza flanked by a 42-story office, residential and retail tower to the north and a low-rise retail pavilion to the south. At Third and James an escalator would descend to the Pioneer Square light-rail and bus-tunnel station.

That’s the plan. Today the Civic Square site is an enormous crater. Triad’s engineers probably have four to eight months of work to do before the project can apply for building permits, Allen says.

Like Schnitzer, Triad vows it won’t start construction without first signing tenants for a good chunk of the project’s 600,000 square feet of office space.

But the company hired brokers last spring to look for investors and/or tenants, Allen says, and if someone committed today the project could break ground in about a year.

“We don’t have anything to announce yet,” he adds. “We’re hopeful we’ll have some news in the second quarter.”

He wouldn’t say more.

— Eric Pryne: epryne@seattletimes.com

Biotech’s shares targeted by fake
Twitter account

Like pornographers, stock manipulators are quick to seize on new media techniques.

The latest twist: fake Twitter accounts that mimic well-known stock skeptics, dishing imaginary dirt on a company to temporarily drive down its shares.

Sarepta Therapeutics, which has offices in Bothell and in Cambridge, Mass., was targeted by such a scam Jan. 30. The fake account claimed to be written by Citron Research, best known for skewering some big Chinese companies as frauds.

Though the tweets alleging improprieties in Sarepta’s clinical trial of a promising new drug weren’t posted for long before being deleted, they briefly sent the company’s stock down nearly 10 percent. More than 700,000 shares of Sarepta traded hands during the one minute of the greatest decline, Reuters reported.

A similar hoax hit chip company Audience the day before, using an account pretending to come from another short-selling research firm, Muddy Waters.

Anyone taking more than a few seconds to examine these Twitter accounts would easily spot them as fakes. Though the one targeting Sarepta used Citron Research as its screen name and displayed the research firm’s bright-yellow lemon logo, its Twitter handle was misspelled: @citreonresearc. And its profile showed it had only ever published two tweets, both repeating the same claim.

Sarepta CEO Chris Garabedian issued a statement declaring that “where false or misleading information is communicated that negatively impacts the company, we will take appropriate action.”

But the Securities and Exchange Commission no doubt has a long case list of suspected market manipulation using social media. Whoever was behind this particular episode is likely now figuring out how to cheat the market using Pinterest or Tumblr.

— Rami Grunbaum: rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com

Signs of life
in condo project

From Burien comes word that condos at last are starting to sell at Burien Town Square — the project that was envisioned as a catalyst for revitalizing the city’s downtown but had the misfortune to come to market at just the wrong time.

The seven-story project, built by Urban Partners of Los Angeles, was part of a public-private development that included a new city hall, library and park on one of Burien’s main drags.

But the condos were finished in 2009, when home values were plummeting and buyers hard to find. A clause in Urban Partners’ construction loan prohibited it from cutting prices to meet the market; by the time it lost the building to foreclosure in October 2010, just six of the 124 units had sold.

The new owner, ST Residential, cut prices an average of 35 percent and put the condos back on the market nine months later. Still, they languished.

But according to property records 15 condos have sold since September, bringing total sales to 35. And Matrix Real Estate, the firm marketing the complex, says 11 more sales are pending.

Considering this project’s history, that probably qualifies as a sales spurt.

Buyers have paid anywhere from $130,000 to $426,000 for condos that were priced between the mid-200s and the mid-600s back in the day.

— Eric Pryne: epryne@seattletimes.com

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