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Originally published July 15, 2014 at 6:28 PM | Page modified July 16, 2014 at 6:44 AM

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Onni wants taller towers in return for saving green space in South Lake Union

A Vancouver-based developer proposing what would be downtown Seattle’s largest residential complex has offered to save the so-called Seattle Times park if it is granted extra height on two of the four towers.


Seattle Times business reporter

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A Vancouver, B.C., developer will present revised plans Wednesday for a 1,950-unit project on two city blocks that, if completed, could be the largest residential complex yet in downtown Seattle.

Late last year, the Onni Group proposed four high-rise towers stretching from Denny Way to Thomas Street, just east of Amazon.com’s world headquarters, on land acquired from The Seattle Times Co.

Its initial plan didn’t preserve the old Seattle Times park at the corner of Fairview Avenue North and John Street.

In its revised plan filed with the city, Onni says it will preserve the park in exchange for a departure from the city’s 240-foot height limit on the north block between John and Thomas streets: One tower would rise to 324 feet, the other to 276 feet, under the developer’s preferred option. Together, these towers would provide 865 units.

The two 42-story towers on the south block between Denny Way and John Street would have 1,085 units and rise to the 400-foot height limit allowed under existing zoning.

Onni is designing all the units to a condominium standard so that the developer has the flexibility to make them either apartments or condos, said Evan Lewis, Onni’s spokesman on the project, in an email.

The developer has proposed keeping John Street open to vehicles, but also supplied an alternative design for turning it into a pedestrian-only plaza.

As part of its preferred option, Onni would tear down the facade of the original 1931 Seattle Times production plant on Fairview Avenue North, but preserve the separate, historically landmarked Seattle Times building on John Street.

Onni is to present its plans at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Queen Anne Community Center at 1901 First Ave. W.

The Canadian developer acquired the property in 2013.

Last July it bought the south block for $33.5 million, and in November, the adjacent block north of John Street for $29 million.

Real-estate experts said the scale of Onni Group’s towers, if completed, would be unprecedented.

“For everybody’s sake in the market, I hope they phase it,” as opposed to finishing all the towers at once, said Brian O’Connor, head of Seattle-based O’Connor Consulting Group.

His firm did the market studies for Via 6 and Harbor Steps, downtown Seattle’s largest apartment projects.

Harbor Steps, with 758 units, was completed in four phases in the late 1990s. Via 6 was completed in a single phase in 2013, delivering 654 units.

With the scale of Onni Group’s four high-rises, “I expect some of these apartment towers going up to flip” into condos, O’Connor said.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com



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