Burien's breakup with developer turns bitter
Burien is exchanging veiled threats with the developer it picked in 2003 to create a shiny new development for its downtown. Also, why Facebook moved into Seattle's Metropolitan Park office tower.
Back in 2003 the city of Burien picked Los Angeles-based developer Urban Partners from among several private-sector suitors to help breathe life into its sleepy downtown and give the postwar suburb a more identifiable center.
Nine years and one recession can take a toll on any relationship.
Now the Burien-Urban partnership is dissolving. They're badmouthing each other. They could end up in court.
Divorces can be like that.
Burien chose Urban to help it develop a project that later was named Burien Town Square, a 10-acre, $193 million complex in the middle of town that was meant to have a new city hall, library, park, about 400 condos and 70,000 square feet of shops and restaurants.
In 2007 the city sold five acres scheduled for residential and retail development to Urban, keeping the remainder for the park, civic buildings and new streets.
The city hall and library opened in mid-2009, as did Urban's first phase: a 7-story building with 124 condos atop 20,000 square feet of retail.
Its timing, of course, couldn't have been worse. A year after the grand opening just six of the condos had sold. All the retail remained unleased. Urban ultimately lost the first phase to foreclosure.
But a clause in its development agreement with Burien required Urban to start building the next phase of condos and retail two years after the first phase opened — July 2011. If it didn't, the city could buy the undeveloped land back for 90 percent of what Urban paid.
Earlier this month the Burien City Council, tired of waiting and evidently tired of Urban, voted unanimously to do just that. Closing is scheduled June 27, City Manager Mike Martin says.
Other developers have expressed interest in Town Square, he says, and the city wants to work with them.
But Urban — now Harbor Urban after acquiring Seattle developer Harbor Properties earlier this year — may not go easily. In a June 4 letter urging Burien to hold off on repurchase, principal Paul Keller accused the city of failing to recognize that the market has changed, and that condos and small retail no longer make sense.
Urban has proposed a "high-quality medical office building" and a cinema for the vacant land, he wrote, but city officials have said no.
Martin counters that the cinema would have required $4 million from city coffers, and the medical office building would have been one story surrounded by asphalt — completely contrary to Burien's vision for Town Square.
In his letter, Keller said Harbor Urban has invested more than $20 million in Town Square with no return, and warned the company "will vigorously defend the investment it has made ... and its record of good-faith bargaining."
He cc'd the letter to two Seattle lawyers, a real-estate specialist and a litigator.
Martin says Burien is anticipating a lawsuit. Harbor Urban didn't respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, the condos in Burien Town Square's first phase aren't exactly flying off the shelves. Despite steep price cuts, county records show buyers have closed on just eight units since the new owner, ST Residential, put the project back on the market last July.
A spokesman says nine more sales are pending. And, after three years, the building is getting its first retail tenant, a Subway.
— Eric Pryne, firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook office lures
buyers for Met Park
Wall Street may not be particularly enamored with Facebook right now, but the social-media giant apparently still rings bells in real-estate circles.
Metropolitan Park East, the Denny Triangle office tower that houses Facebook's Seattle office, sold earlier this month for $112 million. Broker Cleita Harvey of Urbis Partners, who represented seller Walton Street Capital, says Facebook's presence in the building accounted for much of the interest from potential buyers.
This despite the fact that Facebook, which moved in less than three months ago, occupies just 27,000 square feet, less than 10 percent of the 20-story tower.
"It's just got brand recognition," Harvey said of Facebook. "It's validation."
And why did Facebook choose Met Park East, a 1980s building hard by Interstate 5 that is one of downtown's silvery "Twin Toasters?" Harvey, who also represented Walton Street in that deal, revealed some of the reasons this past week in a presentation to the local chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women.
Facebook liked Met Park's views, she said, and the rents are lower than in newer buildings.
But it also liked the building's location near the restaurants, bars and shops of trendy Capitol Hill, just across I-5 via the Olive Way overpass, she added. That suggests the freeway may not be the psychological barrier many assume.
Met Park's proximity to I-5 also meant shorter commutes for many Facebook employees, Harvey said: Half come from the Eastside. Before the move, she said, they could spend up to 10 minutes just getting from the freeway to the company's old office near the Pike Place Market.
— Eric Pryne, email@example.com
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