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February 27, 2002

Earthquake aftermath: a tale of two buildings

  • A year after the quake, the Starbucks Center is up and running again. But a damaged social-service center in Pioneer Square sits mostly empty.
    Journal Staff Reporter

    Photo by Jon Silver
    Rick Friedhoff directs the Compass Center, which suffered structural damage during last year's earthquake. The Pioneer Square building, still shrouded in scaffolding, will require $5.5 million to repair.

    Rick Friedhoff thought a truck was rumbling by. Kevin Daniels enjoyed the thrill of the ride.

    Both were experiencing the jolt the Feb. 28 earthquake sent throughout the Puget Sound region. And a year later, both are still dealing with the aftermath.

    Friedhoff directs the Compass Center, a Lutheran social-service center in Pioneer Square. The damage to its five-story building at 77 S. Washington St. was bad enough to earn it a red tag from city inspectors -- meaning the building was considered too unstable to enter. Many of the center's services were quickly relocated, but today much of the building still sits empty, save the steel cable tiebacks that keep the building's north wall from toppling over. The estimated repair bill: $5.5 million.

    Daniels is president of Nitze-Stagen, which owns the 1.8 million-square-foot Starbucks Center at First Avenue South and South Lander Street. Though the damage to the building was primarily cosmetic, it was also widespread. Virtually every brick in the building installed before 1970 suffered from cracks, Daniels said. Considering the building's massive facade was constructed between 1915 and 1965, that accounts for just about all of those bricks. The estimated repair bill: over $50 million.

    Though both buildings are old by Seattle standards -- the Compass Center was built in 1903 and the Starbucks Center in 1912 (with five additions coming later) -- that's about where their similarities end. The buildings represent opposite ends of a spectrum comprising about 530 buildings throughout the city that sustained moderate-to-severe earthquake damage last year. Since then, only about a half of them have been declared safe enough to fully reoccupy. In general, the smaller tenants have a tougher row to hoe.

    The $40,000 suitcase

    Friedhoff was in his third-floor office when the earthquake struck. The building sits next to the Alaskan Way Viaduct, so it wasn't until a coworker announced "This is an earthquake!" that Friedhoff reacted to the commotion. "I stood in the doorway," he said, "and heard horrific noises and pops."

    When the dust cleared, Friedhoff thought the 23,000-square-foot building made it through OK. Then he saw the gaping cracks crawling down the building's northeast and northwest corners. "I had to shut the building down," he said, and send employees home.

    The Compass Center had 76 homeless residents that day, Friedhoff said, though only a third of them were in the building at the time. Those who returned were encouraged to use other shelters -- the city opened one for emergency use at the Seattle Center -- and St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Fremont even removed its pews and plunked 50 bunk beds in their place. Other Compass residents received housing payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    The center's bank maintains 1,200 accounts and gets busy when government checks arrive on the first of the month. On March 1, the bank operated out of the lobby of the United Way on Cherry Street. Compass Center employees handed out cash from a beige suitcase loaded with $40,000. The center later rented a 600-square-foot trailer to house the bank, which it operated under the viaduct for three months.

    Plans to rebuild

    The Compass Center isn’t exactly back to normal yet, but except for the beds, it’s providing all its services -- if not quite at the level it used to. The bank has returned to the building, but meal service has been scaled back, as have the hygiene center hours, Friedhoff said.

    Like many of the small-building owners in Pioneer Square, the Compass Center couldn't afford to purchase earthquake insurance or complete a seismic retrofit. So when the earthquake hit, the unreinforced masonry structure started to crumble.

    The center has spent $160,000 to shore up the building while it plans a renovation and seismic upgrade with IL Gross Engineers and Stickney Murphy Romine Architects. Synergy Construction performed the shoring work.

    To pay for the project, the Compass Center is counting on money from FEMA and a number of other government sources. Tomorrow morning, it will kick off a $1.5 million capital campaign at Safeco Field.

    Friedhoff hopes to start the construction by the end of the year, but said the construction can’t begin until all the money is in place.

    "It’s a historic building in a historic district, and expensive to rebuild," Friedhoff said. "It would make more sense to start over, but we want to be good neighbors."

    An E-ticket ride

    Photo by Jon Silver
    The Starbucks Center was well-prepared for the Nisqually earthquake, but still accrued $50 million worth of cosmetic damage. The Starbucks logo that sat atop the building won't likely return until the fall.

    Kevin Daniels knows an E-ticket attraction when he sees one. "I used to sell tickets at Disneyland, and this was better," he said of his experience during the quake. "We were given quite a ride."

    Daniels was in the Starbucks Center when the earthquake struck. "The parapet fell and made a bang," Daniels said, but he remembered feeling secure because Nitze-Stagen had finished retrofitting the building just a few years before. Still, repairs are only about halfway done, he said.

    Over 3,000 people evacuated the Starbucks Center after the quake, about 2,000 of which were Starbucks employees. Despite the exterior damage and some broken water pipes, the building itself emerged structurally sound.

    Daniels' firm worked first to restore the interior so that the tenants could reoccupy the building quickly. The water problems were cleared up by May.

    That timetable wasn’t quick enough for some the building's 50 tenants. "Quite a few of the small businesses that needed to keep operating to stay alive didn’t remain," Daniels said. "The repairs are tough to do when the building is fully occupied." For all that, he estimated that less than 100,000 square feet remains unoccupied.

    Nitze Stagen is now working on the exterior of the building, Daniels said. A number of national engineering firms -- KCE Matrix, Weidlinger Associates, Rutherford & Chekene, Degenkolb Engineers and ABS Consulting among them -- have been performing structural analyses to determine what comes next. That decision will largely determine the cost of the repairs. "That’s the tens of million-dollar question," Daniels said.

    Daniels hopes to have the building repairs completed within a year.

    Starbucks’ peek-a-boo mermaid logo atop the building has been absent since last spring. Daniels said it could be replaced any time, but won’t be until the repairs are made to the façade. "We hope to have it up by early fall," he said.


    Jon Silver can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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