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October 5, 2000

2 Pioneer Square buildings may become 50 artists' lofts

Journal Staff Reporter

Hoping to recapture the unique working-class feel of Pioneer Square, King County Executive Ron Sims on Wednesday announced plans to sell two buildings for $2.58 million so they can be redeveloped as artists lofts.

Kaplan building
Two floors may be added to the Kaplan building (shown on the left) and one floor added to the adjoining Tashiro building in a $5.5 million redevelopment project.

Sims wants to sell the 93-year-old Kaplan and Tashiro buildings at Third Avenue South and Prefontaine South, to be redeveloped at a cost of about $5.5 million by the Pioneer Square Community Development Organization and Artspace Projects, Inc. of Minneapolis. Artspace is a national developer for the arts which has been involved in a number of renovation projects to convert historic buildings into affordable housing.

The County Council must still approval the sale.

"Pioneer Square is a community that has been defined by the presence of artists and arts-related business," said Sims. "Major capital projects and redevelopment over the past five years in this neighborhood have displaced close to 200 artists from their studios in six buildings."

The development will house about 50 one-, two- and three-bedroom units, as well as parking and ground-floor retail, according to Jerry Stickney, whose firm Stickney Murphy Romine prepared conceptual drawings. The units would range from 800 to 2,000 square feet, emphasizing natural light and flexible floor plans.

Stickney said the plans call for adding two floors to the 32,500-square-foot Kaplan Building and one floor to the 28,000-square-foot Tashiro Building. The buildings are within the Pioneer Square Preservation District.

There will be 20,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, with 10,000 square feet being used by the King County Office of Cultural Resources.

Deborah Cushing, executive director of the Pioneer Square Community Development Organization, said the development is part of a gradual revitalization of the area that includes renovations to the nearby Frye Hotel, new artists lofts at Second and Yesler and the recent opening of an office for safety ambassadors with the Metropolitan Improvement District, located adjacent to the hotel.

Another bright spot may be the proposed seismic upgrade of the County Courthouse, which could include reopening the south side of the building as the main entrance, leading to City Park -- directly across from the Kaplan and Tashiro buildings.

"We see this as an important element to a lot of good things that are going on in that neighborhood," Cushing said. "That area is a critical bridge connecting Pioneer Square, the county buildings and the International District."

The lofts would be available to working artists making 50 percent or less of median income. Bringing artists back to the neighborhood would help fulfill goals of the Pioneer Square neighborhood plan, and bring a balance between "the high-income condo dwellers and the homeless and low income," Cushing added.

Cathryn Vandenbrink, a consultant to Artspace Projects, said the space will help make up for artist spaces that have been lost to condos and commercial development in recent years. "As fast as the dot-coms have risen, the artists spaces have fallen," she said. "We want a balanced community."

The Tashiro and Kaplan buildings were acquired by King County Department of Transportation in 1985 to aid in the construction of the bus tunnel. The county held the property to use for expansion of county offices or as surplus property to be sold.

"This is a proposal that understands the vision for this property will create a vital and cohesive neighborhood for future residents," said Sims.

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