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January 23, 2009

First Hill church to issue RFP for site

Journal Real Estate Editor

The congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Seattle on First Hill has taken the first step toward redevelopment of its expansive property overlooking downtown.

This week it voted unamimously to allow church leadership to release a request for proposals to potential developers. No date for the RFP has been set.

Also the church's governing body, the Presbytery of Seattle, voted to appoint a committee to study the RFP responses and make recommendations about redevelopment. The committee will have representatives of First Presbyterian, the Presbytery, and experts in development and urban ministry.

“We're going to now regroup and begin to ascertain is this the right time or is it not” to release the RFP, said First Presbyterian Executive Director Timothy Newton. The poor economy and credit crisis will be factored into that decision, he said.

“I think everybody who is a major developer will be interested,” he said. “The question is who can be more than just interested right now.”

First Presbyterian, which has been at its current home since 1907, is saddled with an outdated complex, but has large grounds. It has considered redevelopment for the last decade, but has only taken steps in the last two years toward high-rise development on its one and three-quarter block site just east of Interstate 5.

The property is bounded by Seventh and Eighth avenues and Madison and Seneca streets, although Town Hall sits at Eighth and Seneca and Samis Land Co. owns a slice of land along Seventh.

First Presbyterian envisions having an “urban village” development with high-rise mixed-use commercial space on the Madison portion of the property, including space for the church and its programs. The land is zoned for commercial construction to 160 feet.

It sees a complementary high-rise residential development on the Seneca side, where building is allowed to 240 feet if certain things are included, such as affordable housing, which the church wants.

A draft RFP calls for First Presbyterian to offer its property for sale or as a ground lease or both. It wants to retain debt-free a new sanctuary, administrative, classroom, day care and support space in the commercial complex. Money gained from the land sale would also be used for the ministry.

The Christian education building, chapel and sanctuary would be razed for the new construction.

The Seneca Real Estate Group will help oversee selection of a developer and provide development management.

In recent years, development has been moving up Madison Street from downtown. Opus Northwest is constructing the 7th & Madison office building at the Madison Street exit of Interstate 5; Harbor Properties is finishing up the 81-unit Landes apartments at Eighth Avenue and Marion Street; Laconia Development plans a residential high-rise building at Eighth Avenue and Seneca Street; and Skyline at First Hill, a 26-story senior living complex, is going in between Eighth and Ninth avenues and Cherry and Columbia streets.

First Hill has good views and is within walking distance of downtown. But tenants still consider it more desireable to be west of Interstate 5, despite building costs being equal on either side.

Newton acknowledged there is a “psychological barrier” created by Interstate 5. He said he hopes the Madison Street bridge can be made more pedestrian friendly.

First Presbyterian was established in 1869. At its peak in 1940 it had 8,000 members. But, like other urban churches, its membership has declined steeply over the years. It now has about 140 members.

It would cost $10 million to $12 million to bring the church buildings constructed in the 1960s up to date, a church official has said.


Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.