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July 13, 2020

Unico, Lake Union Partners prepare big Pioneer Square renovation plan

Real Estate Editor

Renderings by BuildingWork [enlarge]
The Box House building would be restored back to the four-story height of the original Interurban Hotel.

Looking southwest from Yesler and Occidental, this aerial view diagram shows the new layering of floors atop the seismically retrofitted old buildings.

Last year, Unico Properties acquired most of a half block in Pioneer Square, with multiple buildings and addresses. This Wednesday, in a virtual meeting, the Pioneer Square Preservation District board will see the early renovation and addition plan for what's now being called the Korn Walker Block.

Lake Union Partners and BuildingWork are leading the effort for Unico's Boutique Office Portfolio (BOP) ownership group. The general plan is offices over retail/commercial space, with no estimate yet how much new space would be created.

The hope is to connect all or most of the floors in the now separate buildings. In effect, the multiple old structures would become a single new building.

The Korn Walker project comprises eight historic buildings bounded by Yesler Way, Occidental Avenue South, South Washington Street and the alley to the west.

At the time of the DJC's last update, in December, Unico had seven buildings in its hands. It since added the small corner Stratton Building (home to Lady Yum bakery), at 116 S. Washington, for $1.6 million in January. (Most other sellers made zero-dollar trades into the new BOP fund.)

Of the eight, perhaps the most iconic is the Merchants Cafe building, at 109 Yesler. Perhaps the most derelict is the Korn Building, home to Trinity nightclub (now closed), at 119 Yesler. The least notable, bound for an addition, is the Walker Building (aka Saveway), at 107 Occidental.

Many of those names and uses have changed over the years, and several of the buildings lost their upper floors and ornamentation after being damaged by the big 1949 earthquake that so radically altered Pioneer Square.

BuildingWork states: “The scope of this project includes preservation and rehabilitation of existing buildings, reconstruction of floors that were removed after the 1949 earthquake, and new construction in targeted areas. The work on all eight buildings will include facade restoration, seismic retrofits, and upgrades for energy efficiency, accessibility and life safety.”

The now one-story Casco Antiguo building, at 115 Occidental, will be razed; it's considered a non-contributing structure in the preservation district. In its place will go a modern new five-story building, possibly with a glass curtainwall facade.

For the other unreinforced masonry buildings, the seismic work, by Coughlin Porter Lundeen, will be especially challenging. It'll be done all at once, with “one interconnected seismic restraint system, which will have less impact on the historic building facades.” The architect says it's a system “in which all eight buildings work together structurally.”

On the north end of the block, the Korn Building will have its lost parapet and cornice rebuilt, along with a full restoration. The 130-year-old Merchants Cafe Building is in much better shape. It's unclear what will become of the furnished apartments above the cafe, which are being rented in an Airbnb-type operation by the cafe owner, Darcy Hanson. The cafe would have to close during construction — then possibly return.

The midblock Walker/Saveway building would get two new floors, plus a penthouse connecting to that over the Korn Building.

The three buildings on the south end of the block, including the Box House, would have masonry additions restoring them to their pre-earthquake height of four stories.

Project goals include LEED Gold certification, zero-carbon development, and design for occupant health and wellness.

Though it also does plenty of ground-up projects, Lake Union Partners has experience with historic rehab jobs. Its renovation of the State Hotel, formerly the Eitel Building, near Pike Place Market, was honored last year by Historic Seattle as best preservation project.


Brian Miller can be reached by email at brian.miller@djc.com or by phone at (206) 219-6517.

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