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January 22, 2021

Green Tortoise building landmarked, but 14-story hotel plan not dead

Real Estate Editor

DJC file photo, by Brian Miller [enlarge]
For now, interior renovations are planned to help stabilize the underperforming property during the pandemic.

In a six to one vote, the city's Landmarks Preservation Board voted on Wednesday to designate the over century-old Hahn Building, at 103 Pike St. , as a Seattle landmark. As the DJC reported in November, the building owners had submitted the old three-story structure, aka the Green Tortoise Hostel building, for landmarking despite six-year-old plans to knock it down for a new 14-story hotel that would overlook Pike Place Market.

That plan now appears to be on hold, but not dead, per the owners' correspondence with the city.

Back in 2014, before the new hotel plan, the landmarks board had voted against such designation. The owners' new plan met fierce opposition by residents in the neighboring Newmark condominium tower — some of whom would've lost their views — and Save the Market Entrance/Historic Seattle. The pandemic is also casting a long shadow on the hospitality business, which may take years to recover.

For now, Green Tortoise still appears to be operating on the upper two floors — though with how many guests is unknown. It's been a tenant since 2005 or 2006, and previously told the DJC it was looking for a new downtown home. Seattle Shirt Co. has also filed plans to expand its ground-floor retail operation.

The owners' latest plan for the upper two floors is for renovation only, without a seismic retrofit. BuildingWork is the architect. No general contractor is mentioned. The architect says in its permit application, “The eventual plan for this site is the demolition of existing structure and new construction consistent with the zone development standards and published Master Use Permit decision.”

No MUP has been issued. The city early last year approved Ankrom Moisan's design for the new hotel. That decision was appealed to the city's Hearing Examiner; hearings have been repeatedly delayed by the pandemic.

One of the building owners, Lars Jonsson, wrote to the city last fall: “Our ownership is forced to take emergency measures that would otherwise be economically or practically unfeasible in an attempt to mitigate these unprecedented economic impacts.

“We have identified the proposed interim tenant improvements on the upper floors of 103 Pike as a ‘stop-gap' measure. Let us be clear, this is only a temporary plan.”

Jonsson, of Stellar Holdings, and Doug Buck bought the building in 1986 from original developers the Hahn family for $1.2 million.

Jonsson also called the renovations “only an effort to slow the losses being incurred due to the COVID pandemic until such time as the project can proceed.”

It's important to note that landmarking does not preclude future demolition. If the landmarks board later declines to place controls on 103 Pike, it could still be razed. Prior examples include the Wayne Apartments in Belltown and Galbraith House on Capitol Hill.

Or Ankrom Moisan could scrap the old design, preserve the three-story facade, then erect a new building within the old bricks. That's the approach often taken on Capitol Hill's Auto row — and by Martin Selig Real Estate with the old Firestone building in South Lake Union.


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

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