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August 2, 2022
As the DJC first reported last year, our next-door neighbor the Seattle Steam plant is being decommissioned, and Kidder Mathews is selling the historic and landmarked complex. (Seattle Steam became Enwave in 2014, and more recently CenTrio.)
No buyer has emerged for the over century-old brick pile at 619 - 633 Post Ave. But CenTrio will brief the Pioneer Square Preservation District Board on Wednesday as to what it's thinking. That will be a virtual presentation.
In its memo to the board, architect BuildingWork writes, “The owner anticipates adaptive reuse of the buildings with a multi-story addition. At this stage, ownership is seeking input from the Pioneer Square Preservation Board on an initial adaptive reuse massing concept that may garner board support.”
The current complex began life circa 1893 as a one-story building (Old Post Station), then grew north over the decades. New Post Station was completed circa 1902, with its last addition in the 1930s.
The complex now has about 44,067 square feet, with wildly varying and nearly unusable ceiling and floor configurations. It's also on the city's dreaded roster of unreinforced masonry buildings, aka the URM list. And of course it's on the state Department of Ecology's list of polluted sites, too. In other words: a money pit.
CenTrio told the DJC last year that it hoped to be completely out of the complex by this fall. There were also hints a buyer was on the hook.
BuildingWork is proposing four new levels for Old Post, with setbacks. New Post would have its roof and current floors removed. Then new floors, accompanied by an overdue seismic retrofit, and a new penthouse would make it a seven-story building.
Total project size for the renovated complex would be around 99,474 square feet — more than doubling what it has today.
Future use would depend on the buyer, and the board's preliminary approval. BuildingWork envisions “a combination of retail, commercial office and residential.”
Looking at the floorplates, one could imagine: New Post, offices; and Old Post, residential. Western Avenue would surely be the renovation project's public face, since Post is so dingy and grim.
Whatever happens, it won't come cheap. CenTrio is now removing the guts of the complex, including asbestos-clad pipes. Says the architect, “This unusual combination of interior demolition, environmental cleanup, structural work, and code-mandated upgrades represents an exceptionally high financial burden on any proposal to rehabilitate and re-use the buildings. If the buildings cannot be rehabilitated, they will be unused and fall into further disrepair — which will pose significant risks to the public safety, economic vitality, and cultural heritage of the district.”
Here it should be noted that the Seattle Steam plant is, unfortunately, just north of the federally tax-favored Opportunity Zone that encompasses most of Pioneer Square. (Yesler Way is the boundary.) That removes one incentive to prospective buyers.
Among local developers, Unico Properties, Nitze-Stagen and Lake Union Partners have occasionally ventured into such old rickety buildings in what some call the “stick and brick” district. It's hard to imagine a national developer taking an interest in such a small, extremely challenging project.
King County values the half-acre property at $8.2 million. (The buildings are assessed at all of $1.) It's unlikely to sell for much over that estimate.
CenTrio's broker at KM is Ross Klinger. In December he sold its wood-powered steam boiler property at 1318 Western Ave., a few blocks north, for $8 million. That went to the owners of the Four Seasons hotel above, in a view-protection deal. The boiler had been removed before the sale.
By contrast, the 178-foot-tall smokestack at the original steam plant is protected and will be preserved. The roof may someday come off, and the new penthouse would later wrap around it. But it would remain as a purely decorative artifact of the once industrial waterfront.
Brian Miller can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (206) 219-6517.