Photo: SounderBruce/Flickr

After sitting vacant for more than a decade, the large hole in the ground across from Seattle City Hall may finally be developed. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray sent legislation to the City Council on Tuesday authorizing the sale of the long awaited “Civic Square” project to Bosa Development, according to a statement released by Murray’s office.

If the Mayor’s legislation is approved, Bosa Development plans to build a residential tower with street-level retail space and a 25,000 square foot public plaza. The agreement requires Bosa pay at least $5.7 million toward affordable housing through Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program and directs $16 million to equitable development through the City’s Equitable Development Initiative (EDI).

The property between Third and Fourth avenues and James and Cherry streets has been an empty pit since 2005, when the city’s old Public Safety Building was demolished. The agreement with Bosa Development replaces a 2007 agreement with Triad Civic Center LLC, that fell apart after the economic recession and a bizarre political scandal.

Triad Development originally planned to build a high-rise on the site with housing, office and retail space. The city was going to give most of the property to Triad, and in exchange the company was going to build a $25 million “Civic Square” plaza on the remainder, in lieu of payment.

But plans were halted during the recession when the developer failed to line up enough capital and the necessary permits to keep the project moving forward. The project fell apart completely in 2015 after Brett Allen, a former senior vice president at Triad Capital Partners, attempted to pressure Jon Grant, former executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State and candidate for City Council, into dropping a lawsuit challenging the legality of Triad’s land use permit on Civic Square. The Tenants Union contended that the permit had been illegally renewed and contested the terms of the project because they didn’t include affordable housing.

In an effort to get Grant to stop the lawsuit, Allen sent several incriminating text messages offering to disband an independent fundraising committee created for the purposes of taking down Grant before the November 2015 election. In exchange, Grant and the Tenant’s Union would drop the lawsuit against Triad Development. Grant declined, but brought the story to the Seattle Times.  

In light of this unethical behavior, Mayor Murray vowed to end the city’s relationship with Triad on the Civic Square project. Murray backed down after the developer threatened to sue the city. Instead, the Mayor’s office has been working on a deal allowing Triad to transfer its development rights to Bosa Development.

Under the terms of the new agreement, Triad will assign all of its interest in the existing purchase, sale and development agreement to Bosa Development. Triad and the City will release one another from liability, according to a statement by the Mayor’s office.

“This new Civic Square project agreement retains the public plaza envisioned nearly a decade ago, and more importantly provides significant funding that the previous agreement did not. While we continue to revitalize our downtown core, adding open space and housing, the funding will support additional affordable housing and investments in communities most at risk for displacement,” said Murray in a statement.

The project redesign requires Bosa apply for a new Master Use Permit and the City retains final design approval. Assuming a timely MUP approval process, construction is scheduled to commence by January 1, 2019.

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