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Friday, January 5, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tallest Building To Reach Higher -- City Issues Permit For Seafirst Antennas

Seattle's tallest building is about to get a 190-foot addition.

City officials yesterday issued a permit for construction of two transmitting towers atop the 76-story Columbia Seafirst Center, which last month was purchased by Seafirst Bank from developer Martin Selig for $350 million.

The two towers will be able to accommodate as many as 12 separate users, depending on their needs. One television station, KCPQ-TV, Channel 13, has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to transmit from that site.

KCPQ was the lead customer for the towers, and the FAA was the first agency that had to approve them. KCPQ still must apply to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to use the twin towers, along with three other stations - UHF channels 16, 33 and 51.

Selig had long hoped to take advantage of Columbia Center's height by putting antennas on top of the building. The height lets broadcasters reach the largest possible audience across King County's hilly terrain.

One potential obstacle, though, was the FAA. Local aviators have objected to raising Columbia Center so high. But in 1986 the FAA declared that the antennas would ``have no substantial adverse effect'' on the safe and efficient use of airspace.

That narrowed the objections to aesthetic ones. Opponents have argued that the two antennas will make Columbia Seafirst Center look like a gigantic slug.

Bank officials hope to begin construction on the towers by the end of the year. But in a statement released yesterday, Seafirst President Luke Helms said the timing will depend on reaching agreements with broadcasters and on the availability of the equipment and helicopters needed to build the antennas.

It is not clear whether potential broadcast customers for the new towers will include Seattle's existing major TV stations, or whether they will pursue their own plans for higher towers.

Selig and Seafirst officials have long emphasized the advantages the towers offer. In announcing the city's approval yesterday, Helms said the bank has offered to let Seattle's police and fire communications network use the facility.

Helms also pointed out that the towers will provide improved television and radio reception for thousands of homes and will offer an alternative to increasing the height of transmission towers in communities such as Queen Anne.

``Residential neighborhoods could benefit as well,'' said Helms. ``By locating the towers on our building, we will provide an option to consolidate some of the antennae now located in areas such as Capitol Hill and Queen Anne.''

KING, KOMO and KIRO all have proposals with the city to raise the height of their towers, and approval of the antennas atop Columbia Center may not necessarily alter their plans.

Chuck Morris, director of engineering for KIRO, said the station approached Columbia Center about using the towers several years ago and has never heard back.

``We've tried on three separate occasions to get an inkling of what they would charge us and they've never gotten back to us,'' he said. ``The rumor is you're going to have to be rich to get on that tower.''

Seafirst officials won't comment on potential customers, but so far interest in the towers appears to be highest among out-of-town stations that want to make inroads into the Seattle market, and stations not yet on the air.

Channel 33 is KBGE, a direct-sale channel that offers discounted merchandise. It is operated by Robert Gill Communications Limited Partnership. Channel 16 is licensed to KONG-TV of Everett. The station is not yet on the air, and though it has FCC approval to build a tower, it has so far been unable to find a place to put it.

The third organization interested in the new towers is KBEH-TV, Channel 51. The station is owned by Bellevue Broadcasting Limited of Issaquah. Though the station has a permit to build a transmission tower, it is not yet on the air.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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