Wednesday, April 26, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Transit station sits on valuable land

Seattle Times staff reporter

A linchpin in the tentative transfer of the downtown Seattle bus tunnel to Sound Transit is the Convention Place transit station, which King County would retain and then sell to developers for a hotel or office tower.

The station, which looks like a huge crater between Interstate 5 and Ninth Avenue, may be the homeliest of the five tunnel stations.

But it's on some of the most valuable land in Seattle: two blocks of undeveloped downtown real estate with its own freeway ramp, near the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, the downtown shopping district and the new federal-courthouse site.

King County has long envisioned a high-rise atop the station.

Insiders say the county tentatively agreed to sell the tunnel to Sound Transit for a reduced price - about $300 million less than the tunnel cost to build - in part because it could keep the station.

"This is sort of the glue that put the whole thing together because of the value that's potentially there, in this site," said Ron Posthuma, who oversees development of county transit facilities.

The arrangement also would let Sound Transit put down less cash for the tunnel. It would help the county secure full ownership of the station through separate land deals with the state, which owns a portion. That's worth $14 million to the county and helps justify the lower tunnel price.

Sound Transit would also pay the city $2.5 million to vacate right of way through the site, making it easier to develop and more valuable.

The county hopes to sell the station to developers for at least $32 million. Sound Transit would get $5.6 million of that.

Posthuma said the county would solicit bids for the site in two years, after consolidation of ownership. Development could begin in 2005.

Meanwhile, Sound Transit would use the station to stage construction. The station wouldn't be used for light rail; trains would use the tunnel but would head east under Pine Street a block south of the station. The Convention Place transit station is too shallow and close to the freeway for the trains, which would go under I-5.

There would be no light-rail stop at the convention center; the nearest would be at Westlake Center and at First Hill, said Paul Matsuoka, Sound Transit deputy executive director.

For years County Executive Ron Sims has been trying to sell or lease transit properties to developers.

An original goal was to encourage affordable housing and maximize use of park-and-ride lots. The lots were mostly purchased by the federal government for Metro in the 1960s.

Now the "transit-oriented development" program has been expanded to include commercial projects and full-price apartments, and Sound Transit is getting involved.

At Northgate, the county and mall owner plan to share a multiple-story parking garage proposed at the transit station in the mall's south parking lot.

The Convention Place site isn't appropriate for affordable housing because construction costs are so high, Posthuma said.

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