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Wednesday, June 27, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Developer tries to sell key downtown Bellevue block

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

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An apparent effort by developer Eugene Horbach to sell off a prized parcel in downtown Bellevue is raising conjecture that he is scrambling for money to finish his stalled Bellevue Technology Tower project, where a construction stoppage last month left a conspicuous hole in the ground.

Horbach, who owns most of an eight-acre "superblock" along busy Northeast Eighth Street, is marketing about five acres there, an agent told a representative of fellow developer Kemper Freeman Jr. last week.

Freeman said he declined the offer, despite the prime location near his own Bellevue Place development and the Bellevue Square mall, which his father created.

If someone does buy the superblock, however, some speculate the proceeds would help pay off a $22 million loan for the tower or the $9.5 million in recent claims filed by construction companies that are owed payment.

If that's the case, Horbach won't say.

Horbach did not respond to numerous interview requests. Michael Barnes of Barnes & Nelson Union Partners, which made the loan, was unavailable for comment, while a leasing agent referred questions to Horbach.

Work halted on the 20-story building nearly five weeks ago, raising doubts about whether Horbach can meet his goal of opening by July of next year.

The tower was conceived in the late-1990s e-business boom. Horbach was so fervent about its potential that he offered a half-million dollars to a Kaufman's Big & Tall men's clothing store to move off the property at 333 108th Ave. N.E., in a financial district that one businessman calls "the Wall Street of Bellevue."

The tower design boasts fiber-optic lines, satellite receivers and local networks catering to businesses of the future. Now it represents, at least temporarily, the pain of a dot-com meltdown. Brokers say there is at least 2 million square feet of vacant office space on the Eastside, and some companies that pre-leased space in the technology tower have laid off employees.

Suspension of the tower project until the market rebounds, or simply building the parking garage for the time being, might be a better move for Horbach, theorizes Bob Wallace, a Bellevue developer.

"It may not be an illogical decision, even if you have the money," he said.

Whether Horbach can afford to finish the tower is unclear. The prime contractor, DPR Construction, filed an $8.84 million lien at the King County Recorder's Office two weeks ago. Another contractor, J.R. Hayes & Sons of Maple Valley, filed a $655,116 lien against the tower. Two subcontractors are demanding $2 million from DPR.

If Horbach unloads his Northeast Eighth property, that might mean abandoning his dream of erecting seven high-rise buildings there in a mixed-use complex containing apartments, offices and shops. A superblock in downtown Bellevue, which was designed for easier car travel, is bigger than four Seattle city blocks.

For now, that land remains a blend of renovated and weathered strip-mall buildings, along with a few second-growth cedar trees. Nestled in the center is Greg's Place Auto Rebuild, a concrete-block workshop where longtime occupant Greg Orth has stayed put through years of rumors about land liquidations.

"It's going to happen pretty soon," said Orth, who has worked on Horbach's silver Cadillac El Dorado. "I give it a year, a year-and-a-half. The property is too valuable for me sitting back here."

According to Freeman, the asking price was $175 per square foot, which would equate to $7.6 million per acre.

"It hasn't sparked a lot of interest at this point," he said.

Horbach founded his development firm, E&H Properties, in 1957. He claims to own more than $50 million in assets, according to a court document. He has survived numerous claims and lawsuits over the years.

Mike Lindblom can be reached at 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com.

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