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Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Eugene Horbach, maverick Bellevue developer

Seattle Times Eastside business reporter

Eugene Horbach had a reputation for pulling off tough real-estate deals at the last minute.

His deals, which some observers called risky, turned Mr. Horbach into one of the biggest landowners in downtown Bellevue. As late as 2002, he owned 10 acres of prime real estate there — then he lost much of it.

Mr. Horbach died at Harborview Medical Center on Thursday (Jan. 1) from complications related to a fall. He was 77.

In 1989, his company became well-known for putting together the second-largest real-estate transaction in the area's history when Boeing paid Mr. Horbach and his partner, Michael Mastro, $211 million cash for 10 office buildings and two garages.

"He saw things people didn't see in the real-estate field," said Mastro, who was involved in real-estate deals with Mr. Horbach just a few weeks ago. "He had an amazing facility for predicting Boeing's needs, and that alone would qualify him as a real-estate visionary."

The maverick Bellevue developer saw his share of wins and losses.

In June, he lost the Bellevue Technology Tower, an uncompleted 20-story office tower, in a foreclosure sale.

In September, he sold his remaining Bellevue properties on Northeast Eighth Street for $30 million to a group that included a Utah investor who buys financially troubled real estate.

In 1990, Mr. Horbach narrowly saved several of his Renton office buildings when he sent a check on a $3 million loan one day before the scheduled foreclosure.

Two years later, he paid King County $126,000 in back taxes on different properties in Renton and Bellevue — a day before their foreclosure sales.

Still, Mr. Horbach's dealings won him respect. "He wasn't afraid to put it all on the line," said Spencer Hall, a friend and one of his lawyers. "He loved envisioning and creating a project and then seeing it through. He wasn't afraid to reach for something that was out of his grasp."

Mr. Horbach lost buildings and lots in Seattle, Bellevue and Renton after he defaulted on loans or failed to pay property taxes, but he always managed to stay afloat. There were numerous lawsuits and claims filed against him over the years, but Mr. Horbach didn't let legal difficulties stop him. He kept coming back, and when he did, he always bet big.

Born June 27, 1926, in Klicz, Poland, he was the only child of Luba and Nikifore Horbach. He survived six years of German occupation, part of that time in a forced-labor camp. After World War II, he graduated from the University of Darmstadt and immigrated to the United States in 1950.

After serving in the military, Mr. Horbach married Joyce Saari and moved to Bellevue in 1953. He founded his development company, E&H Properties, four years later and went on to develop several million square feet of office, retail and industrial properties throughout the western United States.

While Mr. Horbach became one of the largest landowners in downtown Bellevue, his needs remained modest.

He drove an old Cadillac, stayed in his unassuming Bellevue office and refused to let valets at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel park his car when he ate at Shuckers, the hotel pub, several times a week.

Mr. Horbach also collected Asian art, served as president of the Ukrainian Trinity Orthodox Church, was a supporter of the Seattle Symphony and a benefactor of the Holy Rosary Catholic parish.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Horbach is survived by two daughters, Nicolette of Washington, D.C., and Sandra of New York City; a son, Eric of Bellevue; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service was held yesterday at Green's Funeral Home and Sunset Hill Chapel, and was followed by a private burial. In lieu of flowers, remembrance donations may be made to the Northwest Kidney Center.

Kristina Shevory: 206-464-2039 or kshevory@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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