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Wednesday, October 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sims wants tower to replace King County's "ugly" building

Seattle Times staff reporters

King County Executive Ron Sims wants to tear down one of downtown Seattle's least attractive buildings — the county Administration Building — and replace it with a tower of up to 42 stories.

The concept, still in its early stages, is for some kind of deal with a private developer that would allow part of the building to be used for county offices and part for commercial use.

Sims and his staff have been considering a new building of 40 to 42 stories, but Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said Mayor Greg Nickels isn't inclined to support a building that tall. In that area, the limit is 340 feet — about 30 or more stories — which Sims' tower would likely exceed.

The mayor and City Council completed sweeping revisions to downtown zoning earlier this year, and Ceis said it's not the time to start granting rezones on top of that.

"It sets a precedent," Ceis said. "How can you say 'no' to the next person when they say, 'You just gave the county 40 stories, why not us?' "

Sims has scheduled a news conference this morning to announce his idea "for the transformation of a prominent downtown building." His spokeswoman, Carolyn Duncan, declined to discuss the subject Tuesday.

Kathy Brown, the county facilities-management director, confirmed the county was considering a building of up to 42 floors on the block directly south of Seattle's three-year-old City Hall. She said the idea is "very preliminary" and the next step is to ask developers for their thoughts on how the property might be redeveloped.

The nine-story Administration Building lies between Jefferson and James streets and between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The recently renovated King County Courthouse is immediately to the west, and a new county office building is under construction immediately to the south.

The building under construction, scheduled to open next year, is expected to house most of the county offices that are now in expensive leased space in downtown Seattle.

Brown said the idea is to "condominiumize" the Administration Building's replacement so the county would own only the floors on which it has offices, while private owners would own the other floors. It was not immediately clear whether the private floors would most likely be offices or housing.

She said the county would seek formal proposals from developers only if preliminary discussions suggest the building could be replaced in a "revenue-neutral" way — meaning the county either would not lose money or would profit on the deal.

Because the building's mechanical systems need replacement and because any remodeling would entail removal of hazardous asbestos, Brown said, "The cost is astronomical for any kind of remodeling."

County and city officials agree on at least one thing: the dubious aesthetics of the Administration Building, a squat, fortresslike building with diagonal lines.

"I think everybody acknowledges it may be the ugliest building in downtown Seattle," Ceis said.

Actually, Brown said, the building is even worse than that: "It was voted like the ugliest government building in the country in the '70s, shortly after it was built — seriously. It's really bad."

The City Council has the final say on rezoning, and Ceis predicted approval would be tough. He pointed to a recent proposal to build a skyscraper on vacant city land across from City Hall. The council rejected that idea, saying most of the parcel should be preserved for open space.

The county plan "would have a shading effect on City Hall for sure, and the council has been very protective of the civic campus," Ceis said.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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