What Is Urban Partners Planning To Do With Burien Town Square?
Is Urban Partners, the private developer for Burienâ€™s Town Square, just trying to cut its financial losses?
Or is the Los Angeles-based firm beginning to pull out of this major downtown project?
No one with the city seems to know the answers to these questions. Urban Partners apparently is telling council members and staff almost nothing about their plans for the recession-plagued development.
And unlike Dan Rosenfeld â€“ who led the effort by Urban Partners to contract with the city, then maintained a visible profile here â€“ managing principal Paul Keller is not keeping Burien residents updated on the status of this ambitious project in the heart of their downtown.
In fact, there has been no public discussion about Town Square since Urban Partners approached the city council last fall with a proposal, based on existing housing market realities, that they be permitted to develop a multiplex cinema on one of the vacant parcels rather than a second condo/retail complex as originally envisioned.
Keller has not responded to repeated requests by The B-Town Blog for an interview about the current Town Square situation.
Regardless of what Urban Partners may do, â€œThe skyâ€™s not falling,â€ Burien City Manager Mike Martin said on April 28. â€œIt truly isnâ€™t. The city will do everything we need to do to protect our interests.â€
Martin also stressed that â€œthe city has no money investedâ€ in the private development part of the Town Square project, â€œso the city will not lose any money.â€
Urban Partners recently listed for sale on a commercial broker site two parcels of undeveloped land it owns within Town Square, The B-Town Blog confirmed this week.
The largest parcel, located south of SW 150th St. and east of 6th Ave. SW, is listed for $1.8 million. North of the new condominium/retail complex built by Urban Partners, this land was occupied by the Burien/Interim Arts Space last year.
A vacant half block south of SW 150th St. and west of 6th Ave. SW is listed for $330,000.
At this time, Urban Partners appears to be holding onto the other large undeveloped parcel it owns in Town Square, located south of SW 150th St. and west of 4th Ave. SW, still occupied by the old city hall building.
Urban Partners also retains its interest in the Town Square condo/retail complex. The firm is negotiating with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Starwood Financial Group for a restructuring of its construction loan that reflects current market conditions.
The FDIC seized Corus Bank, the original lender, last September, then sold a 40 percent interest in the bankâ€™s construction loan portfolio to the Starwood group at 50 cents on the dollar.
Dick Loman, Burienâ€™s Economic Development Manager, said that under the development agreement the city signed with Urban Partners, â€œafter a certificate of occupancy on Phase One [the condo/retail complex] was issued, Urban Partners has the right to sell its interest in the remaining property.
In the event of such a sale, â€œwhoever acquires that property is bound to abide by the original agreement with Urban Partners. The cityâ€™s interest is protected â€¦ [and] â€œthey are not in default with the city under any agreement they haveâ€ with Burien.
News that Urban Partners had listed the two parcels â€œcame as no surprise to us,â€ Loman continued. â€œThey are seeking opportunities, given market conditions, to enter into a joint partnership or to sell.â€
He said while the city would be â€œdisappointedâ€ should they back away from Town Square, â€œthat wonâ€™t necessarily be badâ€ since another developer could move in and continue the project.
â€œWe donâ€™t have any evidence of that and donâ€™t want to make a judgment based on the level of information we have right now,â€ Loman added. â€œWeâ€™re limited in what we can proactively do â€¦ Paul Keller is calling the shots on this thing.â€
Martin said while â€œit is very difficult to see into the depths of this financial morass â€¦ the Town Square project is still in place. Yes, there will be additional development on the property.
But all he knows â€œfor sureâ€ about Urban Partnersâ€™ plans is that â€œsome of the property is on the market â€¦ they are trying to move aheadâ€ and that could involve selling, leasing or developing with a partner. â€œLike developers everywhere, they are losing money and thatâ€™s not sustainable.â€
The cityâ€™s plan for Town Square â€œhas been thrown off the tracks by the economy, but weâ€™re flexible enough to know that we have to improvise â€¦ this is a fairly natural progression for projects like this in days like these,â€ he noted.
â€œI donâ€™t view it as necessarily a bad thing if Urban Partners withdraws. Thatâ€™s not the way we planned it, but we didnâ€™t plan for the recession. We want the project to move forward [but] Urban Partners has not told us their mechanismâ€ to do this.
Urban Partners or a new developer could pursue several options to complete Town Square, Martin said. These include additional condos with street-level retail or office space, a cinema, or something not yet proposed.