What Is Urban Partners Planning To Do With Burien Town Square?

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by Ralph Nichols

Is Urban Partners, the private developer for Burien’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 – who led the effort by Urban Partners to contract with the city, then maintained a visible profile here – 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, “The sky’s not falling,” Burien City Manager Mike Martin said on April 28. “It truly isn’t. The city will do everything we need to do to protect our interests.”

Martin also stressed that “the city has no money invested” in the private development part of the Town Square project, “so the city will not lose any money.”

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 bank’s construction loan portfolio to the Starwood group at 50 cents on the dollar.

Dick Loman, Burien’s Economic Development Manager, said that under the development agreement the city signed with Urban Partners, “after 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.

Dan Rosenfeld, right, sits with Mayor Joan McGilton, Rep. Jim McDermott and Rep. Dave Upthegrove at last June's Town Square opening. Rosenfeld is no longer with Urban Partners.

In the event of such a sale, “whoever acquires that property is bound to abide by the original agreement with Urban Partners. The city’s interest is protected … [and] “they are not in default with the city under any agreement they have” with Burien.

News that Urban Partners had listed the two parcels “came as no surprise to us,” Loman continued. “They are seeking opportunities, given market conditions, to enter into a joint partnership or to sell.”

He said while the city would be “disappointed” should they back away from Town Square, “that won’t necessarily be bad” since another developer could move in and continue the project.

“We don’t have any evidence of that and don’t want to make a judgment based on the level of information we have right now,” Loman added. “We’re limited in what we can proactively do … Paul Keller is calling the shots on this thing.”

Martin said while “it is very difficult to see into the depths of this financial morass … the Town Square project is still in place. Yes, there will be additional development on the property.

But all he knows “for sure” about Urban Partners’ plans is that “some of the property is on the market … they are trying to move ahead” and that could involve selling, leasing or developing with a partner. “Like developers everywhere, they are losing money and that’s not sustainable.”

The city’s plan for Town Square “has been thrown off the tracks by the economy, but we’re flexible enough to know that we have to improvise … this is a fairly natural progression for projects like this in days like these,” he noted.

Urban Partners recently listed this parcel, located south of SW 150th St. and east of 6th Ave. SW, for sale at $1.8 million. It formerly served as home to the Burien Interim Art Space.

“I don’t view it as necessarily a bad thing if Urban Partners withdraws. That’s not the way we planned it, but we didn’t plan for the recession. We want the project to move forward [but] Urban Partners has not told us their mechanism” 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.

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2 Responses to “What Is Urban Partners Planning To Do With Burien Town Square?”
  1. Coverofnight says:

    Simple solution……..let them build the cinemas, but design the structure to accommodate future condo construction above. Would be nice to have state-of-the-art cinema in this town.

  2. Rob says:

    Better the devil you know than the demon you don’t

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