Burien City Council to Consider Cutting Ties with Urban Partners for Town Square

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Portable toilets await crowds before a 2011 event at Town Square Park. Photo by Scott Schaefer.

by Ralph Nichols

When development of Burien’s partially completed Town Square eventually resumes, Urban Partners – now Harbor-Urban after its merger with Harbor Properties – likely won’t be part of the project.

City council members will consider at Monday evening’s (June 4) meeting buying back the three undeveloped Town Square properties from Harbor-Urban.

“We’ve been patient. We’ve waited long enough. It’s time to move forward,” City Manager Mike Martin told The B-Town Blog. “That’s what the community wants and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Urban Properties, doing business as Urban Ventures in a public-private partnership with the city, developed the seven-story condominium/retail complex at 152nd Ave. SW and SW 6th Ave.

This first phase of private development at Town Square was completed in June 2009 and certified for public occupancy the following month.

The three-story Burien Library/City Hall and the adjacent downtown park – the public part of this project – also opened that June.

Once the condo-retail complex was certified, the clock started ticking for Urban Partners. The Los Angeles-based firm with Northwest ties then had two years to begin construction on the second phase of private development in Town Square.

Harbor-Urban “did not meet that deadline and has communicated to the City no actual plan to commence construction any time soon,” Martin informed the council in the agenda packet for Monday’s meeting.

“After extensive dialog” with Harbor-Urban, city “staff has determined that [Harbor-Urban] is no longer able or willing to meet its obligations” to the city under the original development agreement, which they both signed in 2005..

Therefore, continued Martin, city “staff is recommending that it is necessary and appropriate, in order to realize the public purpose of the Town Square project, to exercise the City’s right under the [development agreement] to repurchase the remaining undeveloped parcels.”

The proposed motion for council consideration, if approved, would actually authorize a notice of intent for the city to repurchase the undeveloped private properties at the Town Square site.

The Right to Repurchase
“The development agreement says Burien has the right to repurchase the property if the developer doesn’t meet requirements set out in the original development agreement with Urban Partners,” Martin told The B-Town Blog.

“One of those requirements said construction of Phase Two had to begin two years after the condominium/retail complex was completed. As of July 2011, they were in default.”

A buy back would have no effect on the existing condo/retail complex or the land it sits on, both of which were owned by Urban Partners from the beginning of the development and now are owned by ST Residential.

One of the large undeveloped parcels is located north of the condo/retail complex. The other is north of the new library/city hall building, with the old city hall building still on that site. Both are immediately south of SW 150th St.

A narrow strip east of the post office between S. 150th and S. 151st streets is the third parcel. The combined area totals 141,000 square feet.

“Given that they are in default, we have the right to buy it back at 90 percent of what they paid for it,” Martin noted. At that price, $18.29 a square foot, this would cost the city about $2.6 million.

The notice of intent to repurchase “will help us … move forward,” he added. “The strategy is for the city to control this property, repackage it, and put it back out in the active market place and solicit proposals for development.”

Before this happens, however, the city may have to negotiate the terms of repurchase with Harbor-Urban.

Dan Trimble

More downtown housing?
Burien Economic Development Manager Dan Trimble said the city would like to see “something similar” to the existing condo/retail complex developed north of that building.

While its “primary component” would be residential, it likely would also include mixed use with ground-floor retail and a garage, and would be about the same height.

“I think the Town Square plan is pretty flexible” about what could be built on the parcel north of the city hall/library building,” Trimble added.

This could include a hotel, “destination retail,” offices, and structured parking. He defined destination retail as larger stores, compared to local specialty shops, which would attract shoppers from beyond the city who would stay to make other purchases and eat at Burien restaurants.

Trimble said the city “has had some interest from folks inquiring” about potential development of the vacant properties.

“Getting something built sooner rather than later … and getting the product done in a timely fashion is important to us. But it will have to be compatible with the existing facility” – as well as Town Square zoning and downtown design guidelines.

Any successful buyer/developer would probably have “a history of building similar projects,” he noted. “A local presence might help as well.”

“We hope work [on the next development] can begin as soon as next summer. Maybe that’s overly optimistic but it would be good so see shovels and cranes coming in by then.

“It would be encouraging if 150 housing units would be built” in Phase Two, Trimble continued. “It would be exciting for there to be 250 families” – including those who move into the 122 units in the ST Residential complex – “living and shopping in downtown Burien.”

Current condo sales
He noted that about 30 units in that building have been sold since those condos came back into the market at reduced prices, and that tenant improvements for a Subway sandwich shop at the corner of 152nd and 6th – the first retail tenant in the complex – are in progress.

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12 Responses to “Burien City Council to Consider Cutting Ties with Urban Partners for Town Square”
  1. wheels says:

    “We’ve been patient. We’ve waited long enough. It’s time to move forward,” City Manager Mike Martin told The B-Town Blog. “That’s what the community wants and that’s what we’re going to do.”

    A: How does he know that’s what the community wants?

    B: Since when did he start caring what the community wants? Never once did he ask the community if we wanted to annex White Center.

  2. nikki says:

    I agree with Wheels. What has Mike Martin done for the City of Burien? How much damage is he going to do before gets the he#* out of this city?

  3. Greg Rehmke says:

    From the article: “Burien Economic Development Manager Dan Trimble said the city would like to see ‘something similar’ to the existing condo/retail complex developed north of that building.”

    I don’t mean to be cynical, but my sense is that the “existing condo/retail complex” has not been a success. Why build another one? Maybe the public-private partnership model is not such a good idea.

    In Old Burien they tried a private-private development model and it seems to have worked out better. Why not sell the property to Dan the Sausage Man?

    • TcB says:

      The public part was the Library and the city Park. It’s working fine. The private part had problems because of the real estate catastrophe. These are easily understood.

  4. Guest says:

    …”to exercise the City’s right under the [development agreement] to repurchase the remaining undeveloped parcels.”

    If the City were to exercise its right, would it be purchasing the land at current market evaluation or 2005 prices?!!!

  5. Ann says:

    According to the article the City can buy the properties back at 90 percent of what Urban Partners paid for them – in 2005.

    I’m pretty sure property values in Burien have dropped by way more than 10% since 2005.

    It doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.

    I would like to know the current assessed value of each property.

    • john poitras says:

      You hit the nail on the head Ann. Being a skeptic of anything Mike Martin proposes as a good idea for the city I wonder why he is so eager to overpay for the real estate in question?
      I think more appropriately we should force them into a short sale and pick up the property for LESS than it’s worth rather than MORE which would make some sense.

      • William Forest says:

        I must admit I am more than skeptical of anything like this that Mike Martin says he is going to do and it sounds from his rhetoric that council approval is perfunctory since he has the majority in his back pocket.
        It sounds to me like we would be overpaying for it since as noted 90% of the 2005 value is most certainly a lot more than it’s worth right now.

        We have on our city council a real estate attorney named Jerry Robison and I hope that Mr Robison has no financial interest connection to this deal or anyone else Mr Martin is in bed with, because is seems to me that if anyone is qualified to speak against overpaying for this real estate it should be Mr Robison.

        I think it would be appropriate for full disclosure of any financial interest in this of any city employee or any member of the council would be a totally appropriate request to make at the next city council meeting or by public email to the city council.

  6. VERY TIRED says:

    Ok…let’s examine the sense of having another mixed condominium/retail project next to one that currently only has 35 units sold in 5 years? Zone it retail. The experiment failed. It will be another 5 years before the current structure will come close to fulfilling it’s original purpose.

  7. Let's get Real! says:

    To “VERY TIRED”…. The current Burien Town Square building with retail & condo’s hasn’t been successful b/c of the timing of the condo’s being completed and the drop in the market. It’s NOT b/c it wasn’t a good concept or b/c Burien didn’t want it. Seriously it’s a beautiful building, and once it’s full with residents and retail space it will bring a lot of life to the downtown Burien area. Would you rather have empty buildings with graffiti all over them??? It’s not fair to say it hasn’t been a success. The concept is great and will prove to be a wonderful thing for Burien once the building is full.

  8. William Forest says:

    I think that potentially its a good idea for the city to purchase the property assuming they can get it a current market value, assuming they have another developer lined up and assuming they win the lawsuit that Mike Martin has got the city entangled in by refusing to negotiate with Harbor Urban.

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