On Reflection: A New Rainier Square

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Seattle-based Wright Runstad & Co. has applied for a master use permit to redevelop a key property in the heart of downtown Seattle, seeking approval for an unusual curved tower that will become the city’s second-tallest building.

Starting later this year, Wright Runstad plans to demolish the moribund Rainier Square shopping mall and start construction of the 58-story skyscraper and a separate 12-story hotel. The project will bring new energy to the downtown core, which has been overshadowed lately by the rapid redevelopment of South Lake Union and the Denny Triangle to the north.

The property is adjacent to the Rainier Tower on a block bounded by University and Union streets and Fourth and Fifth avenues. It is part of the Metropolitan Tract, a 10.7-acre parcel owned by the University of Washington.

Plans for the 1.15 million square-foot project include 33,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, a 12-story luxury hotel with approximately 150 rooms and a mixed-use tower with 790,000 square feet of office space on the lower floors and 180 residential apartments on the top floors.

Wright Runstad will need a financial partner for the $600 million dollar project. President Greg Johnson says there is substantial interest among institutional investors even though the University of Washington will continue to own the land and collect rents through an 80-year ground lease agreement with the developer. At the end of 80 years, the UW would also own the tower and the hotel outright.

The project took root in the summer of 2013 when the UW requested proposals from developers to overhaul Rainier Square. Submissions were winnowed to a final four that included two local developers — Wright Runstad and Pine Street Group — and two international firms, Houston-based Hines and New York’s Tishman Speyer.

Johnson says his company’s unusual design gave its proposal the edge. “We have a very compelling design on the tower,” Johnson said. “There’s this dramatic curve on the eastern face that sparked the imagination of the university. They felt it really complemented and enhanced Rainier Tower, which will remain on the block, and Rainier Square, hopefully, will provide an iconic image commensurate with that location.” 

Rainier Tower is the building that resembles an immense stubby pencil balanced on its tip atop a retail podium that includes a Louis Vuitton store. The proposed Rainier Square building’s sharp “ski jump” curve will help preserve the harbor views from Rainier Tower. 

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