By Meghan Hall
A half block within the Pioneer Square District will get a new lease on life in the coming years, as new owner Unico works to reposition eight buildings originally constructed in the 1890s, just after the Great Seattle Fire. Dubbed the “Korn Walker Block,” the project, Lake Union Partners and BuildingWork presented preliminary plans to the Pioneer Square Preservation Board on behalf of Unico, getting the ball rolling on the buildings’ restoration and repositioning.
“We believe that this project will make a very significant contribution to the physical, commercial, and cultural revitalization of the Pioneer Square District,” the project team states in preliminary design documents.
The eight buildings are bounded by Occidental Way at the east, S. Washington St. to the south, and an alley to the west known as “Pioneer Passage.” The buildings include the Clancy and Stratton buildings, Box House, Casco Antiguo, the Walker and Korn buildings, Merchant’s Café and Bohemian Café.
The original Korn and Walker Buildings included five assets that were purchased by Unico in 2019 for $7.5 million. Unico purchased the buildings from the Muscatel family, who had owned the properties for over 85 years. More than 120 buyers were vying for the properties at the time, explained Rich Mermelstein and Chris O’Connor of NAI Puget Sound Properties, who represented both parties in the transaction. Many of these investors had grand high-rise development plans, plans that were ultimately not feasible if the buildings were to remain.
“Many out of town investors envisioned doing a development that had no chance of getting built. The Board will not allow anything with the envelope of the building to be redeveloped,” O’Connor explained in a statement shortly after the deal closed.
Box House, Meyer’s Building and Merchant’s Café—the city’s oldest standing restaurant—were acquired as part of a separate transaction.
Plans for the site are still in their preliminary stages. However, the project will not revolve around high-rise development, but the restoration and gentle expansion of the existing buildings. On the Stratton, Clancy and Box House buildings, the project team will reconstruct missing floors at the south end of the block that were removed after the 1949 earthquake, while the Casco Antiguo building will be replaced entirely. The new building will stand five stories in height and will be much more modern in its architecture, featuring materials such as a glass curtain wall. The Korn Building will also get an additional two floors
The project will also include façade restoration, seismic retrofits and other systems upgrades to improve energy efficiency, accessibility and safety. The buildings’ uses will likely be a mix of office and retail, although specific allocations have yet to be made.
Over the past several years, Unico has pursued a variety of assets in and around Pioneer Square; in the spring of 2019 the firm acquired the Coleman Building, a six-story, 160,164 square foot historic office and retail property for $37 million. Unico also owns the Washington Park building, a 36,000 square foot office asset that dates to the same era as the Korn and Walker buildings. Unico also acquired the asset in 2019.
And, the Korn and Walker buildings are also just across the street from another Unico project: the Buttnick Grand Central Bakery block. Unico acquired the block in 2014 for $26.6 million and has since been working on repositioning four buildings totaling 116,335 square feet. The property is made up of the Grand Central Building, the City Loan Building and the Buttnick Building. According to Unico’s website, the project is in pre-design and preservation review. Timing for the project moving forward is unclear and will depend on the remaining entitlements process.
As of this writing, Unico had not yet responded to The Registry’s updated request for comment.