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Unico Releases Plans for Pioneer Square Development

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Grand Central Block, Pioneer Square,
Grand Central Block | Rendering: Graham Baba Architects

Unico Properties LLC, a real estate investment and operating company, has unveiled its goals for rehabilitating the Grand Central Block of buildings, a 116,000-square-foot-assemblage of three adjacent, turn-of-the-century buildings in Pioneer Square, which it purchased in November 2014.

The buildings include the Grand Central Building, City Loan Building, and Buttnick Manufacturing Building. Unico would like to activate Occidental Square Park, invest in significant capital upgrades to rehabilitate and protect the unreinforced masonry (URM) assemblage, and adapt the use of the buildings from office to multifamily housing, thereby bringing 24-hour residents to mixed-income apartments and vitality to Pioneer Square. Building on its successful rehabilitation of the historic and iconic Smith Tower in Pioneer Square and its planned restoration and conversion of the historic, 1925 Washington Building to apartments in downtown Tacoma, Washington, Unico is actively engaging with and soliciting input from Pioneer Square community stakeholders to incorporate their valuable feedback into the design of the rehabilitation project. Unico’s three goals—activate the square, rehabilitate the buildings, and adapt the use to multifamily housing—directly align with the “Pioneer Square Neighborhood Plan for 2020,” a plan published by a joint partnership between the Alliance for Pioneer Square, Pioneer Square Business Improvement Area, and the City of Seattle Office of Economic Development.

In addition to curating community stakeholder feedback, Unico is forming a Stakeholder Advisory Committee to help guide its suggestions and recommendations for the project. Unico’s goal is to successfully adapt the use of the historic buildings and create the best possible outcome for Pioneer Square, the surrounding community, the tenants and the city.

“We are grateful for the insights and input from Pioneer Square community stakeholders who are helping to shape a design and vision for these beloved buildings. This rehabilitation project will allow us to preserve, protect, and extend the life of these historic gems,” said Jonas Sylvester, President and Chief Investment Officer for Unico Properties. “We’re excited about the opportunity to activate the park, rehabilitate the buildings, and bring much needed residential housing to the neighborhood.”

Comprising a half-block in the heart of the burgeoning Pioneer Square and located between Washington and Main Streets, the Grand Central Block of buildings are part of the Pioneer Square Preservation District and are listed on the Historic Registry.

Unico’s goals for the Grand Central Block rehabilitation project include adapting the use of the existing buildings from office to mixed-income, market-rate, multifamily housing. Additional floors of residential housing are being proposed atop the Grand Central Building and the Buttnick Manufacturing Building to bring residents to the Pioneer Square Historic District and to help support the investment for the rehabilitation. And, as part of activating Occidental Square Park, Unico proposes to modify the retail façade adjacent to the park, while respecting the historic nature of the buildings, with the addition of a “covered porch” to the eastern side of the Grand Central Building, at the ground floor, to improve connectivity to Occidental Square Park and allow for year-round use.

Unico is also proposing to strengthen the connection between 1st Avenue South and Occidental Square Park with a “Grand Passage” through the City Loan Building. Activating Occidental Square Park in such a way would increase public engagement in the space and bring 24-hour activity to the District. And, as part of the mission to protect and preserve historic buildings in the Pioneer Square Historic District, Unico would rehabilitate the buildings, upgrading them with seismic support, fire-life-safety systems, ADA standards, and modern mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. Plus, it would pursue a combination of environmental building standards including LEED, Living Building Challenge and 2030 Challenge. Unico would also pursue an Unreinforced Masonry (URM) Seismic Retrofit Project which would seismically bring the assemblage up to code and protect the buildings from a major catastrophic event.

“Preserving, protecting, and extending the useful life of historic buildings is the best way to secure long-term sustainability in the built environment. But that takes meaningful investment. Without investment, these aging buildings will deteriorate and detract from the economic vitality, social vibrancy, and cultural fabric that has made Pioneer Square so special for generations,” said Brett Phillips, Director for Unico Properties.

Adding residential housing to the Grand Central Block would bring approximately 200 residents who would live, dine and shop in the District and create a 24-hour residential presence in the neighborhood. The potential of future residents at the Grand Central Block further fuels the momentum of retail, residential and office activity in Pioneer Square and adds to the renaissance and vibrancy of the District.

As a dedicated steward of the Pioneer Square community, Unico is a member of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) and its Metropolitan Improvement District (MID). Unico has also pledged to make a significant contribution to the Seattle Parks Foundation for public improvements to Occidental Square Park.