Landmark Seattle Tower Sold for Second Time in Three Years

What is arguably Seattle’s most historic office tower has just added another page to its history.
Smith tower

What is arguably Seattle’s most historic office tower has just added another page to its history. The city’s own Unico Properties has picked up the 42-story, 268,748-square-foot Smith Tower for $73.75 million, it was announced Tuesday by HFF, which marketed the property on behalf of the seller, CBRE. HFF also placed a bank loan on Unico’s behalf with a foreign bank.

The HFF investment sales team was led by senior managing director Gerry Rohm, director Nick Kucha and senior real estate analyst James Childress. HFF’s debt placement team was led by managing director Tom Wilson and senior real estate analyst Erica Christensen.

Smith Tower is at 506 Second Ave. in downtown Seattle’s Pioneer Square; the transaction also included the adjacent two-story, 6,000-square-foot Florence Building.

The larger building currently has about 70,000 square feet vacant, a Unico spokesperson told the Seattle Times. That’s an impressive number, given the tower’s recent history.

Walton Street Capital, of Chicago, bought Smith Tower in 2006 with plans to convert it into residential condos. Unfortunately for Walton Street, office users deserted the building en masse, putting vacancy around 80 percent, while the dissolving condo market scotched that option.

CBRE purchased the buildings at a foreclosure sale for just under $37 million in March 2012. Only six weeks later, the Seattle Times reported that the new owners had leased about 10 percent of the building since taking possession. In the largest of the deals, Internet marketer Portent leased the 17th floor, about 11,000 square feet, for five years.

When it was completed in 1914, Smith Tower was the tallest building west of the Mississippi. It would remain so until 1931 and only lost its title as largest building on the West Coast in 1962. It’s currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a City of Seattle Landmark.

The tower’s unique features include an open-air observation deck on the 35th floor; the Chinese Room, reportedly a popular setting for wedding receptions; and a three-story penthouse apartment at the top of the building. The apartment, evidently occupied by a venture capitalist and her family, was created in the early 1990s by combining a maintenance man’s apartment with the space formerly occupied by a 10,000-gallon cast-iron water tank.

Unico has been busy in its hometown lately. In December, a joint venture of Unico and Laird Norton Properties bought Skanska USA’s first Seattle property, a LEED Platinum office/retail building at Stone Way and North 34th Street. The building, called Stone34, traded for $70 million.