MAIN LIBRARY – Developers selected by City Council to take a crack at the public Downtown plot on Arizona Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets showed off their 84-foot-tall alternative to an initial 148-foot-tall proposal at a public meeting on May 15.

Developer Metro Pacific Capital and its team noted that there were numerous downsides to the shorter alternative.

Council chose Metro Pacific over two other developers in December 2013. The teams were tasked with designing a mixed-use project for the 112,000-square-foot space currently occupied by two banks.

Metro Pacific’s designs included 96 rental units, 225 hotel rooms, 172,000 square feet of office space, and 52,000 square feet of retail. Council’s selection merely allows City Hall to negotiate exclusively with Metro Pacific. They will now have to wind their way through the development agreement process, going before council, the Planning Commission, and the Architectural Review Board.

The developers, not City Hall, sponsored the meeting at the Main Library. Representatives from OMA – the architects – and OLIN – the landscape team – spoke about the project. OMA is responsible for the unique Seattle Central Library and OLIN designed the landscape at the Getty Center.

The taller alternative is not unlike a few steps on a spiral staircase with each level offset from the next, allowing for several rooftop terraces.

Sho Shigematsu, of OMA, said the indoor-outdoor designs were inspired by a late 1800s Santa Monica bathhouse.

Another inspiration, he said, was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which are said to have existed next to the Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel was, according to legend and the Bible, miles high and toppled by God.

“The Tower of Babel is known as a monument to the sky, but the Hanging Garden was a monument to the ground literally covered by landscape,” Shigematsu explained.

But height does add benefits to the project, the presenters said. Last year, council asked the developer to create an 84-foot-tall alternative to match the draft height limits imposed in the Downtown Specific Plan, which will guide land-use in the area.

They did create an 84-foot-tall project by, in simple terms, taking the top level of the development – the hotel – and placing it on top of one of the lower levels.

The open space, which would line the roofs of each level in the taller proposal, would be cut in half in the smaller project, said John Warfel, principal with Metro Pacific.

“The building being smaller and the hotel being much less of a hotel because of the loss of views, we end up with a smaller open space programming budget and sharp reduction in the revenues to the City,” he said.

One level of parking, about 100 spaces, would have to be axed from the plan, he said.

A large proposed ArcLight movie theater could potentially replace a Downtown parking structure nearby.

Half of the 48-proposed affordable housing units would be canned, he said.

Warfel said that there would be a union hotel but a reduction in size would result in a reduction of hotel jobs.

Residents were much more reserved at this presentation than they were at the recent City Hall-sponsored introduction of three developers who could rebuild the Bergamot Station arts center.

In the midst of the architectural presentation, Shigematsu showed an out-of-the-box idea that OMA had developed that would place a gondola lift station on the roof of the project. He showed old photographs of the long gone Pacific Ocean Park, which had a similar hanging chair lift.

Along with the incoming Expo Light Rail station, the gondola lift could reduce traffic, Shigematsu said.

“We were thinking about running a gondola from Expo Line station through the service road to our roof and resurrecting the one going to the pier,” he said.

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