Updated: A troubled Belltown apartment tower pulls the plug

The McGuire, plagued with structural problems, has told its tenants to move out and plans to demolish the 25-story building.
Crosscut archive image.

The McGuire Apartments, sheathed in scaffolding, with Carpenter's Hall in lower left.

The McGuire, plagued with structural problems, has told its tenants to move out and plans to demolish the 25-story building.

The apocalypse is nigh, according to Igor Keller's ironically titled blog, Hideous Belltown: The McGuire, a 9-year-old, 25-story, 272-unit apartment building at Second and Wall, will be torn down by the end of the year. Dismantled. Carted away like a tar-paper shack. All that scaffolding, all those repairs: for naught.

The first inkling came from CHS, the Capitol Hill Seattle blog, which reported on a "move" out of Belltown to 12th Avenue by The Local Vine, a wine bar at Second and Vine. The owners of Local Vine had often talked about cloning the concept in other neighborhoods, and had in fact scouted the 12th Avenue location for a second venture. But what's up?

The formal announcement came over the weekend from the building owner, Carpenter's Tower LLC, citing "extensive construction defects, which principally involve corrosion of post-tensioned cables and concrete material and reinforcement placement deficiencies."

UPDATE: Harbor Properties has just issued this clarification of its ancillary role in the project:

Harbor Properties had a Development Services Agreement with the building'ꀙs owner, Carpenters Tower, LLC, to serve as a development consultant, administer contracts and make recommendations to the owner'ꀙs manager, Kennedy Associates. Harbor Properties was not part of a joint venture partnership with the property'ꀙs owner. Nor was Harbor Properties involved in any ownership aspect of the property.

As a development consultant, Harbor Properties did not enter into construction and design contracts on the McGuire Apartments project, or make any ownership decisions. Harbor Properties is not party to the current suit or aware of details of that suit, and does not have a role in the ongoing work associated with the property. Harbor Properties is referring all questions to the owner'ꀙs manager, Kennedy Associates.

The structural problems stem from cables that are are corroding because they were not properly protected with corrosion-preventative paint, the grout used to seal the cable ends and anchors was not the specified non-shrink grout, and it was defectively installed. "As a result," the announcement from the building owner continues, "water leaked into these areas and caused the cable ends to rust, and then corrode." What's more, reinforcement in the building's exterior frame turns out to be defective, resulting in structural impairment and cracking of the building's concrete shell.

In other words, a nightmare. The problem is intractable, the owners have concluded, and they've decided to dismantle the building. "The McGuire is not in imminent danger of a structural failure," according to Brian Urback, a consultant hired by Carpenter's Tower. However, he acknowledges, "the experts have advised that the building be vacated by the end of 2010."

Seattle's Department of Planning and Development is not requiring immediate evacuation and Carpenter's Tower is providing an incentive package to help tenants relocate. "We recognize that this is a major inconvenience so we are trying to make it as easy as possible under difficult circumstances," according to the official statement. The landlord is providing "what we think are generous financial incentives if they move quickly. We are paying moving expenses. And we are having our building staff help them find new apartments."

Says one tenant, on the HideousBelltown blog, "All tenants are urged to move out, with staggered incentives if they leave before June 30. For instance, if you rent a 1-bed apartment and move out before May 15, they pay you $2,000 (for the 1-bed apartment) plus three times your monthly rent."

The Centennial Tower, an apartment complex just east of the McGuire, is already picking up some of the slack; their leasing office reports seven units rented already.

The McGuire isn't the first Belltown building with such "issues." Five years ago, Seattle Heights was similarly sheathed in scaffolding, with the added indignity of Tyvek swaddling, while work crews replaced every window and sliding door in the 28-story luxury condo. Lawsuits flew, insurance companies settled, and homeowners gritted their teeth and eventually paid large assessments to cover the shortfall. The problem stemmed from improperly installed and slowly rotting window insulation, a condition that appeared to spread like a measles outbreak across several Belltown highrises.

The McGuire — built as venture by the Carpenters Union as a showcase of "everyone wins" land use — seemed to suffer a series of unfortunate relapses. Now they're pulling the plug. And just how do you remove a 25-story concrete building in the middle of Seattle's most densely populated neighborhood? Very, very carefully.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden is a regular Crosscut contributor. His new book, published this month, is titled “HOME GROWN Seattle: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink." (Belltown Media. $17.95).