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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gonzaga University announces 17-story residential tower in downtown Seattle to benefit endowment

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 8, 2019

Gonzaga University-owned land on the Seattle waterfront that has long been used for parking will be developed into a 17-story high rise with more than 250 residential units.

The property, a gift from Spokane philanthropist Myrtle Woldson, sits along the city’s Alaskan Way Viaduct, which will be permanently closed this week and replaced by an underground tunnel. The project opens up the waterfront after years of being obscured by the elevated, two-level freeway.

The proposed residential building will have 340,000 square feet and 257 apartments. About 4,000 square feet on the ground floor will be intended for retail or commercial purposes. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2020 and be complete in 2022, according to a news release.

While Gonzaga will retain ownership of the underlying property, it has entered into a long-term lease with Chicago-based AMLI Residential, which develops apartment buildings nationwide.

Chuck Murphy, Gonzaga’s chief strategy officer, said it wasn’t unusual for someone to give property to a university. What makes Woldson’s gift unique is its placement in Seattle.

“We felt that it was an asset given its location, that there’s going to be potential for substantial appreciation of the property,” Murphy said. “It’s a good property to hold onto long term.”

The three Seattle properties Woldson gave to Gonzaga – two that comprise the lot being developed, and a third that has condos on it – generate about $1.8 million a year for the university. Murphy would not estimate what the university would receive under the lease with AMLI, noting the lease is “under contingencies” and has yet to take effect.

In a statement, AMLI said it would develop the property with “the highest quality to help grow Gonzaga University’s endowment and the student scholarships it supports.”

Scott Koppleman, vice president of development for AMLI, said via email the building would be built according to LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, standards. He declined to answer questions about the project’s construction costs or the terms of the lease with Gonzaga.

Woldson, who died in 2014 at the age of 104, gifted the university three waterfront Seattle properties worth an estimated $20 million, which she purchased in 1994. The bulk of the wealth that remained in her estate at her death came as a result of income from those properties, which were far from the only gift she gave the university or Spokane.

Woldson, daughter of Martin Woldson, who owned the Northern Pacific Railway, donated $3 million in his name for the restoration of the Fox Theater, which is now called the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. She also gave $1.2 million to help restore the Moore-Turner Heritage Garden.

In all, Woldson left Gonzaga about $55 million, some of which is being used to build the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center and 750-seat theater.

When Gonzaga received the Seattle properties four years ago, the $3.1 billion Alaskan Way Viaduct project to send traffic through a new tunnel under downtown Seattle was already known. At the time, university President Thayne McCulloh said he was in no hurry to make any decisions about the future of the surface lot or the adjoining parking garage, noting they would produce steady income for the university and he wanted to proceed cautiously with expert help to maximize the value of the bequest.

The property’s location was so prime, the city of Seattle sought to purchase it from Woldson and later talked about condemning it.

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