Downtown plaza promises a hotel, apartments and a park

The plans for the old City Hall location have been cemented by Cosmos and city leaders

Things are finally in motion to redevelop the old city hall building at 200 Mill Avenue South, and construction is likely to begin August 2022.

Renton City Council has agreed to a contract with Cosmos International Corporation — developers of the Second and Main apartment complex downtown — with a project for the Cedar River site, totaling around $7.3 million.

After more than a year of deliberations, the project differs from the original proposal. It now includes three buildings, two of them market-rate apartment complexes with retail on the bottom floor and the third a hotel. Connecting all of these buildings will be an underground parking structure.

The plan originally included 30,000 sq. ft. of office space, which is now the proposed 150-room hotel and meeting space. The developer has interest from at least three major hotel chains, according to city staff.

The project also proposes 550 market-rate residential units, up from the previous 450. It retains 35,000 sq. ft. of first floor retail below the residential.

The mixed-use buildings and parking podium will be constructed in Phase One, where the 200 Mill parking lot stands. In Phase Two the old city hall building will be torn down, then replaced by a public space. In Phase Three, Cosmos will build a hotel along Houser Way South. That hotel is estimated to be up to 250 feet tall.

Cosmos is buying the 200 Mill parking lot property at $2 million. But $1.5 million will being held by Cosmos at closing: $500,000 for potential demolition costs, and $1 million to make sure the city completes municipal improvements along the river that Cosmos required, including new water and sewer lines.

Cosmos will not purchase the old city hall, greenery along the river or library parking lot, but is leasing that space from the city during the construction to demolish the old city hall and create a new public space along Cedar River.

Developers can’t construct a building like the old city hall that close to the river by today’s standards, Economic Development Director Cliff Long said. Instead, Cosmos will work with the city to design an open public space, that might be used for events, public gatherings while also providing access to the riverside. Long can’t speak to specific features of the space, known as the riverfront plaza, as it hasn’t yet been designed. But according to documents, it will be scaled down from what was originally hoped.

The developer cut back investment in the riverfront plaza, from about $7.3 million to $5.3 million, based off what the city was able to offer Cosmos.

“It may not have all the amenities we thought it would, but we’re gonna work to make it the nicest space possible,” Long said at the July 1 Committee of the Whole presentation.

At the presentation, Council President Don Persson said that the municipal improvements required of the city might get expensive, but he thinks it’s still a good deal, and the high costs of owning the 200 Mill building makes this worth it in the long run.

“We’re getting rid of an eyesore,” Persson said. “I think there’s a chance we come out of this with a park, new buildings and $0. And I’m OK with that.”

The city put out a request for proposals (RFP) on the site in late 2016, which resulted in a plan for an international school and senior housing. That developer then dropped out after internal disagreement. The city then put out a new RFP in 2017, and received results in early 2018. Councilmembers Armondo Pavone and Randy Corman were on the selection committee both times for proposals at 200 Mill.

The RFP goals were: to use the site in a way consistent with the city’s plans, provide extra access to the downtown, take advantage of the river, provide 24/7 activity and maintain the Downtown Renton Library parking.

Long said they will retain library surface parking, and possibly include additional public parking in the underground parking structure. They are working with King County Library Systems to finalize a long-term lease of the library, he said.

In February 2018, the council decided on Cosmos, as previously reported in the Renton Reporter. It then took over a year to bring a contract back to council.

“While we didn’t expect it would take as long as it has, we’ve plowed a lot of ground that’s going to save a lot of time in the future,” Long said at the presentation.

After Mayor Denis Law executes the agreement with Cosmos, the developer will finish designing the area and the proposed riverfront plaza, which will be a collaborative effort with city staff.

Thanks to the delay in construction, all the old city hall tenants, including Renton Prep Christian School and King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, will already have vacated.

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