After looking for more than two years, Tacoma officials think they've found the man to develop a big downtown property by the University of Washington's branch campus.
His name is Xunkun Luo, and he is proposing a mixed-use project that could cost up to $135 million. City officials describe it as a town center development modeled after Seattle's University Village. Luo's China-based company plans to build approximately 370 apartments, up to 200,000 square feet of retail and about half that amount of office space. The buildings could be up to 10 stories tall.
If the deal moves ahead, the city will sell the 6.4-acre site between Jefferson Avenue and Tacoma Avenue South, and South 21st and 23rd streets. The sale price is currently $3.2 million, and Luo has put down a $700,000 deposit, which is refundable, according to city Community & Economic Development Director Ricardo Noguera. Once Luo decides the project is feasible, he'll have to make a $175,000 nonrefundable deposit. That's scheduled to happen as early as next month.
Luo's 19-year-old company, Wuhan Boshengshiji Real Estate Development, has developed a mix of projects totaling more than 7.5 million square feet in China. Noguera said Tacoma City Councilmember Joe Lonergan traveled to China to see the company's developments.
"Oh, he is the real deal," Noguera said. "I'll tell you one thing, he's not afraid to spend money."
Luo has retained Tacoma architecture firm BCRA and Puyallup construction company Absher to work on the project. Luo also is working with retail broker Rolland Jones of Kidder Mathews.
The Puget Sound Business Journal asked city officials to help schedule an interview with Luo, who has a home in Bellevue. Noguera said Luo speaks little English.
The size of the project seems big for Tacoma, but boosters are banking on the property's proximity to the growing UW-Tacoma campus, which Jones said has around 7,000 students, faculty and staff. Plus, State Farm employs 1,400 people downtown.
"I think Tacoma's time has arrived," Noguera said. "We're approaching it as though this project is going to break ground this time next year."
Luo plans to build the project in two phases, starting with 150 apartments, the office and retail space and nearly 500 parking stalls. Phase II would start construction in the fall of 2018 and include the remaining apartments, according to Noguera. He added that Luo will fund the project using his own equity, bank financing and money from investors in the federal EB-5 program, which grants foreign nationals a green card for investing in job-creating projects.
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