Ground Breaking: Tom Skerritt & Tibetan Monks Break Ground on Potala Tower

Sean Keeley


Written by Ronald Holden

On the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue is the Cinerama movie theater, on the northeast corner the King County Department of Public Health. In between, a new, 41-story hotel and apartment project that will cost $190M. A colorful groundbreaking ceremony kicked off construction on Thursday afternoon.

The project, Potala Tower, is named for the Potala Palace in the mountains of Tibet, the former residence of the Dalai Lama. So it made sense that a quartet of Tibetan monks should have chanted prayers and rung temple bells inside the former Dean Transmission shop that will be torn down to make way for the tower.

The 41-story building will include 342 residential units, most of them condos, but some expected to be market-rate (or even below-market) rentals. The roof deck will include lavish amenities.

Groundbreaking ceremonies featured 14 shovels wielded by political leaders and local celebrities. Mayor Ed Murray, wearing a ceremonial silk khatak, turned the lead shovel; at his side were the developer, Labson Dargey and his daughter, Luca; and their mutual friend, the actor Tom Skerritt and his daughter Emi.

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The hotel operator of the project, IHG, is the outgrowth of a worldwide chain of prestigious palace hotels, Intercontinental Hotel Group. In Seattle its top property in Seattle is the Crowne Plaza; it also owns all the Holiday Inns. To stay current, over the past decade, IHG has opened 37 "urban boutique" properties, in downtown or mid-town locations, under its new Hotel Indigo brand, encompassing almost 4,500 rooms; there's even one in New York's trendy Chelsea neighborhood. In doing so, IHG took its cue from Starwood Hotels, which found itself stuck with a tired brand, Westin, and remade itself with a brassy new brand called W aimed at younger travelers. The Hotel Indigo planned for Seattle will have 142 rooms, not nearly enough to be a player in the highly competitive convention market, but perfect for upscale leisure travelers. No word yet on the identity of the hotel's ideally-located restaurant.

As it happens, whatever lessons of equanimity that Dargey learned as a monk will serve him well. Earlier this week, the State Court of Appeals ruled against his company's waterfront project in Kirkland, an 88-unit development called Potala Village, on Lake Street, that was the subject of fierce opposition. The original plan called for 143 residential units, 316 parking stalls and 6,200 square feet of retail space, which the city of Kirkland found to be out of scale with the neighborhood. Even after Dargey proposed to scale back the project, the city imposed a moratorium on all new construction, a decision upheld by the court. "We're disappointed," Dargey said in response to a question from Curbed on Thursday afternoon, "and we're re-evaluating our options."

Dargey has several other projects in the works in addition to the tower in Belltown and the waterfront village in Kirkland. There's a 500-unit project in south Seattle, another in West Seattle, and a market complex in Everett.

Dargey's funding comes through a company based in Bellevue called Path America, which facilitates EB5 visas for foreign investors in American companies.
· Belltown's Potala Tower Will Break Ground Next Week [CS]
· In Kirkland, a setback for Tibetan real estate developer Lobsang Dargey [PSBJ]