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Tallest Seattle Tower said to sell to Gaw for over US$700m

[SEATTLE] A group led by Gaw Capital Partners agreed to buy Columbia Center, Seattle's tallest tower, for more than US$700 million, said two people with knowledge of the deal. The price would be a record for an individual office building in the city.

Gaw Capital, the Hong Kong-based property investment company led by Goodwin Gaw, is joining with other Asian investors to buy the 76-story building, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the sale is private.

The seller is Boston-based Beacon Capital Partners, which in 2007 paid US$621 million for the tower, at the time the highest price paid for a single Seattle office building, according to property-research firm Real Capital Analytics Inc. Columbia Center is the second-tallest US building west of Chicago, after US Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles.

Foreign investors are flocking to US real estate for returns that exceed yields on fixed-income assets with a similar moderate-risk profile. Seattle's large base of technology jobs has helped make the city one of the top US markets for property investors.

Sylvia Lee, a Gaw Capital spokeswoman, said she had no immediate comment. Andy Wattula, the Beacon executive who oversees asset management and acquisitions in the Pacific Northwest, declined to comment. Gaw Capital's planned purchase was cited in a May 29 report by CBRE Group Inc, the world's biggest commercial-property broker.

Columbia Center, at 701 Fifth Ave, has about 1.5 million square feet (139,400 square meters). There's an observatory on the 73rd floor and a private club on the top two floors. Occupancy at the property, built in 1985, is about 87 percent. Inc. had been the main tenant in Columbia Center before it left for a new headquarters campus starting in 2010. Its departure coupled with the financial crisis left the building more than a third empty. Beacon renegotiated the debt, added amenities and signed new tenants including Dropbox Inc, a Web service for sharing files.