BELLEVUE, WA-The state Office of the Insurance Commissioner late last week approved the $1.35-billion sale of Seattle-based Safeco Corp.’s life insurance and investments businesses, all but clearing the way for a lease deal that will soak up some 280,000 sf of available space in Downtown Bellevue.A holding company (Occum Acquisition Corp.) formed by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Bermuda-based White Mountains Insurance Group Ltd. will acquire the Safeco divisions by July 31. Shortly thereafter, the new owners are expected to announce lease agreements with Equity Office Properties for 220,000 sf (floors 3-15) in Rainier Plaza and an additional 60,000 sf in the neighboring Key Center Tower.Broker Parker Ferguson of Seattle-based Flinn Ferguson Corporate Real Estate is representing Occum in its lease negotiations. Other than confirming that his client is in the market place and in talks with EOP, the largest landlord in the city, he declined comment.The leases, which likely would commence in mid-2005, will knock vacancy in the market to around 12% from its current rate of about 18%, and other deals in the works could take the rate into the high single digits in coming months. At the end of 2002, when vacancy in Bellevue was closer to 30%, estimates were that it would take five years to recover. While it may take that long before rates, currently in the low $20s, hit the high $30s again as they did in early 2001, concessions are being scaled back as vacancy returns to familiar territory.Recent lease deals include two at EOP’s One Bellevue Center. The engineering firm Parametrix moved last month from Kirkland into about 35,000sf at One Bellevue Center, and the online chemical sales firm ChemPoint earlier this month committed to leasing 27,000 sf in the building. As well, EOP hopes to lure to the building. The online pharmacy is reportedly looking for 100,000 sf, and EOP has about 140,000 sf of availability in the 353,000-sf building.

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