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Patience, grasshopper. Serenity now. To dust we shall return. Every bromide you can think of applies to the saga of Tibetan-monk-turned real-estate-developer Labsong Dargey. The latest: accusations, from the Securities & Exchange Commission: that he swindled foreign investors out of millions.

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

The project, Potala Tower, was 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 was quickly torn down to make way for the tower.

The 41-story building (which may now never be completed) was to include 342 residential units, most of them condos, but some were expected to be market-rate (or even below-market) rentals. The roof deck was to feature 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, Lobsang Dargey and his daughter, Luca; and their mutual friend, the actor Tom Skerritt and his daughter Emi.

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 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. 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, "and we're re-evaluating our options."

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

Dargey's funding came through a company based in Bellevue called Path America, which facilitates EB-5 visas for foreign investors in American companies. More on that to come. As Seattle.Curbed.com reported today,

Specifically, Dargey is accused of diverting $14 million in foreign investor money from his Seattle and Everett projects to pay for his Kirkland and Shoreline projects. He is also alleged to have pocketed $13 million, some of which was used to buy his home and trips to a casino. Because of the the civil action filed by SEC, a judge has frozen all assets on Potola Tower as well as the Potola Place project in Everett. The ripple effects and fallout of all this could affect not only those projects but multiple other ones from Everett to Seattle to Kirkland.

The EB-5 program was designed to help create jobs, mostly in the building trades, by offering green cards to non-citizens able to pony up a job-creating investment of $500,000. In practice, this benefited wealthy Asians seeking a back door to permanent legal status in the USA. What could possibly go wrong?

Madrona Arms to open in September

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Peter Johnson and his wife, Adrianna, are the new lessees of the space at the corner of 34th & E. Union occupied for the past 20 years by the Madrona Ale House, to be renamed Madrona Arms. The Irish-born Johnson has long had his eye on the spot, almost since he took his first job in Seattle at a tavern called Hank's (today the Attic) in Madison Park. When Burke Shethar's lease ended, Johnson stepped up. 

Johnson & son.JPGJohnson grew up in the restaurant business. Born in Belfast, he was washing glasses in the shipyard pubs at the age of 15, and eventually found his way to the USA. After settling in Seattle, he and Adrianna launched a number of taverns: Finn McCool's in the U District, the Chieftain opposite Seattle University on Capitol Hill, and McGilvra's at the foot of Madison. 

By mid-August, Johnson and his 14-year-old son, Michael, were ankle-deep into the refurbishing of the Madrona space. (Mother was in Poland with their two oldest boys.) Paul and Michael had toured London earlier this year, scouting out the typical neighborhood pubs they'd find at every Underground exit. "That's what we want here in Madrona," Johnson said. "A comfortable local."

He's going to install warm woodwork (floors, booths, back bar) throughout the 2,800-square-foot space, with seating for about 90. Flat-screens to watch sports (but "it's not a sports bar."). A full cocktail bar plus craft beers. A menu that goes beyond standard pub fare. (Soups, burgers, specials.) Early plans call for a late-afternoon happy hour plus dinner, with a late-night happy hour as well as brunch.

A temporary liquor license was issued mid-August. Now all that's left is, well, almost everything else. Chef, bartender, staff hiring and training. By the end of September, all should be ready.

"I want to make sure that everyone remembers to say 'thank you' to every guest," Johnson says. "Hello is nice, but good-bye and thank you are even more important."

Tasting at Chaleur Estate.JPG

Chaleur Estate Blanc, one of DeLille Cellars labels, is probably the most serious white wine produced in Washington State. It's a Bordeaux-style blend of sémillon and sauvignon blanc that stands out from the field of perfectly drinkable Washington whites by its ability to age like a great work of art: with grace and dignity.

Upchurch w glass.JPGThis became evident at a recent retrospective tasting of Chaleur Estate whites dating back to 1996. Grapes come from Red Mountain's award-winning vineyards: Ciel du Cheval, Boushey, Klipsun and Sagemoor vineyards. DeLille's wine maker, Chris Upchurch (left), treats the grapes as if they were ingredients in a premium red wine: low crop levels (three tons to the acre), whole berry fermentation with native yeasts, moderate use of French oak. Most white wines get little respect (think chardonnay, think sauv blanc) because they're based on high yields and quick-and-dirty winemaking. They sell at low prices because the wine makers don't make much of an effort at quality. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The proof of Chaleur Estate Blanc's quality is in the glass, and here the wine writers are having a field day. Dried apricots, figs, grapefruit, gooseberies, lemon, lime, hazelnuts, grilled bread, toasted straw, flint. No question that it has a rich and silky mouthfeel, and a lingering, nutty finish. It's as good as the white Bordeaux blends it emulates (names like Haut Brion Blanc, Domaine du Chevalier, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, or Château Carbonnieux), yet it's only half their price.


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