Matt Griffin has earned the right to be a bit cocky about the mutually beneficial marriage between cash-rich and dirt-poor Washington Mutual and the cash-poor and dirt-rich Seattle Art Museum Downtown. But even he had crafted an early escape plan, if the deal collapsed.

In October 2002, WaMu and SAM had an agreement in concept. Each gave its architect six months to come up with a schematic design and then meld them. “There were times we weren’t sure it was going to work,” says Griffin, managing director of Pine Street Group LLC. If it hadn’t, WaMu and SAM had each agreed to pay their expenses and “go home, no harm no foul,” he says. But that didn’t come to pass.

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  • Griffin’s deal sounds simple. SAM and its affiliated financing entity, the Museum Development Authority, sold the “dirt” on the museum block to WaMu for $18 million. WaMu and SAM contributed their interests to a new limited liability corporation. WaMu would pay for its share, loan the LLC all the money for the museum portion at a market interest rate and lead the development. At completion of construction, WaMu would provide a 25-year, self-amortizing mortgage for the museum unit, but SAM/MDA could substitute more favorable financing, if available. SAM/MDA would take the space it could afford initially and WaMu would lease the remainder for 25 years at a price to cover the mortgage debt service.

    Now that the project is nearing completion, many wonder what Griffin can do to top mixing oil and water to create WaMu Center-SAM Downtown.