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Avellino living: This is the fourth in an ongoing series of profiles of the people shaping Mercer Island"s Town Center through new construction.

By Ruth Longoria' email='Ruth.Longoria@mi-reporter.com

If you've walked downtown and wondered how someone managed to sandwich an Italianate terra-cotta colored, 23-unit apartment complex -- which also includes a couple of retail spaces -- into the long, narrow strip between the Baskin-Robbins and QFC, just talk to Woon T. "W.T." Cheung of WT Americ Development Inc.

Cheung is the project manager of the Avellino Apartments, 2836 78th Ave., which is one of the earliest completed mixed-use buildings in the Island's new Town Center.

Units at the Avellino became available about six weeks ago. Though only a few are rented so far, Cheung said there are about 17 applicants waiting for a chance to begin the leasing process. The structure's unique blending of stonework, marble and hardwoods from China, Italy, India, Africa, Turkey and a half-dozen other countries, make the Avellino truly an international complex. And though Cheung has been with the project since its inception, he said the genius behind the Avellino's International flair -- and bit of contortionist-style development -- is project architect Tony Dambrosio.

"When you put an Italian and a Chinese together, you're going to get a unique building that is going to last," Cheung said of the five-story steel and concrete structure, which is built to withstand a variety of nature's hiccups, including anything from earthquakes to bird droppings. Dambrosio, 55, was born in Avellino, Italy -- hence the project's Italian moniker -- and he moved to Seattle with his family when he was a child. His grandfather had traveled back and forth between Seattle and Italy since the 1890s, Dambrosio said.

Dambrosio earned a bachelor's degree in environmental design from the University of Washington in 1974 and has lived on the Island for about 28 years. He and his wife Cheryl have two adult daughters, Teresa, 25, and Maria, 22. Maria is a Mercer Island High School graduate and is already following in her dad's footsteps as an architect. Cheung, 62, was born in southern China and moved to the Island 15 years ago from Savannah, Ga. He also has lived in the San Francisco area, where he attended Stanford University, prior to working for several years as a civil engineer for the Navy and Army. Cheung is married and has four children, one of whom is a MIHS student.

Because Cheung has lived through several earthquakes, he was concerned with creating a structure that could withstand tumblers. The concrete and steel that make up the Avellino structure is more solid than building code requirements or than most wooden structures, he said. "It's important that the building is solid, this is an earthquake zone," Cheung said.

But the structure isn't just built to last, it's built to stay clean -- at least on the rooftop deck, where Cheung has patented his design for the deck's granite floor. Small cracks between the tiles offer water to creep between and be funneled off down plastic tubing, as a natural washing system when it rains.

"It always stays clean, even when the birds make droppings," Cheung said. Aesthetics are important to Cheung and Dambrosio. That's why they are proud of the views created by Dambrosio's designed balconies and the variety of marble and granite used inside and outside the complex. "This is a tiger marble," Cheung said as he lovingly ran his hand along the swirls of black, white and muted-orange color on a bathroom counter in one of the fifth-floor units.

Although Cheung has enjoyed creating the Avellino Apartments for the owners, a group of local investors who prefer to be known as Avellino Development, he has no immediate plans to develop another project. "I want to be rich and retire," he joked. "I'd rather be rowing. You know, like rowing boats. Now that's my passion." Dambrosio has moved on to designing other projects, he said. But he's proud of what he accomplished with the Avellino Apartments. "This is a very unique project," he said. "With all of the extensive use of granite and marble, I don't know if you could do better."

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