Urban Politics #32: Emancipation Ball

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • Emancipation Ball
  • City Hall Brown Bag On Rental Housing
  • Culture, Arts And Parks Committee Mtg.
  • The Key Tower Vote On Monday

Emancipation Ball

As part of an effort to provide more entertainment opportunities for Seattle s youth, a number of City Council Members have been looking at making adjustments to existing ordinances regulating teen dances and postering, or providing more venues for teen activities and communicating information regarding the youth music scene.

To celebrate the beginning of this renewed effort, there will be an all ages Emancipation Ball on April 10th at the King Cat Theater at 8PM ($8 admission) to raise funds for JAMPAC (Joint Artists and Music Promotions Action Committee) and student run radio station C89. Bands performing will be Goodness, Harvey Danger, Pilot and Source of Labor. Sponsors of the event are the Seattle Weekly, The Stranger, The Civic Foundation, The Rocket and The Gravity Bar.

Prior to the entertainment, members of the City Council have been invited to participate with JAMPAC in a conference to discuss various changes that could be initiated as part of this effort.

City Hall Brown Bag On Rental Housing

Peter Steinbrueck’s Housing Committee will hold the above event on Friday, April 10th at noon in the Council Chambers. The public is welcome to attend. Representatives from the Tenants Union and the Apartment Owners Association will be leading the discussion.

Culture, Arts And Parks Committee Mtg

You may want to turn on Channel 28 to watch this meeting if you cannot attend. Email hap.freund@seattle.gov to get times for viewing the CAP committee mtg. A copy of the agenda is posted at the web site:

I’ll be having three briefings that have generated much interest. The first briefing will be co-sponsored with Richard Conlin s Committee on Neighborhoods, Growth Planning, and Civic Engagement. It will focus on the current postering ban and there will also be a slide presentation on Community Kiosks. Those participating in the briefing are: Doug Campbell (University Chamber of Commerce), Rebecca Sadinsky (Department of Neighborhoods),Archie O’Conner (JAMPAC), Phil Kinkon AIA (Zimmer, Gunsul, Frasca Partnership), David Brunner (Pioneer Square Planning Committee), Vivian McPeak (postering advocate).

The second briefing will review the effectiveness of the current Parks Enhanced Code Enforcement. Those participating in the briefing will be: SPD Precinct Captains – Tag Gleason, Cindy Caldwell, John Diaz, Nick Metz, Ken Bounds (Park Superintendent), Rich Laing (Capitol Hill Community Council), Jeff Cohen (ACLU), David Brunner (Pioneer Square Community Council), Ken Cole (Archdiocian Housing Authority), Grover Haynes (South Seattle Crime Prevention Council), Harriett Walden (Mothers For Police Accountability).

The last briefing will review the recent Sand Point /Magnuson Park design workshop that was held a couple of weeks ago to solicit opinions about the future of our newest park. Eric Friedli, Layne Cubell (Office of SandPoint Operations), Ken Bounds (Parks Superintendent) will be doing the presentation.

Monday’s Key Tower Vote

City Council votes Monday whether to pursue the sale of Key Tower. The vote does not commit the building’s sale but would presumably if the price was right.

Consultants to the Mayor office have argued that bids for the sale of the tower must be taken now to take advantage of the current tight market for downtown office space. Other downtown property managers and commercial office brokers, have advised me that the market will only get tighter over the next several years. A recent report by the marketing firm of Gibbons and Riley endorses this view. In other words, there is no “six month window” in which the City must act.

Under the Mayor’s proposal, if the sale price were high enough then the profit would be used to build new city facilities that are more citizen accessible than the Key Tower. However, both the Mayor and Council recognize that in all likelihood there will be no excess funds to distribute to the neighborhoods. For greater details on the sales impact on councilmanic debt see Urban Politics # 31 at the UP Web Site: http://www.speakeasy.org/mdc/ local.html

Although the sale of Key Tower does not have a solid core constituency, like say advocates for the homeless or open space or neighborhood plans, it does have a broad base of support. Aside from the two daily newspapers, many community and civic leaders (who have been on opposite sides of the Commons and Stadium issues, for instance) have counseled me to support its sale.

Two reasons are most often cited for selling Key Tower: 1) it makes a horrible City Hall 2) take the profit and use it for something else.

I strongly agree with the first reason, however if the Key Tower is kept, City Hall should be located elsewhere. A smaller Muni Bldg. than the present one could be built on either the present site or on the Public Safety Building site. And it could be largely financed by selling either one of these lots to a private developer.

While I too had hoped for a profit, after looking closely at the projected sales and operating costs and the alternatives for locating our city employees, I don’t see any long term profit. In fact, the possibility of additional costs are much more likely.

According to major downtown property managers, Key Tower has an operating cost of approximately $ 1 a sq. ft. lower than other downtown office buildings. This is largely due to it being built under energy saving requirements that former buildings had not been subject to. In addition it has the best air circulation of any building in town and one of the highest efficiency ratios of useable space to total space.

Consequently the only way to achieve similar low operating costs would be to build new. To do that for all of the employees moved out of the Key Tower would bust the bank. The cost per sq. ft. for building and operating new office space is almost twice as high as Key Tower’s acquisition and maintenance costs. We bought the Key Tower for approximately $135 a sq. ft. (including dept service). New downtown construction is currently over $250 a sq. ft. and it s not going to get any cheaper.

An alternative would be to find office space outside the downtown business core. But the market is so tight, that even similar office space in the Denny Regrade is renting for over 35% above what City Light is currently paying.

Another suggestion is to move our employees to lower grade, less efficient, a higher operating cost type B office buildings. These buildings have had greater vacancy rates than the above type A buildings. Type B buildings are generally smaller and consequently there is less chance of finding one to house all of City Light’s Key Tower employees. Property managers note that even space in these buildings will probably be tight for the next several years.

The last alternative is to place city employees even farther out from downtown. But this space is still 50% higher than Key Tower’s acquisition costs. Perhaps more Importantly, dispersing our employees across the city could end up costing the city huge amounts in operating costs.

Face to face meetings are still necessary for carrying on business. Key decisions need human interaction in the same room, they cannot be made just through the internet. I took a quick tour of the City Light offices in the Key Tower and asked management how many meeting were held daily with staff from other departments, like Transportation, Water, City Council, Law, DCLU, and the Mayor s Office. Off the top of their head they thought at least six a day and more likely twice as many.

Can you imagine the amount of time (not to mention gas costs) that would be spent by city employees driving around town trying to get to meetings? I can see future candidates campaigning on the need to make government more efficient by consolidating government offices.

Despite the above shortcomings, one could still argue, what harm would it do to just find out how much we can get for Key Tower? If we cannot even get close to the current operating costs of Key Tower and if we cannot get close to purchasing or leasing office space for what we purchased the Key Tower for, then what are we trying to find out?

Sadly, there is no pot of gold in the sale. But we may be sitting on something almost as valuable. The former Mayor’s projections for revenue from Key Tower, were based on rates before the current office market heated up. The old projections from Key Tower’s private tenant rents, who will occupy over 40% of the building for the next 7 years, could be underestimated by a third.

We need to maximize Key Tower’s revenue to the city, which are currently either $5 or $10 million a year – depending on who I’ve asked. That revenue stream could help finance redeveloping the historic buildings we still own: the Alaska, the Dextor Horton and the Arctic.

The Arctic is to remain a city building under any scenario and the future of Dextor Horton nay be sold or remodeled or a private – public redevelopment might be explored.

Right now I’d favor putting the Alaska into a land trust to develop and keep it as permanent affordable housing. A non-profit could manage it for the working homeless; one-third of those in homeless shelters have jobs. Live-in artist studio space could also be made for those who are being displaced by the new developments that are eliminating low rent artist space.

We need to focus our attention on these type of projects. I fear that if we embark on selling the Key Tower, we will be spinning our wheels trying to locate public office space that is not as good as what we have now. The Key Tower lacks a definable front door but with some structural alterations it can be made more accessible. We can also locate those service oriented city departments or their divisions in either a new modest size City Hall or in those buildings we already own, like the Arctic and Dextor Horton buildings.

I know this analysis does not reflect the general mood, but it leads to the conclusion that we should not pursue the sale of Key Tower for the foreseeable future. It is not a popular decision, but it’s one that I can defend and explain as the most cost-effective course for our city to take. And I suspect that the City Council this Monday will reach the same conclusion.

Keep in touch…


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