Urban Politics #40: Key Tower Revisited

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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.



  • Key Tower Revisited
  • Arboretum Plans
  • Sand Point Blue Ribbon Committee
  • Queen Anne Bowl – Rodgers Park

Key Tower Revisited
On Thursday (June 11) all of the City Council Members (with the exception of Peter Steinbrueck who was out of town) sent the Mayor a letter saying that in light of a downtown real estate market that is even stronger than originally projected, it would reassess the spread of the value of the Key Tower building vis a vis the replacement value of office space.

In my discussions with other CM’s I’ve said that I’m willing to go along and look at any new data that may show a substantial cash infusion to the city if we sold the building. But any profit margin must be realistically discounted for the anticipated costs of housing any displaced city workers from the Key Tower.
From the information that has been presented so far, dispersing employees outside of downtown, while initially less expensive, in the long run such a strategy could prove to be inefficient and very costly.
Another alternative might be to keep a substantial amount of our employees in the Tower but to sell it with a clause leasing back our current city office space. This approach could lock in low cost office space while realizing some gain from the sale.
At this time, the city should carefully analyze the market and draw up some options for the Council to consider. But we should keep our focus on providing long term efficient and low cost office space for city employees. I do not see any advantage to using profits from the sale of Key Tower to keep architects, planners and developers busy building comparable office space in a new bigger City Hall.
We do need a new City Hall, but let’s keep it modest in scope and one that we can afford. If there might be a profit from the sale of Key Tower let’s have a discussion now on where the money goes.
Arboretum Plans
Future plans for the Arboretum (officially it’s the Washington Park/Arboretum) have raised some stir in the communities. At the Council’s Community Meeting held on June 2nd at the Miller Community Center, the Arboretum Plan as proposed by the private nonprofit Arboretum Foundation came under severe criticism.
About $275,000 in private funds have been spent to date in developing a master plan for the aboretum for the next 60 years. It’s main objective was to enhance and protect the collections while correcting “obvious environmental and collection problems.” The plan also recognized it as “a vital green space surrounded by growing urban communities.”
Critics pointed out that it was not until over half way through the published Arboretum Plan, (148 pages) that a reader finds that it proposes to limit access to that “vital green space” through fences and fees. In response to such criticism, proponents of the plan are no longer proposing either.
An Environmental Impact Study would still have to be conducted before any final plans are adopted by the city. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer even proposed in its editorial of 6/12/98, that if the activity level of the arboretum is to be elevated to the level of the Park Zoo it should go to a public vote.
But before going down that route it is Important to understand the origin of Washington Park/Arboretum. The core of the park was conveyed over to the city at the turn of the century and the first ordinance accepting the land said that it “shall always be used and maintained for the purposes of a public park.” In 1934 the University of Washington signed an agreement with the City to maintain a public aboretum within a portion of the park.
In 1974 the University announced its intention to limit access to the aboretum much in the same way (fences and fees) as were proposed in the current proposed aboretum plan. A Citizen’s initiative was adopted by the City in that year conclusively establishing all of Washington Park / Arboretum as a freely accessible city park that would not see the construction of non- park uses, such as classrooms and administrative offices on its premises.
The new proposed arboretum plan does propose new buildings: a 6,731sq. ft. tourist building (The Madronna Terrace building) a 5,588 sq. ft. administrative building and a 3,050 sq. ft. classroom and office building. All of which will more than double the existing parking.
One of the proposed new parking lots appears to fall within the “shoreline district” and therefor would be prohibited by the Seattle Shorelines Master Program.
There are a number of positive elements to the proposed plan, including better maintaining the collection and providing for a safe new parallel bike route alongside the existing boulevard.
The Parks Dept. is now facilitating some meetings between the Arboretum Foundation and community groups to identify areas of agreement and concern in the plan. I do not support moving forward with an EIS until these discussions identify changes that need to be made to the proposed plan.
Sand Point Blue Ribbon Committee
A blue-ribbon task force will review and make recommendations on issues relating to the Sand Point Naval Air Station property. The property, which will meld with the adjacent Magnuson Park property, is being transferred to the City and University of Washington ownership. Former Mayor Charles Royer will chair the group. Other members are:

  • Margaret Ceis, Seattle Parks Board Chair;
  • James Fearn, Parks Board member and former chair of the Seattle Open Space Bond oversight committee;
  • Gerry Adams, past president of Audubon Society;
  • Leslie Jane, an artist who has done large public art pieces that are tied to nature;
  • Marc Frazer, a member of the Artists Trust board;
  • Anne Lennartz, open space advocate and founder of the Starflower Foundation;
  • Jeannette Williams, former City Council member;
  • Frank Chopp, director of the Fremont Public Association and member of State House of Representatives;
  • Maria Barrientos, a project manager with Lorig and Associates;
  • Neal Weaver, northeast Seattle community leader;
  • Neal Lessenger, director of property management for the University of Washington;
  • Lura Wells, a Laurelhurst community activist.

The committee will work through the physical, operations, management and financial issues that will shape the future of the park by: – identifying stakeholders and their concerns – reviewing the Sand Point reuse plans and their visions for the peninsula – reviewing the physical plans for its facilities and identify the next steps for their long-term management – proposing recommendations on a funding strategy for the parks facilities and overall operations – developing a timeline for an implementation strategy that identifies roles, responsibilities and next steps for all parties and stakeholders.
The first meeting of the Sand Point Blue Ribbon Task Force will take place this Friday, June 19, 8-10 a.m., at Building 30, 7400 Sand Point Way NE.
Queen Anne Bowl – Rodgers Park
A couple of months ago legislation came across my desk from the Parks Dept. requesting that some funds be spent to improve the Queen Anne Bowl playfield’s poor drainage. Not only would the drainage be improved but a new artificial surface, “Tigard”, would be used to provide greater durability. The Tigard grass looked like real grass but was easier to maintain and would guarantee that the field could be used during those months when the fiel had turned into a swamp. It seemed like a sensible approach.
After reviewing this and other pieces of legislation that were bundled together in a package of parks maintenance and improvements, I asked, “Is there anything controversial in here?”
“No” came the reply. In fact, the Queen Anne Community Council approved the improvements. So my committee approved the legislation unanimously.
Last week I started to get a flurry of emails and calls regarding the Queen Anne Bowl playfield. I could barely remember it, given how much routine park maintenance legislation comes through my CAP Committee. But suddenly, I was made very aware that something was amiss.
I’ve received about 60 complaints from the local residents and less than 5 in favor, concerning the new surface of the soccer field. Most said they distrusted city government, the Parks Department and elected officials. They felt that no one had explained to them what would be happening. Many were surprised to find bulldozers tearing up their local park and soon rumors spread of stadium lighting, bleachers and concession stands going in.
I called the Parks Dept. and peppered them with the same questions that I had been receiving. Armed with their answers I met with the leaders of the community protest and listened to their concerns. They feared that their local neighborhood park would soon become a regional sports magnet. I told them that no lights, bleachers or concessions were planned and none were in the parks budget. The Parks Superintendent also admitted that there could have been better notice and community involvement. It also didn’t help that city staff descriptions of the project were not consistent.
How the Parks Dept. categorized the improvements seems to be at the heart of the problem. They saw the replacement of a soggy field with an improved artificial surface as a maintenance item, even though the fields use would triple. This significant increase plus the $700,000 price tag for the work, could have merited the project being classified as “Major Change in Park Function or Use” rather than as “Major Maintenance”. The former definition would have required a public meeting whereas that is not required with a “major maintenance” project.
I remarked to some community leaders when I met with them that it was ironic how this community was rejecting the Tigard surface while the Georgetown community had complained that the Queen Anne community was getting it and they were not. Later the Queen Anne folks met with the Georgetown community and came to an agreement to propose a Stop and Swap strategy to the city: pull the Tigard out of Queen Anne and put it in Georgetown.
The Parks Dept. had already rejected halting the installation of the Tigard surface in Queen Anne because close to half the work was already done. But the community suggested that as long as the Tigard surface hasn’t been laid, why not just plant grass? Or just use Tigard around the goal ends, thereby reducing the cost of the project and using the savings to help fund Georgetown’s field.
I’ve talked to the Mayor’s Office and encouraged them to see if the Stop and Swap strategy is feasible. It would seem to be a solution that could make two communities happy rather than two angry.

Keep in touch…

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