Urban Politics #191: Monday’s Votes On…


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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.

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Monday’s Votes On:


Gates Foundation Purchase
Hygiene Center At The Morrison

At this Monday’s Full Council Meeting, two important votes were taken. The first was to sell about 12 acres of city land next to the Seattle Center to the Gates Foundation. The second was to locate the new downtown service center for homeless men, else known as the downtown hygiene center in the Morrison Hotel on Third Avenue, north of Yesler. I voted for both. The first measure passed unanimously and the second was an 8 to 1 (Drago) vote.

Below I explain why I voted on each measure.

 

Gates Foundation Purchase

I voted for the sale of the large surface parking lot to the east of 5th Avenue because given the options the city was facing it was a good deal. The process could have been longer in that more market analysis of the land could have been made but I believe it would not have resulted in any significant difference in the sale conditions.

Additionally some have suggested that the City might have solicited bids from other potential buyers. Unlike the South Lake Union (SLU) city properties that were sold using a request for proposals (RFP) process, the Gates Foundation had already started their RFP process and we were coming into it late. We were responding to their RFP, we were not initiating our own. If we had, we most likely would have lost the sale to the Gates Foundation.

And what would we have gained? We would have gained only the possibility of finding another buyer. However, the evaluation conducted for the Seattle Center by an outside source suggested that traditionally there are few interested buyers in large undivided lots of this size in a city. So we would have lost a certain buyer for a large risk of finding another buyer with an unknown purchase price.

There were two other options: subdividing the land and selling it piecemeal or continue to land bank the parcel for potential future use by the Center.

Technically subdividing the land would have brought in more revenue. However, since there were no streets running through the property the city would have to provide them at a substantial cost or greatly discount the land to allow the private developers to do so. Sales also would have been made over a long period of time and subject to fluctuations in the market. The gradual sale of the properties would not have provided a clear and distinct revenue stream to the city.

The hodge-podge of uses resulting from selling to many different buyers would also not have resulted in any coherent compatible uses to the Center. Whereas the Gates Foundation, has that opportunity since it will be bringing in speakers, lecturers and visitors from around the world who could work with Center staff to provide more innovative public programming at the Center. Plus the Gates Foundation would likely find group uses for the Center’s rental facilities.

Lastly, the idea of not selling the land at all and keeping it for future uses is exactly how the land has been used and nothing better has come along. To keep the land as a surface parking lot indefinitely was not helping the Center tackle its huge budget deficit. The sale will now provide $22 million to the Center to pay off its current debt and put aside money for ongoing maintenance of the Center.

Given the immediate financial needs of the Center and the options presented other than the sale to the Gates Foundation the City made the best choice possible. There is a premium for having the revenue certainty and compatibility of uses that comes with this sale and we paid it, but from the market analysis that I’ve seen I believe it was at a reasonable cost.

 

Hygiene Center At The Morrison

After looking closely at the Mayor’s proposal to place the new downtown Hygiene Center in the to-be-constructed downtown Fire Station and Emergency Command Center on 4th Avenue south of Yesler, I voted with the majority of the Council to place it in the Morrison Hotel under the management of the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), a non-profit social service agency.

The support services to be provided by DESC at the Morrison were more clearly defined than the ones that might be provided at the Command Center location. This was critical to my decision. It is necessary to provide people who are homeless the kind of assistance that they need to locate medical treatment, affordable housing and employment. DESC has a long track record of doing this work and their facility would provide more space than the one that would have been built in the Command Center.

There were concerns raised by both the Chinatown / International District and Pioneer Square Communities about what impact a hygiene center might have on them. To this end, the Council and Mayor formed a Citizens Advisory Committee for the Chinatown I.D. community and with the selection of the Morrison site; one will be formed for the Pioneer Sq. community. Also, since the Morrison site is much less expensive some of the savings the Council hopes to earmark some of these savings to address some of their public safety concerns.

Lastly it is most important to point out that all of the Council Members supported creating a new downtown hygiene facility. But that support would never have materialized if it had not been for the Mayor stepping forward and actually placing $3.2 million in the budget to get one built. This issue has been around a long time, even before I got on the Council. And it was only with this Mayor’s initiative did we finally come to the point where we had the funds and a location to vote on. He deserves much credit for taking on this difficult task.

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