Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Daniels Proposal for St. Ed's - first meeting

I was immensely cheered by the meeting in Kenmore about St. Ed's. The background: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/eastside/park-style-lodge-proposed-to-save-saint-edward-seminary-2/

1. Formally, it was a meeting called by Parks to get public input on whether to extend for one year the amount of time that Parks has to decide whether to vacate the main building (seal it up with minimal maintenance, let nature take its course), or accept some proposal for developing something-or-other. This is important to remember: it was not a meeting about accepting any particular proposal; it was a meeting about delaying a decision for a year.

Now, in that year, Daniels plans to work intensively with Parks to come up with a detailed proposal. Technically, anyone else could come up with a proposal too. If the Daniels proposal is bad, critics have a year to come up with an alternative. That seems fair: PUOSU.

2. In practical terms, Daniels has experience doing reasonable work in historical preservation, according to profiles in Gonzaga magazine: http://magazine.gonzaga.edu/2010/preserving-one-of-seattle%E2%80%99s-wonders in a green preservationist publication: http://gbdmagazine.com/2013/23-daniels-real-estate/ , his LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/kevin-daniels/a/401/562 , his company bio: http://www.danielsdevelopmentcompany.com/partners/daniels/ . His is on the Board of the National Trust for Historical Preservation: http://www.preservationnation.org/who-we-are/trustees.html#.Vd3KrPlViko

Now you can't believe everything you read on the internet, and it's always good to be careful when big money is involved, but the evidence is consistent at this point that the guy knows historical preservation and, while very good at making a buck, is also good at making run-down places nicer. IMO, that's what St. Ed's needs. Yes, Daniels wants to make money, but since Mother Theresa has not appeared with a checkbook, we have to settle for an historical preservationist. Get over it.

3. Discussing the Daniels proposal suffers from the usual problem of openness in new proposals: if you wait until a proposal is fully formed, you shut the community out of early decisionmaking; but if you open the proposal to community input, the proposal is annoying vague. IMO the latter is always the better course, and that is what Parks has chosen: to come out and say "This is a vague proposal, let's all talk about it". 

4. The general principles so far is that Daniels wants the main building, adjacent parking, and something like 20 feet around the building; the rest of the place stays as is: Great Lawn, Grotto, Play Structure, et cetera. The exact lines are yet to be drawn (see "vague", supra). That parcel is 8 acres - it just doesn't seem that big but that's what it pencils out to. In a land swap, Daniels proposes the 10 acres "McDonald" parcel, to the northwest.

Daniels will renovate the building, upgrade parking, et cetera to the tune of $50 million or so, and use it as a small hotel/lodge of about 100 rooms. The historic look is to be preserved as much as possible inside and out, although some changes will be needed, e.g. emergency exits from the dining hall. Figuring out how to do that while preserving the beauty is part of what preservationist architects are for.

5. As I see it, at present the public can't use the main building except by renting the dining hall, so there is no loss in turning it into a lodge. If the Great Lawn, play area, woods and lake can be accessed same as now, there is no loss at all except for increased hotel traffic. With 100 rooms, figure 100-200 trips a day: not bad.

6. At the meeting there was a lot of discussion of the McDonald parcel and whether it's really worth the land the main building sits on. I say, who cares? The main building is useless now anyway, except as a backdrop for photos, (and with the cost of demolition probably has a negative value) so take that McDonald land and be happy (which is a poor bargaining position, so I'll deny saying it).

7. At the meeting there was a lot of worry about what if the lodge fails or does not come through, and in 10 years or 50 years someone else buys it and turns the park into ... something bad. This I feel is a real concern, but it is why contracts of sale have binding covenants. All the agreements should be written to prevent this, and they can be, and it is up to us to read them carefully so that they are.

8. At the meeting, there was a lot of worry about the impact on the local community. Construction is a real pain to everyone, and that's just life. Once construction is over, there will be more traffic - how much, no one knows. But all that is part of the year long study, and it seems to me that Juanita's traffic problems are due to factors other than St Ed's, and won't be better or much worse with or without the Daniels proposal.

9. The question of the propriety of private ownership of formerly public land was brought up. Personally, I would prefer that the taxpayers of the State of Washington front the money to open the building, but that will never happen. Alternatively I'd prefer a 99-year lease for $1 a year, so that it reverts to the public eventually. That sort of thing might be negotiated. However we must take what we can get.

And there is precedent. The Space Needle, Seattle's iconic structure, is a privately owned building within a public park. You pay to go inside, and that pay is necessary to keep the thing running, but you can run around the base, take photos, enjoy the whole park absolutely free. I feel that's a reasonable approach to the St Ed's main building (unless I win Mega Bucks and fund it all myself haha!) 

10. I've rambled on enough for now. This strikes me as a sensible proposal, but one needing huge community input. Actually it's an opportunity to build and enhance community, around this beautiful park. Maybe in 2025 I'll rent my old room lol.
What do you think?

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