Magnuson Park leases pose questions for city, artists

Seattle City Council members and parks officials say they believe progress is being made on plans for turning over Building 11 to a developer while preserving opportunities for artists.

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Magnuson Park's Building 11, housing artist lofts and Sail Sand Point, as seen from the north.

Seattle City Council members and parks officials say they believe progress is being made on plans for turning over Building 11 to a developer while preserving opportunities for artists.

The clock — once stayed — resumed ticking this week for the tenants of Magnuson Park’s Building 11, a former naval facility overlooking Lake Washington.

Their leases with the city of Seattle will terminate June 15, according to notices sent by the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation. On June 20, the city plans to turn control of the 58,000-square foot property over to a developer.

Tenants received similar letters in March, which were revoked while city officials attempted to negotiate a new lease with the development partnership Building 11 LLC. The original 2008 lease has been criticized for lacking public benefits.

One of the city’s many goals for the negotiation was to allow the tenants, including several artists, a retail boat shop, and a popular non-profit sailing school, Sail Sand Point, to stay in the building alongside proposed higher-paying commercial clients such as Virginia Mason and Bright Horizons, a daycare facility.

This week’s termination notices came in the wake of a letter from the developer’s lawyer, essentially threatening legal action if the city continued to drag its feet on the deal while working to accommodate current tenants.

Sail Sand Point also received a letter, characterized as a veiled threat of legal action if they don’t cooperate, said unofficial tenant spokesperson Perri Lynch.

The fate of Sail Sand Point has been of particular community concern, as the organization provides sailing lessons to about 600 children each summer. Adults pay $175 for an annual membership, but only $1 for their children. 

Citing general mistrust in addition to a litany of specific concerns, none of the building’s current tenants have signed lease agreements with their would-be future landlord, but behind-the-scenes negotiations are going on, several people familiar with the situation said. 

At least two Seattle City Council members, Sally Bagshaw and Nick Licata, are hopeful that a solution, even if imperfect, will emerge.

“I’ve been told that Sail Sand Point has gotten very close to an agreement,” Bagshaw said, citing a conversation she had with the developer’s lawyer.

“The LLC says they believe they’ve given Sail Sand Point everything they want,” she said. Sail Sand Point’s board still needs to vote on the proposed deal, however. Sail Sand Point representatives have declined to comment.

Additionally, the artists have been offered a fixed rent for three years, Bagshaw said.  “Other artists have lined up to take the space in the event,” that the current tenants don’t sign leases, she said. 

Meanwhile, Lynch has been meeting with the council's Licata to craft a solution for the artists, to whom council promised accommodation in the park back in 2008. “Right now we’re exploring some options. We’re just in the preliminary stages,” Licata said.

The terms offered to the artists in a letter of intent include a major rent increase to $15.45 per square foot, a figure which includes a central common room. While comparable to market rates, it’s still a blow, tenant spokesperson Lynch said. 

“Our rent is doubling,” she said. The artists are also negotiating as a group, rather than individually, she said. 

Many have made repairs to the building themselves, and have created public art installations in the surrounding Magnuson Park.

The letter that was sent to Sail Sand Point by the developer apparently served to heighten a spirit of ill-will and fear. “My sense is that the LLC wants to wash their hands of the current tenants,” Lynch said. The artists are committed to finding a solution with the city, she said. 

“We’re asking the question, ‘Is there a way to keep those tenants in the building, to continue to provide public benefit, and not have to sign agreements with the LLC?'  "

She's lined up a possible development partner, Sam Farrazaino, to help renovate another building at the park, Building 30.

Another hurdle for the developers is quelling public concern over a medical clinic going in along the shore, a use that raises questions under city and state shoreline regulations. This will be the subject of a public hearing June 14.

While the planned Virginia Mason clinic has primarily been described as a pediatric facility, a job posting by Virginia Mason fleshes out a range of other uses. “The new Magnuson Park Clinic will offers [sic] a full range of primary and specialty care services, including internal medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, and orthopedics. The clinic also offers dietitian services, laboratory facilities, X-ray and mammography.”

The hearing will deal with questions surrounding the developer’s application for a conditional-use permit, which if granted could allow the clinic to operate in a shoreline area, a use normally prohibited within 200 feet of the water.

City code allows for this possibility when the property in question is already in a non-conforming use, said Bryan Stevens, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development. The city's decision can be appealed he said, and it also must have state concurrence. 

Meanwhile, city council’s position on proposed changes to the lease is evolving, Councilmember Bagshaw said.

“There’s shifting sands right now," Bagshaw said. "People were worried about the length of the contract.

"The problem is that everybody that’s here [on the council], except for Jean Godden, voted for that contract,” in 2008, Bagshaw said.

If council doesn’t approve the amendment, the long-term outlook for artists in the building is uncertain. 

“The lease amendment is vital to ensuring the 5,000 square feet of guaranteed space for the artists,” said Randy Bolerjack, a public relations spokesman hired by the developer.

“In case the amendment doesn’t pass, we will still take control of the building, but we feel strongly that the lease amendment before council is the best outcome for tenants, ourselves and the city of Seattle,” Bolerjack said.

Regardless, the transition of the building's management is going forward, said acting Deputy Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Eric Friedli.

“Whether the amendment gets approved or not, the current agreement lays out things they [Building 11 Investors] need to do, which they’ve done,” Friedli said. This includes a requirement to show proof of financial backing for the proposed building renovations and remodeling.

“Even if the lease isn’t amended, they’ve satisfied their requirements for us to turn the building over to them.”


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About the Authors & Contributors

Stacey Solie

Stacey Solie

Stacey Solie is a Seattle-based reporter, writer and editor and an adjunct at the University of Washington where she leads narrative non-fiction workshops for scientists. She has contributed to The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Seattle Times and was the founding editor of The Science Chronicles, an environmental conservation monthly. Follow her @staceysolie