After years of anticipation and a month of bluffing, feinting, and negotiating, a deal has finally been struck, in outline at least, to let a long-awaited housing development on the north parking lot of the stadium formerly known as Qwest Field go forward. Members of all four parties to the negotiations — King County, the Washington Public Stadium Authority (which owns CenturyLink Field), Paul Allen's First & Goal (which owns the Seahawks and operates the stadium), and Daniels Development, which is building the project — say a deal is imminent or about to be announced. “Everyone is hopeful,” says county spokesperson Frank Abe.
“I can only speak to our role in this,” developer Kevin Daniels said Wednesday (Sept. 21). “We've reached general agreement with all the parties. We’re waiting for the legal papers to make sure everybody is in agreement on all points. It’s one thing to reach agreement sitting around the table. It’s another to do it on paper.”
Daniels and King County have long been eager to get the project moving. County officials (together with their city counterparts) envisaged housing on the north lot clear back to 1998, when Allen and company persuaded voters to replace the dowdy Kingdome with a new stadium. In 2007 they struck a deal to sell the lot's north half to Daniels for $10 million, then sat and waited while the housing market tanked and financing dried up. Those stars have finally lined up once again: "We’ve been ready to break ground for six weeks,” says Daniels.
But in early August the PSA threw a spanner in the works. Its board passed a resolution declaring that the county had failed to live up to a 1998 agreement to commence redevelopment of the North Lot by 2008, or otherwise cede it to the PSA. Other officials insist the county amply fulfilled that obligation by requesting proposals and selecting Daniels, who began design and permit work before the deadline. “The PSA resolution is quite stunning, a shot across the bow,” Gary Johnson, the city's downtown planning coordinator, said in August. “There was general agreement that development activities had begun.… I don’t think [that provision] was a bomb waiting to go off.”
The ticking bomb was the language — complex and contradictory — in the various agreements specifying how the developer was to replace the North Lot’s 491 parking spaces. First & Goal got their use gratis, collecting about $2 million a year in revenues and paying a share to the PSA. During that time the lot has become increasingly important as a staging area for boat shows and other big stadium events. The agreements declared that the developer would provide replacement parking satisfactory to the PSA. This was originally to be a garage on PSA-owned land at the lot’s southeast corner, next to the stadium; the Washington State Department of Transportation would lease the PSA another lot for staging and additional parking.
But then WSDOT withdrew its offer. Daniels offered to build the parking garage anyway, but the PSA declared it “unworkable and impractical” without the complementary lot for staging. Daniels made various other offers – a reported $7.5 million in compensation, or a parking garage at his project's east end, where he plans eventually to build 410,000 feet of office space. But the PSA found them inadequate, declared he’d reneged on his commitments, and threatened to claim the entire lot, even as its spokespeople and First & Goal’s assured reporters their employers really did want to see it get developed.
But there are reasons Allen's group might not cry so hard if the project stayed in limbo, beyond all that great parking. The 444 apartments Daniels plans (plus condos in a later phase) may prove troublesome neighbors when their occupants bristle over stadium noise and rowdiness. (Just ask the bars in Belltown about sharing turf with upscale residents.) And Vulcan, Allen’s development firm (which sometimes seems indistinguishable from First & Goal), is meanwhile building a whole new downtown two miles to the north at South Lake Union. It has lured away at least one important Pioneer Square tenant, the architects NBBJ, and may well snag more. A major new development at the south end of downtown will be competition.
All this was a recipe for dragged-out negotiations, with perhaps a substantial chunk of change transferring from Daniels to the PSA. Their wrap-up will bring jubilation at City Hall and Pioneer Square. Daniels’ project is the great hope for reviving that troubled district, which has just lost the second of two retail anchors (Masin's Furniture, following the Elliott Bay Book Company). Daniels' tenants will provide critical social mass, a counterweight to the missions, street people, and drunken revelers who now dominate the square, especially at night, and scare off everyone else.
The Alliance for Pioneer Square has already scheduled a party Monday to celebrate. Should the deal somehow fizzle before then, it can be recast as a rally, and an angry mob of Pioneer Square architects, liquored up on chardonnay and armed with very sharp-looking eyeglasses, can storm the stadium.