Developers look to transform historic Magnuson Park barracks into apartments

The affordable housing project would target renters earning up 80 percent of Seattle's median income level.
The affordable housing project would target renters earning up 80 percent of Seattle's median income level.

Nonprofit housing developers are vying for a chance to turn a dilapidated former Navy barracks on the western edge of Magnuson Park into dozens of moderately-priced apartments.

Vacant since 1999, the historic barracks, known as Building 9, has been repeatedly vandalized and was largely unmaintained during the last two decades. But last year, the state Legislature directed the Washington State Department of Commerce to redevelop the building into affordable housing. The department is now reviewing at least three proposals from nonprofit development groups and plans to select one of them in early November.

The proposed apartments would be available for renters earning up to 80 percent of the median income in the Seattle area. In 2014, that 80 percent level was $63,900 for a family of four, according to figures published by the city's Office of Housing.

Among the developers competing for the project are Mercy Housing Northwest, and two joint ventures, one between Capitol Hill Housing and Bridge Housing and another between American Baptist Homes of the West and Bellwether Housing. The Department of Commerce would not discuss the specifics of the proposal selection process, but people familiar with it said that these were the three development groups under consideration.

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A view of Building 9 from the southwest. Seen from above, the building looks like a series of eight T-shaped segments. Photo: Bill Lucia 

"We need more affordable housing in Seattle," state House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said during a phone interview last week. "Building 9 has been sitting vacant for 20 years," he added. "It's high time we put it to good use."

The University of Washington acquired the building from the U.S. Department of Education in the late 1990s and, for about 15 years, could not figure out a plan for it that made financial sense. In 2012, the university began seeking a private developer for Building 9, and planned to consider proposals that included market-rate housing. Chopp opposed the idea of having market-rate apartments in the park. Last year, he helped secure $14 million of state funds for the affordable housing project that is now underway. Of that money, $4 million was set aside to reimburse the University of Washington for the property. The other $10 million will be available to the developer that is eventually selected, to help them cover renovation costs.

The redevelopment project is unfolding as Seattle grapples with how to maintain an adequate amount of affordable housing amid a period of rapid population growth, driven in part by a boom in the city's technology sector.

Last week, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution stating its intent to come up with legislation during the next year that would levy fees on commercial and multi-family residential construction to help pay for affordable housing initiatives. Mayor Ed Murray and the Council also recently formed an advisory committee to come up with policy ideas to address housing affordability. The apartments in Building 9 would be priced for renters in the income range that the city generally targets with its affordable housing programs.

Financing and building the project is expected to take several years. The request for development proposals that the Department of Commerce issued in May says that construction should be scheduled for completion by December 2017. 

The estimated cost for the redevelopment is about $60 million, a department spokesperson said in an email last week. Proposals from the developers are required to include a financing plan and budget.

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A panoramic photo of Building 9's west side, which faces Sand Point Way. Photo: Bill Lucia

Asked if it would be easy to secure financing for the project right now, Bill Rumpf, president of Mercy Housing Northwest, said: "The short answer is just no." But he added that there are viable ways to pay for the project. He pointed to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, historic preservation tax credits and Seattle's housing levy as potential financing sources. "Our judgment is that it's possible," Rumpf said.

Mercy Housing's proposal for the site includes 128 apartments, the majority of them would be two and three bedroom units for families, according to Rumpf. SeaMar Community Health Centers would partner with Mercy Housing and turn part of the building into a community health center.  American Baptist Homes of the West and Bellwether have proposed 168 apartments. Half of them would be for families and the other half for seniors, according to information provided by Beacon Development, a consultant for American Baptist Homes. A representative for Capitol Hill Housing declined to comment on the details of its proposal.

Building 9 is mostly red brick. It has two wings and a center section and is located along Sand Point Way Northeast, just south of the Northeast 74th Street entrance to the park.

The northern portion of the building was constructed in 1929. The center section and the south wing were built around 1938. The end result was a 223,000 square foot structure that stretches about 800 feet from its north to south end, roughly the length of two downtown Seattle city blocks. Each wing of the building consist of four segments, which are T-shaped when seen from above and topped with pitched roofs that are edged with white trim.

"I just think it's wonderful that this building is going to be saved," said Lynn Ferguson, secretary of Friends of Naval Air Station Seattle Historic District. Building 9 falls within the historic district, which is designated by the city. It is also listed in federal and state historic registers. This means that there are limitations on how the exterior of the building can be modified. "On the inside you can pretty much do whatever you want," Ferguson said.

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In front of Building 9 in 1954, Navy recruits caught causing a disturbance are forced to "duck walk," according to the book "The Navy in Puget Sound," by Cory Graff. Photo: National Archives/ U.S. Navy

The military installation at Sand Point was most active between 1926 and 1953.

Ferguson detailed the Naval Air Station's historical significance in a report submitted to Seattle's Landmarks Preservation Board in 2010.

During World War II, the air station served as a major seaplane overhaul facility, the report says. At the peak of the installation's activity in 1945, a total of 4,625 Navy or Marine personnel were serving there, along with 2,834 civilians employees. Building 9 housed enlisted personnel. The center of the building was a mess hall, and at the south end there was a chapel. At least some of the chapel's stained glass windows remain intact and can be faintly seen beneath sheets of white protective material that have been fastened outside them.

"This is a gorgeous building," Ferguson said. "It's really the cornerstone of the historic district."

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The University of Washington acquired Building 9 from the federal government in the late 1990s and transferred it to the Washington State Department of Commerce last year. Photo: Bill Lucia

Seattle's View Ridge neighborhood is located just west of Magnuson Park. 

Nancy Bolin, who is president of the View Ridge Community Council, said that while she supports creating more affordable housing in the city, some residents are worried that the proposed apartments in Building 9 could increase traffic congestion on Sand Point Way, near the park's 74th Street entrance. "A big concern with having folks down there, or having more folks down there, is that it's an area that's already pretty jam-packed with traffic," she said.

The nonprofit organization, Solid Ground, already has buildings in the park that provide 175 units of housing for low-income and formerly homeless families and individuals. (Solid Ground was formerly called Fremont Public Association, and Chopp has been involved with the organization for about 30 years, serving as its director a little over a decade ago and later as a senior advisor.)

A number of other facilities are also located at the northern end of the park nearby Building 9, including Arena Sports, which has indoor soccer fields, and the regional offices for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mercy Housing's Rumpf believes the park can handle more residents. "I don't feel like that it swamps infrastructure," he said. "The scale is not daunting to me." He added in an email: "There is a huge need for family housing given the proximity of service and moderate-pay jobs at [Seattle Children’s Hospital], UW, University Village and Northgate."

While he did not discuss specific proposals, Chopp sees the Building 9 redevelopment as important. "Seattle is a place people want to move to," he said. When it comes to providing affordable housing for those who need it, he says, "The key is to use every possible site."

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