Thursday, March 13, 2008

Memorial Stadium; Ah the Truth Comes Out (Updated)

Update 3-15: this article appeared in today's PI about the presentation about Seattle Center and Memorial Stadium to the Board by the Seattle Center director.

From the article:

"The unveiling this week of a $676 million proposal to overhaul Seattle Center was met by ambivalence from the Seattle School Board, which holds the deed to Memorial Stadium, the venerable facility that would be replaced by an outdoor amphitheater and sports field under the proposed redesign."

Who uses it?

"The stadium has served as the home field for many of the district's high schools over the past six decades. The district's 4A schools -- Ballard, Franklin, Garfield and Roosevelt -- are the primary tenants (Cleveland, which is 3A, also uses the facility).

District reaction:

"Ron English, the district's general counsel and property manager, said the board had yet to reach a decision about the redesign.

He said Nellams' proposal was vague and short on specifics. English said the board had yet to analyze the proposal closely and wanted to have more information before it proceeded in any direction.

"A lot of the details are still being fleshed out," English said. "The district has to take a long look at the whole thing to make a decision. They presented a master plan, but they only had three short bullet points and we're still in the very early stages with this."

Some issues:

"Hairston said the facility generates between $150,000$200,000 in revenue in rental fees annually, and about $2 million from the adjacent parking lot. It is unclear how the district would replace that revenue should a redesign occur or if it would have propriety over the proposed garage." (Note: I had heard $700,000 on the parking lot; the district makes a lot more than that.)

"Another matter is scheduling and whether the district would have to relinquish some control to the city in the matter of renting out the facility. It also appeared under the plans released by Nellams that nearly four acres of the property would be lost to open space."

Previous post:

So yesterday, I and a few other folks attended the City's presentation to the Board of the ideas generated by the Century 21 Committee about Seattle Center. The presenter, Robert Nellams, could not have been more deferential and pleasant. He made it clear the City knows who owns Memorial Stadium (the district does). He wants to work with the District and he realizes how important the dual issues of the stadium as a memorial to WWII Seattle high school dead and continuing use by high school football and soccer teams. Great. But there were a couple of things that negated all that good will he attempted to generate.

One, he stressed over and over "possibilities" and "options" and yet, showed only one of these. (Sherry Carr noted this and he said that they had taken the 4 options from the Committee and rolled them into one.) Right then, you have to wonder about how open to suggestions and options the City really is.

Two, call it a land grab or a loss of land or what you will; under the plan put forth, out of the 9 acres the District owns, they would lose 4 acres. I was startled at the end of the presentation when this question got asked and answered in the affirmative and even asked a couple of other people if they heard the same thing. They did.

So right there, I can't be for this particular option. The District lost the Queen Anne High land AND didn't even get full price for it. We can't go making some deal with the City for Memorial Stadium where we don't keep the land. I don't care what we get out of it.

I found out some interesting information like only the District, the Science Center and the Space Needle own their own footprints at Seattle Center. The parking lot that the District owns is a ka-ching! operation, netting the District nearly $700,000 a year.

The City's plan has the stadium reorienting from east to west to north to south (he said district staff suggested this). It would keep its ability to seat 5,000 for games and 5-12,000 for concerts. Only one side would be covered. The other side would have stands and become an amphitheater when there were no games. The covered side would have retractable seating so in the summer that side would become a stage that faces out to the field/amphitheater.

The field would be a green lid and underneath would be the parking garage. (This is where the District would lose land, I think.) The parking garage would be a hub for deliveries, buses, cars, etc. (No one asked if the district might lose revenue if it were a transit hub; maybe they would make more?)

Questions from the Board (and good for these people - they asked very good questions, not all of which had great answers):

Steve S. - will they be able to play both soccer and football? Yes, it can happen and happen safely. Underneath the covered stands would be locker/dressing rooms.

Peter M. - what about safety? If it were rainy and both sides for a football game chose to sit on the same side, what about keeping them divided? (I know; people should be civilized and behave themselves but when you have souped up high school kids, it's not always easy and not desirable to have them sitting next to each other.) Mr. Nellams was not specific and said they could think of things to do for security. Pretty vague.

Someone (I'm not remember who) asked about timing. Mr. Nellams said it would be great to get it on the ballot by November. There wasn't much reaction from the Board.

Michael deB. - two issues; the integrity of the WWII memorial and moving the wall and reconfiguring the stadium because then it would in a direction that gets much more wind (and it can get cold there). Mr. Nellams said the wall could be placed in a more prominent and desirable spot. He didn't have an answer about the wind question.

Some WWII vets attended and they don't want anything changed. The entire stadium to them IS the memorial, not just the wall. They have a point. They also have a point that if the Denny's in Ballard is a landmark, then so is Memorial Stadium and that landmark status would protect it.

Is Memorial Stadium like a solid old gray-haired grandma in looks? Sure and I know Memorial Stadium could look more attractive (and I know there is a backlog of maintenance there as well). The renderings look attractive and, of course, for the District, as I understand it, it would be a free redo.

However, can't some compromise be found? It is right in the Seattle Center and it should be a great public space for all. But the City should have more than one option available and the District should not be cajoled or bullied into anything based on the so-called greater good. It is a memorial first and foremost and it is the place where many student-athletes play for their high school. It has endured as such and the City built a major area around it shouldn't change that fact.

Mr. Nellams did say, in terms of the Center School, that the City enjoyed having them there and wanted them to stay. Now, of course, this seems like a difficult thing given how much renovation the Center House is going to have. The District is in, I believe, year 8 of a 20 year lease with the City for the Center School to be in the Center House.

I talked to a couple of Mr. Nellam's aides after the presentation and they said that they did not believe the Center School would have to move out during renovation (now whether they would want to is a different thing) AND that the City was going to pay to rebuild the Center School's area as is (meaning as a high school). Of course, given that they don't feel Center School needs to move out, maybe they will just build around it and it is is what it is. (While I think Center School is a good little school, I do not believe for such a small school that we can afford to put more capital money into it.)

12 comments:

Charlie Mas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlie Mas said...

I found information about the plan here. The current lay out is on page 12 of the pdf (page 2 of the book) and the prospective plan is on page 18 of the pdf (page 8 of the book).

It is unclear who would own the land with the Parking/Loading/Bus Access space and it is unclear what revenue it would generate.

I don't see why the west grandstand can't be covered - leaving it uncovered should not be an option.

Perhaps a land swap could be arranged so that the Center gets the International Lawn and the School District gets the Seattle Center Parking Garage across the street. And, of course, the conditions on the District's ownership of the property would have to be removed.

Given the open nature of the proposed new Memorial Stadium, how could the District control admission? I don't think they could. What would be the loss of revenue on that?

It seems to me, from the Master Plan document, that although the City calls the Center School an "anchor tenant", they would be pretty happy to see the school go. I'm thinking that for the right price, the District should surrender the balance of their lease. The right price, of course, would be enough to compensate the District for their investment in the building, waived rent until the Center School's new space is ready, and a little something more.

Charlie Mas said...

Here is the url for the Century 21 Master Plan:

http://www.seattlecenter.com/media/century21b.asp

Here is a link

Anonymous said...

The District does not own the land Memorial Stadium sits on. It has a 99 year lease.

I think this is a win/win. Memorial Stadium sits empty for a good portion of the year in terms of the school district use. The District can still get their parking lot income and Memorial Stadium will get a much needed renovation. Have you seen it lately? It's a total dive and it's not really safe. I'd bet it won't withstand an earthquake inspection.

Anyway, I think there's a way to preserve the wall and get everyone's questions answered and needs met starting from the current plan.

And for the record, the committee has had several community meetings over the past year or so and they were sparsely attended. This is so typical of Seattle... Don't give input when there are multiple opportunities, then wait until a plan is done, then beat up on it. It's so much easier to complain than to actually help shape on idea!

Anonymous said...

Everyone here at City Hall thinks the District's ability to negotiate is a joke. It's actually laughed about in the halls and in small meetings. The district has huge amounts of land- some of which it needs to sell- and NO property manager! Oh, okay... they have a cantankerous public servant lawyer who knows little about managing large land transactions and is also the butt of many jokes at City Hall. (This is the same lawyer who serves as "Environmental Officer" for the SEPA requirements... having your property manager as your EO is totally unethical, not to mention stupid.)

The District will be a loser on this deal- unless the Three Amigos on the School Board who swept into office on the coattails of their business skills get smart on this subject.

Anonymous said...

The District should never sell their land. All well-endowed schools have land that they keep forever in trust. The District will be around as long as children live in Seattle. It must take the long-term, the very long-term view. It is never in the District's interest to sale. Because unlike a person's estate, they have to provide for their great, great, great (add 100 more).....grandchildren forever. Land always become more valuable over time.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Memorial Stadium is used other parts of the year and that's just as this plan outlines. So there's nothing really different here.

It's not a thing of beauty but a dive? And, if it didn't pass some sort of seismic inspection, it's unlikely we'd be having games there.

This plan doesn't explain the parking revenue and, in fact, muddies the water by turning the parking lot into a transit hub.

Sorry, when the City rep says there are many options and possibilities, we absolutely have the right to question any "plan". It's his words, not mine.

The District is in the driver seat here and it should stay that way. I do know which lawyer the one post refers to and I worry about that but I don't think the Board is going to want to be the ones to go down in history as the Board that sold off uber-valuable property.

Anonymous said...

Yes Melissa, you have the right to question any plan. My point was that there were many opportunities over the past year or so to voice an opinion about this and now that it looks like it's something that could actually happen, there are lots of questions as if it's the first time it was seen. And apparently it was, which is my point.

If this was something that was THAT important to you and the other folks on this blog, then you would have been there from the beginning voicing your opinions. The fact that you're coming into the game now is a good example of why nothing gets done in Seattle. So everything is supposed to come to a screeching halt because the district watchdogs (you and your blog friends) haven't seen the plan. It has to be suspect because you haven't blessed it or because you have questions.

I think the district has a chance to get a really nice stadium to replace the dive (and it truly is) that Memorial Stadium is and it won't cost them a dime. At the same time, those of us who enjoy the Seattle Center will have a nicer concert venue that can double as a grassy hang out when there's nothing going on.

The school district still owns the parking lot outright and I think it's very cynical of you to think that the Seattle Center folks would try to wrestle away income from the school district. The more positive view of that would be to feel confident that parking income is part of the negotiations. The fact that Seattle School District can't negotiate their way out of a paper bag is no reason to believe that the folks on the other side of the table are intentionally trying to dupe the district.

Melissa Westbrook said...

The Board seemingly had never seen this plan before either (the ones who had questions surely didn't); 3 of them have been there for awhile and knew this was coming and the 4 new people are all active in the Seattle community. So no, it wasn't just me.

As I said, the devil is in the details and none of it should get away from the district. We were duped once; not again.

maureen said...

Are any Queen Anne/Magnolia parents keeping an eye on this? Is there a way this could be leveraged to get some land in a trade(Interbay, South Lake Union?) to build a comprehensive High School with space for Center School too? Or maybe a magnet of academies with math,science and arts focuses? The Gates Foundation will be right there, isn't that their thing? I have no connections, does anyone out there?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, that was one thing that Peter Maier asked about just in terms of what was around Seattle Center. It was pointed out that the area where the parking lot was across Fifth is now being converted into Gates' Foundation headquarters (with some public parking). It does seem like something could happen.

Someone else mentioned to me about leveraging a land swap. I know the District has some small chunk of land by Interbay.

It all seems logical but is there the imagination/will/follow-thru in the district? Or, as the last post suggests, are there parents to pick up the mantle?

Anonymous said...

There is some district property a block or two north of Roy street, north of the Center, that could be used for a Magnolia/QA school. It used to be the District headquarters. It's at the bottom of the hill below that other district property, the Queen Anne HS building. Oh, wait...