Wednesday, November 25, 2009

If the District Messes This One Up...

The Times has an article this morning about the City and the School Board making planning to tear down Memorial Stadium. This is wrong on several counts.

First, to make clear the Seattle School District owns, outright, Memorial Stadium and the 9 prime acres of real estate it sits on. This is a very important piece of real estate if only because of the Memorial Wall. It is dedicated to those 700 Seattle high school students who went away to fight in WWII and did not come back. Some of their bodies were never found so that wall means a lot to their families. Moving away from the stadium really defeats the purpose. Now, has the district taken care of the wall properly? No. Have they really taken pains to make sure the athletes who use the stadium understand who came before them? No. They certainly can do better. Don't move the wall for design purposes.

It is the home field for both football and soccer for at least 4 of the high schools and is used for graduations. I recalled Mayor Nickels on KUOW one time saying it wasn't used that much. It is and we have nowhere else to go.

I appreciate that it is in the middle of Seattle Center but it existed in that spot long before Seattle Center came into being. I also appreciate that the City wants to do something, great. However, any deal should not cause us to lose any land and certainly not the revenue the district makes from the parking lot.

Apparently there is a preliminary MOU between the City and the District. Neither will talk about it at this point. There is to be a couple of meetings, December 3rd for the Board and December 7th for the Council, to discuss this issue.

What the City wants is more an amphitheater-style structure for concerts in the summer (the article doesn't say this but this is what was presented to the Board previously). That would be nice except that for the other 9 months when parents and other come to games either (1) the temporary seating for one side would be without shelter (it does rain a fair bit here) or (2) both sides' supporters would sit under one covered seating area. Ever been to a big football game? You don't want both sides seated next to each other. Again, to me with the district owning the stadium, the first and best use should go to the district's uses, not the City's.

Interestingly here's one thought:

"Rasmussen said the proposed agreement opens the possibility for a new high school where the Mercer Street Garage is now. The city hasn't had a large high school in the downtown/Queen Anne area since closing Queen Anne High atop Queen Anne Hill in 1981."

They could get rid of the Mercer Street Garage if they built an underground parking area under a new stadium structure. This new high school would be great news for Magnolia, Queen Anne AND Ballard (boy would that make some people very happy). However, where is that money coming from? What would happen to Center School (the City says with a new Seattle Center they could stay but I'd bet the lease price would go up)? I suspect Center School would go away.

I certainly think this could all be worked out. The stadium is decrepit and the money is not there anyway. But moving the wall should not be an option. There is a lot of history in that stadium and it should not be taken lightly.

Last thing: the person who manages buildings and their uses in this district? The same guy who help craft the contract that lost Queen Anne High. And guess who's working on this one?


Stu said...

It's now used nearly every day for high-school football and soccer games

I completely understand the rational, from the city's point of view, but unless the district is getting an amazing financial deal AND a suitable piece of land in exchange, I don't know how this goes through. (Actually, since forethought isn't the strong point with this board, I do understand how they do it, it just doesn't make sense.)

Now, to disagree with my previous paragraph, sort of . . .

If the city agrees to completely pay for the construction of a new high school, and the replacement stadium has full sports fields and support facilities for the school, then that's a different story. (Call it Memorial School and install the wall in a place of prominence.) And if the city does this without asking for more tax money just for this purpose, we got something to talk about.


Keepin'On said...

The district owns the land. Do NOT under any circumstances sell this land to the city. If their memory is so short they think selling prime real-estate downtown is a great idea, they are dumber than I thought.

If the city wants it so dang bad, they can lease it, improve it and build a new high school and stadium.

Other option - have the city and district work together to share costs to shut down the Center School, build a new "Memorial High School" with wall intact and the stadium can be attached to it.

I would think a Memorial High School and stadium is a more fitting tribute to these young men who died than a decrepit stadium.

However, I am fully confident that the district will do what makes the least sense, and costs them the most money.

Marie said...

Last part is wrong. I think that this has been said in response to similar posts many times, but the QA deal was struck twenty plus years ago. It had a bad option provision that bit the district. It was not done by the current property manager, who is by all accounts a good steward of the district.

Melissa Westbrook said...

He may not have worked for the district but he was part of it.

Good steward? We're $500M in backlogged maintenance. McDonald, which was supposed to be an emergency site, is in terrible condition.

Marie, tell me, what do you based that on?

Charlie Mas said...

What does the District have now?
A functional sports stadium and a parking lot that generates $1.2 million per year in revenues.

Any deal they accept should leave them in a better position than that. If it doesn't include a functional stadium (and one that doesn't have fairly equitable seating on both sides doesn't qualify as fully functional) and a revenue stream of at least $1.2 million, then forget it.

Megan Skjei Vogel said...

I want to know what I can do to stop this. Who should we call? What meetings do we need to attend? This is a huge loss for Seattle and for Washington State. I don't live in Seattle but work here and played numerous soccer games at the stadium in high school. We need to save this facility!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Megan, the post has dates for the Board meeting and City Council meeting. E-mail those people and/or go to the meetings. You may not be able to give input at that time but you will be able to get an idea of how their thinking is going.

There will always be a facility but I'm with Charlie, we need to come out better AND respecting the original idea of the Memorial Wall.

Limes said...

There are two compelling reasons for SPS to keep the land.

1. The wall. If there cannot be a historic designation created for it, then it should stay in the hands of SPS.

2. A demographic argument that Queen Anne would need a high school. Right now, it doesn't. McClure is filled with kids from other parts of the District. Same with Center School. In addition, the data from Tracy shows that high school enrollment is on the decline over the next ten years. If there is data to reflect that Queen Anne could fill a high school in that time, then that could be compelling.

Sports, in my opinion, is the worst reason to keep the property. Getting in and out of there on Friday and Saturday nights is a nightmare at best. There are relatively few buses, and most kids have to walk into downtown in order to get the bus they need.

It makes no sense for the high school sports stadium to be in the middle of one of the least accessible parts of town in the evenings.

Ugh. Just thinking about dropping off or picking up my daughter at those events makes me sick to my stomach.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, Limes, where would we go? As I said, it's the home field for at least 4 high schools for football and soccer. Where would they go to play their home games?

If the City wants to pony up some land and build us a stadium, great. But until then, that's ours.

reader said...

Uhhh, Limes. What are you talking that QA doesn't need a high school? It's QA/Mag that needs the high school. McClure is not a high school. True, it's full of non-QA/Mag residents... but only because the district has designated McClure as a south end escape hatch. QA/Mag middle-schoolers attend lots of other middle schools: mostly Washington, Hamilton, and Whitman because of the now-dead open-choice-with-siblings-to-follow policy. Presumably, they'll be returning. That doesn't even count Blaine, which also is middle school. Obviously, QA/Mag does need a high school and badly. Ballard is going to be stuffed to the gills with QA/Mag residents... so much so, that Ballard residents won't be getting in. Center School doesn't fill up with QA residents because the district doesn't give them preference. There really isn't an argument to reduce high school capacity. The Center School is one of a very few alternatives available.

zb said...

I don't know the details of this specific deal, but I will point out that its in no ones interest for the the City of Seattle & the Seattle Public Schools to play hardball with one another. They need to come up with a negotiated solution, and SPS isn't in a position to demand choices. True, the school district is pretty independent of the city, but the political voices of the city are important in making decisions that affect SPS.

I see no reason for SPS to donate 1.2 M in revenue to the city, or to give up that revenue without recompense of sort, but playing hardball is internecine warfare that will hurt SPS in the long run.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And that's what's kind of interesting, ZB. I've had my radar up on this for years and I heard nothing. Now, out of almost nowhere, the week of Thanksgiving, this announcement with quick meetings to follow at City Council and with the Board. I doubt at this pace there will be fighting.

But if the District and the Board sell us out (or, more likely, undersell us), they will hang their heads in shame for years to come. Oh yeah, that's right, no one has ever admitted to the Queen Anne high debacle.

Patrick said...

I don't think it's a coincidence that the public learns about this the day before Thanksgiving.

Charlie Mas said...

It shouldn't be necessary for the District to play hardball because the City shouldn't be trying to screw over the school district. The City should be presenting an offer that is generous to the District. I haven't seen the generous element of the offer to the District.

SSDemp said...

Actually the timing is even worse: word of the behind the scenes agreement began leaking out on Veterans Day.

And the District won’t comment. Typical.

Yes, their point man in this has messed up everything he has ever worked on for the District and is directly in the line on authority of MGJ. This is her (and Nickel’s deal).

dan dempsey said...

"Apparently there is a preliminary MOU between the City and the District. Neither will talk about it at this point."

Just as open and transparent as usual. Public involvement is always encouraged when it is too late.

Stu said...

I don't think it's a coincidence that the public learns about this the day before Thanksgiving.

The district is extremely consistent in this one regard -- I wonder how they manage to organize this single aspect of their communications when they can't seem to do anything else right -- they will ALWAYS announce major changes and/or controversial decisions just before or, even better, during a vacation or holiday. The logic is sound; a majority of families are either away or not thinking about school issues and, therefore, their awareness is lower.

If they could put that kind of forethought into ANYTHING else, something might get done around here.


PS - It's great they can negotiate an MOU with the city but still can't take the time to fulfill report obligations or hold promised meetings.

dan dempsey said...

"but still can't take the time to fulfill report obligations or hold promised meetings."

These are probably not listed as incentive items.

Stu said...

I was thinking, yesterday, that I wanted to post a "thanksgiving thank you" to everyone here. I might not always agree with everything written but I'm amazed at the dedication you all show. However, I'm not blind to the fact that holidays and winter/spring breaks usually mean some sort of SPS announcement that stresses me out more and more. Anyway, thank you all for everything.

To MGJ; I hope you have a very Happy Thanksgiving. I know that you're not stressing about any of the announcements or changes and that your family is well taken care of this year, what with the small-class-size-free-pre-k, the incredible salary, and the upcoming bonus. I hope you give thanks for your 20% success rate and I hope next Thanksgiving finds you blissfully happy and celebrating in another city.


uxolo said...

What if McClure became a 6-12? What's going to happen to the Nova building? What's going to happen to Lincoln? Center School remains underenrolled - when does that lease run out?

A while back Antioch hosted a meeting to examine the creation of another school in the downtown neighborhood. Where's that proposal?