Who knows if this will ever come to fruition, but by the way things have been going on in Seattle these last couple of years--I guess anything's possible. Luckily as of late, when it comes to these types of projects, mayor Nickles has been having his way more often than the meddling Steinbrueck. Let's hope it happens with this proposal as well--and this time around, fuck the FAA, build the extra 35 feet or so and put it over 1000ft.
Mayor asks council to back new plan, save sanctuary
By Stuart Eskenazi
Seattle Times staff reporter
A blockwide hole in the ground where the Public Safety Building once stood is being viewed as an opening in the continuing efforts to save a historic church sanctuary building.
For that scenario to transpire, however, the Seattle City Council would have to modify its long-held vision that reserves two-thirds of the downtown block for a public plaza, with the rest set aside for a small-scale building.
Two council members — Jan Drago and Peter Steinbrueck — say they are unwilling to scrap that plan.
"I think council members will stay the course and carry out our vision," Drago predicted.
Mayor Greg Nickels, however, is urging the council to take another look.
"Circumstances change and opportunities pop up," Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said. "Let's not be so rigid that we overlook an opportunity to do two special things at once."
At the mayor's request, developer David Sabey came up with an idea for preserving First United Methodist Church's architecturally distinctive domed sanctuary, a near-century-old building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Marion Street. Sabey would buy the church property and keep the sanctuary if the city sells him the Public Safety Building block and lets him build a skyscraper there that could be as tall as Columbia Center — far bigger than what the council ever had in mind.
The plaza would shrink to a half-block, and Sabey would assume ownership and control of it. Drago and Steinbrueck are not willing to cede the plaza to a private developer.
Council members envision the plaza as a public place for Seattleites to gather and socialize, where scheduled performances and protests would take center stage. For big events, the city could block off Fourth Avenue to create an outdoor mall extending to the new City Hall's plaza and steps.
"We've got to seize the opportunity and create an enduring civic space for future generations," Steinbrueck said. "It's important and meaningful to have a place where people can interact with their government and express themselves."
For longer than a decade, the council has had designs on the city-owned parcel, which is the final piece of a three-block Civic Center campus that includes the new Justice Center and cascades down the hill into the new City Hall.
Drago said she might consider shrinking the plaza a smidge, but not to half the block. Current zoning for the block permits a building up to about 40 stories high, although the council's stated preference is for one of about only 20 stories.
Steinbrueck said three developers have submitted conceptual plans that fall within the council vision.
Details of the Sabey proposal, which was solicited independently by the mayor, are open to negotiation — if only council members would sit down to discuss them, said Jim Kneeland, Sabey spokesman. Both Steinbrueck and Drago opted not to meet with Sabey.
"To deal separately with a proposal that is inconsistent with our vision would be unfair to the other submitters as a matter of process," Steinbrueck said.
Sabey is proposing to pay the city fair-market value for the block, possibly between $20 million and $30 million. Kneeland said the council ought to step away from the formal process and give Sabey's proposal consideration.
"This is an opportunity for the city to explore and find a way to do this project right and get a maximum value for its property," he said. "If instead the city becomes handcuffed by process, then taxpayers are at the disadvantage."
Kneeland said the city stands to benefit because Sabey's building would be built to attract the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company.
Drago said the city seeks to extract more benefit from the block than just money.
Officials believe a public plaza in that part of downtown can be welcoming and safe, unlike a park one block south that is nicknamed Muscatel Meadows because so many street alcoholics congregate there.
If the council rejects Sabey's proposal, the church could accept a previous offer from developer Martin Selig that razes the First United sanctuary.
Drago and Steinbrueck both said they want the sanctuary to remain standing, but Drago added that it is not the city's mission to save it from demolition.
Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company