The Metropolitan King County Council must thoroughly examine the proposed sale of a downtown transit station. Among the issues to explore are whether the public is getting the best possible deal and how the timing will exacerbate Seattle traffic problems.
THE West Point sewage catastrophe isn’t the only murky situation for the Metropolitan King County Council to examine.
It also needs to thoroughly scrub County Executive Dow Constantine’s proposal to sell a downtown Seattle transit station.
Under a complex deal now before the council, the Washington State Convention Center will buy the station and build a stand-alone addition.
Property north of the station has already been acquired by the convention center and will be developed as private commercial space.
One issue the council should scrutinize is how this deal will affect thousands of regional commuters now passing through this station, and hundreds of thousands of people whose travel in the area will be affected.
As proposed, the deal accelerates the schedule for rerouting buses from the downtown transit tunnel and onto city streets. This was going to happen in late 2019 or 2020 to accommodate light rail expansion. The deal moves that up to late 2018.
That’s significant because the Alaskan Way tunnel should open in early 2019, replacing the viaduct with a smaller, tolled tunnel. That will increase traffic on already crowded downtown streets.
Moving buses from the tunnel to surface streets just before the tunnel opening and viaduct closure seems like a recipe for gridlock.
Council members Claudia Balducci and Kathy Lambert are rightly concerned about the effects on their Eastside constituents and other regional commuters now busing through the tunnel.
The county, city and other agencies are working on a plan for downtown streets.
County Council members should ensure regional commuters are well represented in these decisions, since downtown Seattle is the region’s transit hub and nearly half the people working there commute from suburbs.
Council members should also closely examine the transit station sale to be sure the public gets the best possible deal. This is extraordinary land for development: Four acres at the crossroads of downtown Seattle, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill, with a dedicated Interstate 5 ramp.
The $161 million price Constantine proposed on March 2 works out to around $900 per square foot. That’s pricey, but smaller downtown parcels have sold for much more per foot.
To the executive’s credit, a new appraisal was requested in response to questions about the valuation.
As proposed, the county would carry the contract, acting as a bank, and taking payments over 32 years. The convention center would also pay $5 million for affordable housing projects and $4.5 million for public art.
This policy work takes finesse. The convention center provides significant public benefit with the economic activity it generates.
Downtown traffic havoc is inevitable. But the deal’s timing and changes in tunnel usage will exacerbate the problem at a critical point.
Meanwhile, the people who actually own this acreage — the public — don’t want to be sold short or suffer more than they already do traveling to, from and around Seattle.
Let the council hearings begin.