A Portland-based brewery is one step closer to turning the historic seminary building at St. Edward State Park in Kenmore into a pub and...

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A Portland-based brewery is one step closer to turning the historic seminary building at St. Edward State Park in Kenmore into a pub and conference center.

At a public meeting on Whidbey Island yesterday, state parks commissioners voted unanimously to accept McMenamins’ proposal to build a hotel, restaurant and conference center in the abandoned building, but stopped short of authorizing a lease agreement after hearing an hour of opposing testimony.

The decision set forth a series of public meetings to discuss the future of the park. Starting next month, the state will collect feedback from neighboring communities and factor in other changes to St. Edward, such as the proposed expansion of Bastyr University, before agreeing on any private developer.

St. Edward is one of 12 state parks under consideration for private investment. Last October the state hired The Kirkbride Group, a Lacey, Thurston County-based brokerage firm, to seek companies to restore parks that it could not afford to upgrade.

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Failing safety and health conditions forced the parks department to close the seminary building in the 1970s. Rex Derr, state parks director, estimated that it would cost at least $12 million to bring the building up to code.

“I’ve visited and enjoyed McMenamins facilities in Washington and Oregon and what I’ve seen is a private hospitality business seriously interested in putting life back into historic structures,” Derr said. “I realized 20 years ago that state money is absolutely inadequate.”

While the commissioners did not sign a binding agreement with McMenamins, the decision to invite private investment in the park worries some citizens who frequent the trails, swimming pool and gymnasium. About two dozen people testified in opposition to the proposal.

Bruce McAlister, a Bothell resident, worried that a bar will eventually become his neighbor.

“This project will leave the trails, but destroy the character of the park. You cannot add a restaurant, hotel and brew pub and still maintain the character of a wild park in an urban area,” he said.

McMenamins intends to restore the 90,000-square-foot building, turn the bottom floors into a conference center and the top floors into a hotel. It also plans to add 400 parking stalls and a 6,900-square-foot pub and theater.

Lara Bain: 206-464-2112