King County's juvenile jail and courtrooms would move to the landmark PacMed building on Seattle's Beacon Hill as part of a deal proposed by development company Wright Runstad.
King County’s juvenile jail and courtrooms would move to the landmark PacMed building on Seattle’s Beacon Hill as part of a deal proposed by development company Wright Runstad.
County officials consider Wright Runstad’s the leading proposal among the six received, The Seattle Times has learned. But officials are still evaluating the complex deal to make sure it would work at PacMed, the orange brick Art Deco-style building that looms over Interstate 5 and Interstate 90.
The proposal would give both the cash-strapped county and influential developer a way out of dire financial straits.
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It also could impact two neighborhoods — Beacon Hill and the Central District, where the county’s shopworn juvenile facilities now occupy nine acres of prime property at 12th Avenue and East Alder Street, near Seattle University. That property, valued by the county assessor at $41 million, could be ripe for mixed-use, transit-friendly development.
County officials assumed they’d need to sell some of that land to finance redevelopment of juvenile facilities.
Wright Runstad is in a financial bind at PacMed — which it controls most of through a 99-year lease — because its chief tenant, Amazon.com, moved its work force to South Lake Union.
Amazon’s lease for 13 of the PacMed tower’s 16 floors expired May 1, leaving Wright Runstad with no tenant. Owing upward of $300,000 per month in lease and loan payments for the building, Wright Runstad approached the county with the proposal.
County officials are mum about the Wright Runstad proposal and competing ones, saying it is part of a procurement process that needs to remain under wraps so it’s fair to everyone.
Commenting would “compromise the integrity of the process,” said Frank Abe, spokesman for County Executive Dow Constantine. But if the county deems one of the proposals viable, “We will have a thorough public process,” said county Administrative Officer Caroline Whalen.
Wright Runstad President Greg Johnson said he can’t comment either, in accordance with the county’s request.
But the proposal is likely to spark some controversy.
Wright Runstad has worked on several projects for the county and is well-connected to decision-makers. The company received what some considered a generous deal when it acquired a 99-year lease for PacMed — with extensions for another 50 years — back in 1998. And, relocating juvenile court and jail to north Beacon Hill might cause an uproar in the neighborhood.
“You know jails are controversial. People will probably organize against it,” said Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Gossett. “I have no problem considering the proposal. I don’t have enough information now to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’ “
Constantine’s staff may brief the County Council on details of the proposal this month.
The county’s Youth Services Center and Youth Detention Center needs sweeping renovation. Superior Court judges say the facilities are too small, don’t meet security needs and have substandard plumbing, heating and air conditioning. The total cost could be almost $250 million, according to county reports.
County officials had hoped to finance the renovation through a tax increase. But voters last year rejected that ballot measure.
County officials said they received unsolicited ideas from developers early this year, which led to a formal request for “concepts.” It’s not clear what would become of the Central District site under the Wright Runstad proposal.
County facilities Director Kathy Brown told council members last month that a stakeholder committee evaluated proposals and the “top qualified” one would move the facility.
Sources familiar with the process say Wright Runstad is the top qualifier, but they are not authorized to be quoted on the matter.
Seattle officials are being briefed because the proposal might call for zoning changes at both the PacMed and current juvenile-center sites.
Wright Runstad doesn’t own the PacMed building. After signing the 99-year lease, it converted the old hospital into office space and subleased it to Amazon.
The tower’s owner is the Pacific Hospital Preservation & Development Authority, a quasi-public entity. Pacific uses lease payments from Wright Runstad to provide access to health care for the uninsured and underinsured.
Kevin Fox, chairman of Pacific’s Governing Council, said Wright Runstad can freely sublease space.
The county’s request calls for 156,000 square feet for new courtrooms, with room to add more in the future. It’s also looking for 73,000 square feet for 100 jail cells. And, it needs another 50,000 square feet for offices.
At PacMed, Wright Runstad has 205,000 square feet of office space it leased to Amazon. It can build up to 225,000 square feet in the tower’s parking lot.
The building was opened in 1933 as the Marine Hospital, which primarily served merchant seamen.
The 1998 deal that turned over the PacMed building to Wright Runstad was criticized by some for moving too fast, with too little oversight.
At the time, then-Seattle Times editorial columnist Casey Corr wrote that the deal was not driven by “the public’s interest, but the developer’s timetable.”
Wright Runstad executives have made campaign contributions to Constantine and most County Council members.
Abe, Constantine’s spokesman, said politics would not figure in the county’s ultimate decision. The procurement process, he said, is “constructed in such a way as to ensure fairness for all proposals.”
Staff reporter Eric Pryne contributed to this report, and material from Seattle Times archives was included.
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