Several ideas for saving Saint Edward State Park’s Seminary Building have been floated over the years as the four-story late Romanesque revival structure continues to decay from the inside out.
But ever since the Kenmore community around the park rallied against the idea of Portland brewpub company McMenamins leasing the building about a decade ago, no entity, including the state, has stepped up with an offer that would pay for an estimated $40 million in improvements — until now.
A locally based cybersecurity company has proposed a deal sweet enough that the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission is fast-tracking a short-term lease agreement that could turn into a long-term one. The first public comment meeting is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, at Northshore Utility District, 6830 N.E. 185th St. in Kenmore.
“It’s the first real concrete offer or interest we’ve gotten in several years,” said Virginia Painter, spokeswoman for state parks.
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When the company’s broker first approached the state in November with the proposal, the hope was that the company could start occupying the building with a one-year lease by the end of January, said lead broker, Dan Mathews of Kidder-Mathews, a commercial real-estate firm. If the company cannot begin occupying the building by the end of March, it would reluctantly look elsewhere, he said.
Should negotiations and the first year go well, Mathews said, the private company is interested in leasing the building for as long as a century. But he said the state has only considered the possibility of a 50-year lease so far.
The identity of the company has not been released to protect the tentative deal,
Mathews said. The client is still analyzing how much it would cost to renovate the building.
The Department of Defense and a “U.S. government contractor” were mentioned in Oct. 18 emails between state parks employees interested in taking representatives on a tour along with Mathews.
The company wants about 75 percent of the 80,000-square-foot building converted to office space for as many as 300 eventual employees, Mathews said.
The seminary building, which includes a bell tower, study hall, grand hall, library, chapel, classrooms, dormitories, kitchen and former nuns’ quarters, was built in 1931 after the property was donated to the Catholic Diocese of Seattle.
The building was used as a Catholic seminary by the Sulpician Order of Catholic Priests until 1977. The building, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was then sold to the state and became part of the 316-acre Saint Edward State Park in 1978.
The company would also like a cafe and a gym on site for the employees, Mathews said.
Though most parties that have deliberated the building’s future seem open to hearing more about the proposal, some are skeptical about the deal’s secrecy.
Bill Miller, a former Bothell city councilman, is one of them. “For all I know, it’s the NSA,” he said.
The company’s identity might be easier to discern next week, though. The state Attorney General’s Office decided this week that unredacted copies of a nondisclosure agreement a state official signed Oct. 21 will be available on Monday, said Painter, the state parks spokeswoman.
That official did not have the authority to sign such a nondisclosure agreement and it’s possible no public official does, she said. She would not name the official who signed the document.
Heather Kaminsky, interim president of Friends of Saint Edward State Park, said, “There’s definitely a lot more information that needs to be gathered, but — that being said — we’re very interested in what they have to say.
“We don’t want the park to turn into a strip mall, but we also want the building saved because it’s crumbling down on itself right now.”
Mathews said the public would also be able to comment on the deal after the company’s name was released.
He said the Eastside resident who asked him to broker the deal with the state is trying to save a park he’s hiked through hundreds of times.
Mathews said he told the resident there were other options that would be quicker and less costly. “They said don’t look elsewhere,” he said.
The draft of a short-term agreement with the company will be released at the Jan. 14 meeting. The comments will be included in a report issued to the State Parks and Recreation Commission at its Jan. 23 meeting in Olympia.
The fast-tracked right-of-entry agreement would allow for improvements that would bring a small part of the structure up to a secure, usable standard, according to the State Parks and Recreation Commission.
“If we want to keep the proposal alive for further evaluation, we need to allow the client to occupy some part of the building relatively quickly,” Don Hoch, State Parks and Recreation Commission director, said in a release. “So we want to do what we can to make that happen so we can explore the longer term potential.”
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.