The proposed development of a 14-story hotel across from the entrance to Pike Place Market now is doubtful after Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Board on Wednesday reversed two earlier decisions and declared the Hahn Building a historic site.
Demolition of the 134-year-old building at the corner of First Avenue and Pike Street was opposed by an unusual coalition of preservationists and owners of condos at Newmark Tower, which sits directly behind the proposed hotel.
For some, views would have been blocked by the proposed 145-foot building.
The vote was 6-1 to designate the building historic.
Now, says Sarah Sodt, the city’s landmarks coordinator for downtown, owners of the property would need “a certification of approval to make any alterations to the property, and that includes demolition.”
One of the condo owners opposing the development is Ruth Danner, president of Save the Market Entrance.
“I’m delighted,” she said of the decision. “It was a nail-biter, for sure. We were a broad coalition of downtown residents, preservationists, visitors to the market. We had over 90,000 sign our Change.org petition.”
Stellar Holdings, the Kirkland company that is part of the LLC that owns the building, on Thursday released this statement:
“We are disappointed with the Landmarks Board’s decision to designate the Hahn Building, which is a departure from the two previous times the Landmarks Board denied the same building for landmarking. The Board’s vote was contrary to City staff’s recommendation not to landmark the building. We are exploring our next steps.”
The old structure certainly isn’t the prettiest edifice in town, with common bricks and concrete blocks for the first floor. Over the years, various businesses had altered it.
It currently houses the Seattle Shirt Co. (“Buy any 3 t-shirts for $10!!”), a smoke shop and the Green Tortoise Hostel in the upstairs. Over the years, it was the location for a saloon, barbershop, drugstore, shoe store and café.
Longtime Seattle residents will remember the corner for the infamous International Donut Shop in the 1970s and ’80s run by Guenter Mannhalt, convicted in 1990 of running a criminal enterprise in which he had people perform holdups and share the loot with him.
But, as Lisa Connolley, a board member of the Pike Place Market Constituency, open to anyone in the state over 16 years old who pays $1 yearly dues, wrote to the board about why the building was outstanding: “What could be more outstanding than a brilliant, modern city that has grown from humble logging, fishing and port labors? What could be more outstanding than the simple handwork created to accommodate the many working poor, coming to a new city, for many a new country in hopes of prosperity?”
Some 350 opponents of the hotel sent in comments and participated virtually in the Wednesday hearing.
“The idea of building some tall glass monstrosity in this area is appalling,” wrote Jeremy Michael Alexander. “The loss of so many buildings in Seattle over the past few years is heart wrenching but changing the market entrance is as bad or worse than the recent removal of the Elephant Car Wash sign. What is the purpose of development if it leaves a city that is unrecognizable?”
Of course, this is the famous Seattle process that is taking place.
Separate from the Landmark Preservation Board decision, the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections had approved a master use permit for the hotel on Jan. 2, partly based on it not being a landmark.
However, Danner says that the two times the board denied landmark approval — in 1999 and 2014 — “is typically known as an anti-nomination.”
It’s the developer who puts forth the nomination, and, says Danner, “There is no public notice except that it’s posted on the landmarks agenda. You have to be a landmark devotee to discover it by accident.”
For the Wednesday hearing, the opponents were prepared.
With the building now landmarked, and with additional arguments that include everything from “adverse traffic and transportation impacts” to “adverse noise impacts,” the master use permit is going before the city’s hearing examiner in early May.
The Seattle process also will include the owner and the preservation board entering a “controls and incentives agreement” to negotiate features of the project, including ensuring that the owner is not deprived of “reasonable economic use.”
If no agreement is reached, then the hearing examiner and ultimately the City Council can get involved.
Danner, a retired accountant and computer programmer, says about appealing the project, “It’s been a full-time job for three years. If somebody doesn’t have somebody like me who has the research and technical skills, it’s going to be hard. If you’re a member of the lay public, finding your way around the city’s online data repository is almost insurmountable.”