Bangasser questions K2

Others question the Vashon businessman’s motives.


Staff Writer

Businessman Tom Bangasser is calling another meeting to discuss the proposed redevelopment of the K2 building, saying much more community input is needed to determine whether the ambitious project is in Vashon’s best interest.

Others, however, are criticizing Bangasser for taking over a committee he doesn’t chair — the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s economics committee — suggesting that he’s commandeering the process because the project competes with his own interests.

“Tom has used the economics committee … to advance his own agenda in the past and has been criticized by the (community council’s) board for it,” said Emma Amiad, a real estate agent and community activist who supports the K2 redevelopment project. “It’s simply inappropriate and out of place.”

“I have no intention to be a spoiler,” responded Bangasser. “There are issues here that need to be discussed by the public. It could be very polarizing. That’s not my intent.”

The discord comes at an important time for the project’s backers, who are seeking the blessing of the community council before moving forward on their request that King County rezone the 18-acre site from industrial to commercial. It also underscores the scale and potential impact of this mammoth project — which, if successful, would transform the largest structure on the Island into a mixed-use, community-style center housing everything from nonprofits to a medical clinic to private businesses.

Many are excited about the project and how it could shape the Island. But some are also worried that it could financially drain Vashon’s nonprofits or pull critical functions from downtown.

“Tom and Hilary (Emmer) and others are asking some important and great questions,” said Yvonne Pitrof, executive director of the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank. “My hope is that it can lead to some productive and creative conversations and solutions to make something wonderful happen here.”

Under the project’s preliminary plans, Richard Sontgerath and his firm, The Heritage Group, would dramatically remake the cavernous structure, transforming what is now 180,000 square feet of office, warehouse and manufacturing space into several discrete areas to be sold or rented to an array of potential tenants.

Officials with several Island entities have already expressed an interest in moving to what Sontgerath has named K2 Commons — including the Vashon Health Center, Granny’s Attic and The Harbor School.

The Vashon Library is also poised to move there, should the project come to fruition. The King County Library System has made an offer to purchase the former machine shop, a separate building adjacent to the main one, from Sontgerath. While neither party has signed a purchase agreement, the two are working towards reaching an agreement, said Truman O’Brien, a partner in K2 Commons.

Bangasser, meanwhile, has emerged as the project’s most vocal critic.

The former head of the Island’s Chamber of Commerce, Bangasser is no stranger to complex real estate deals. Following in the footsteps of his father, he has purchased several “distressed properties” over the years, fixed them up and leased them to commercial ventures, he said.

His business enterprises are “winding down,” he said, and he now owns only a small strip mall, called the Midtown Center at 23rd and East Union in Seattle, worth perhaps $20 million. He also built and developed Courthouse Square, which, due to a real estate transfer a few months ago, is now owned by Vashon College, the nonprofit school Bangasser helped to found.

Vashon College, meanwhile, is housed in the J.T. Sheffield Building, a former K2 warehouse named after Bangasser’s grandfather and also owned by the college; it’s adjacent to the K2 property Sontgerath hopes to redevelop. Bangasser, who loaned most of the money for the purchase of the Sheffield Building but never actually owned it, manages the 42,000-square-foot structure; he loaned the money to purchase and upgrade the building at a 12 percent interest rate, he said.

Bangasser said he and the Vashon College board were very interested in the K2 building, which would have provided an expansive campus for the young college, and he approached K2 to see if the corporation would consider donating the property to the college.

When K2 turned him down, he said, he vetted the issue further with his board and decided not to try to purchase the building on the college’s behalf. He made that decision, he said, because he thought a nonprofit entity of some sort was in the running to purchase the building.

“I didn’t want to get into a bidding war with another nonprofit,” he said.

“I had no intention of owning the K2 building,” he added. “I would have loaned money to make it happen.”

Now that a for-profit enterprise is seeking to purchase the building and transform it into what Sontgerath is calling a community center, Bangasser said the situation is very different.

“What I resent in this is that (Sontgerath) looked at the forest and said, ‘We can make some money on this.’ It went from being the common good and into something consumeristic,” he said. “That profit margin should accrue to the community.”

He also takes issue with the proposed rezone, which the community council board Monday night remanded to the land-use committee for further review. Such a rezone, coupled with Sontgerath’s plan to sell portions of the building to other entities, would “balkanize” the Island’s largest commercial structure, he said.

“It’s the largest piece, and we’re jumping through all sorts of hoops for a private developer,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense.”

But Amiad and others took issue with Bangasser’s criticisms. Amiad, for instance, noted that a rezone to allow for more uses was first suggested to the county council last March, long before Sontgerath or any other private developer was in the picture. As soon as the building’s sale was announced, in fact, she said she met with County Councilman Dow Constantine’s staff to discuss a rezone.

“Industrial zoning is very limited. Dow himself put in a request that held a place for the K2 building in the comprehensive plan … in case it needed a rezone,” she said. “That was started long, long ago and had nothing to do with this current plan.”

She said she discussed many of these issues at community council meetings and other gatherings.

Bangasser, Amiad said, “missed all the meetings. He missed all the presentations. And he doesn’t seem to have read the paper.”

Others, meanwhile, are in disagreement about whether it’s appropriate for Bangasser to convene the economics committee, which he doesn’t chair, and ask its members to discuss the impact the K2 proposal will have on the economic health of the Island. Bob Powell was the chair until he announced his resignation last year. According to Bangasser, in a situation like that, any active member of the committee can step in and convene a meeting.

Jim English, who chairs the community council, said that there are no rules one way or another about whether members can convene meetings in the absence of a chair. But others, including community council board members Marilyn Omey and Susan White, said they believe community council rules do not allow for a member to step in as Bangasser did and convene a meeting.

“It doesn’t make sense, because then anybody could do anything in the name of the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council,” White said.

Jean Bosch, the council’s vice chair, meanwhile, said she believes the community council has an important role to play in the debate, bringing various players to the table to discuss the project, its impact and what’s in the community’s interest.

“What we’d like to do is get as many differing viewpoints as possible,” she said, adding, “I think it could be a wonderful thing, but I think we need more public discussion.”

K2 discussion

The Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s economics comittee will discuss the K2 project at a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10, at Courthouse Square. The committee will also elect a new chair at the meeting.