Nearly six months after a plan to redevelop the former K2 manufacturing site was unveiled, both the Vashon Health Center and Granny’s Attic — two entities that were seen as anchor tenants — say they’re not yet ready to sign on the dotted line.
Top officials at both organizations say they continue to be intrigued and inspired by Dick Sontgerath and Truman O’Brien’s ambitious goals for the site — the creation of a community-oriented business and service center that would cluster a number of complementary organizations in a large structure just a mile south of town.
But neither wants to be the first to commit, they said, in part because many questions remain unanswered.
“Dick has a great dream, and it has great potential for the community,” said Bert Colburn, the administrator of Highline Medical Group, which manages the health center. “But I want to have a little more hard evidence that this thing is going forward.”
Richard Lipke, manager of Granny’s Attic, said his agency has also “pulled way back” on the project. The key issue, he said, is whether the nonprofit thrift store can afford it.
“Maintenance costs may be higher than we can afford. And if other businesses don’t move there, are we going to be stuck in that building all by ourselves and saddled with the maintenance costs?
“There are a lot of numbers being thrown out,” Lipke added. “But when we see someone move in and see what kind of costs they’re incurring, that will help us make the decision.”
O’Brien, a former commercial airline pilot who has become Sontgerath’s right-hand man in the redevelopment venture, said the two continue to feel confident that the project will move forward — and that once one tenant signs up, others will soon follow.
“We’re very close on several of these,” he said, referring to agreements with potential tenants. “I think by the end of the month, we’ll definitely have some signatures.”
Initially, the two said the project would be financially structured as a condominium that various agencies or businesses would buy into. Now, O’Brien said, they’re also considering other ways of financing the project — including having the building purchased by a group of investors and leased out to tenants, an approach that O’Brien said is “as viable or more so than a condominium.”
“I think the viability is stronger today than it was at the beginning,” he added. “We have a clear picture of what the facility could be and a clear picture of who the players will be. We’re just as excited as we were on day one.”
The 180,000-square-foot building — which includes cavernous spaces, a kitchen and a warren of former offices and other amenities — was the heart of K2’s corporate and manufacturing empire for years. Seven years ago, however, the Vashon-grown company started offloading some of its enterprises — its famous fiberglass skis began to be manufactured in China, for instance — and last fall, in large part because of escalating ferry costs, it vacated its Vashon site entirely.
K2’s corporate offices are now in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood. And last August, the entire entity was purchased by Jarden Corp., a publicly traded, New York-based company.
Last fall, with the vast building empty, K2 hired a commercial real estate broker to help the company find a buyer for the site. Company officials also told Vashon’s civic leaders at the time that they’d like to give Islanders the opportunity to determine if the building — the largest commercial structure on the Island — could be put to some kind of community use.
Emma Amiad, a real estate agent, led an effort to see what kind of governmental or philanthropic ventures could help to transform the building into a community-based center but found no one with the financial or political wherewithal to take it on. Then, last November, Sontgerath — president of a redevelopment and affordable housing company in Seattle — stepped forward, announcing plans to transform it into a site housing everything from a day care to a recreational center to a coffee roastery.
Both the health center and Granny’s Attic were among the first agencies mentioned as potential tenants, and both expressed enthusiasm at the time. Since then, officials said, they’ve had to think hard about whether it makes sense.
The situation is particularly complicated for the health center, which is managed by Highline in a building owned by a nonprofit organization that has also been a long-standing source of support for the clinic.
That nonprofit, formerly called the Vashon-Maury Health Services Center, recently changed its name to Sunrise Ridge Health Services Center. Last week, Mary Jo Svendsen, a retired leadership educator, was elected to be the new chair of the nonprofit’s board, replacing David Sunstrom, who will remain on the board.
The board is now trying to figure out how it can help the health center achieve one of its most pressing goals, Svendsen said — a new and improved facility that would not be as cramped as its current building on Sunrise Ridge and that would make the doctor/patient flow work more smoothly.
The board has been working on the issue for several years; a proposal to create a hospital district that might have helped to pay for a new building failed at the polls two years ago, a defeat, Svendsen said, that “sort of took the wind out of everyone’s sails.”
Last year, however, the board started working hard on a new strategic plan to determine how it could build a new structure for the health clinic on its 14-acre site — when the K2 proposal surfaced and, as Svendsen put it, “threw a wrench into our strategic plan.”
Now, she said, Sunstrom is working closely with Colburn at Highline Medical Group in an effort to determine the financial feasibility of a move to K2 and resolve other issues that have come up. But, like Lipke at Granny’s Attic, she and other board members remain concerned about K2’s viability.
“It’s one of these tricky questions,” she said. “Who’s going to be the first to say ‘yes’”?
Colburn, who recently met with the health center’s doctors to discuss the issue, said K2 continues to be an option for the health center, as does a new health center at Sunrise Ridge. But if the clinic opts not to move to K2, he added, the Sunrise Ridge board will need to come through with its dream of building a new structure for the clinic at the Sunrise site.
“From the clinic’s perspective, my biggest worry is that we just don’t do anything,” he said.