By HILARY EMMER
I know some people feel that my questions hold back progress and change. Others like the fact that someone is asking the questions. That is what I am comfortable doing. I can only make up my mind after I fully understand an issue. To do that I ask questions.
On the surface, the proposed K2 Commons sounds like a good idea — a common place for people to meet and a nice building for the nonprofits on the Island. Potential tenants, according to those close to the situation, include the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank, Granny’s Attic, the Vashon Health Center, Vashon Youth & Family Services, the Vashon Senior Center, The Harbor School and a satellite for South Seattle Community College. It could also house a daycare center, a coffee roastery and winery, an exercise center, an indoor pool, tennis courts and the Vashon Library.
My first question really is what this private, for-profit company wants from us, the community taxpayers. If the answer is nothing, than I truly wish the developers well and encourage their success. If any taxpayer money is wanted, then I want the community to be invited to the table to discuss the issues, now not later.
My second question is how the nonprofits can afford to buy their space at $150 per square foot and pay $5 a square foot in annual condo fees. (A 4,000-square-foot bay would cost $600,000 to buy with $20,000 in yearly condo fees, according to those numbers.)
Dick Sontgerath, the developer of K2 Commons, very generously gave me a tour of the facilities recently. For over an hour, I listened to him talk about all the possibilities of turning this factory into a working building for the community. Dick is very enthusiastic, and it is hard not to get swept up with his ideas. He has so many ideas that when you add up all of his proposed uses for the ten 4,000 square foot bays, it seems he has sold more than exist in the building.
Dick spoke about an indoor soccer field, a bowling alley, having the high school move in. I kept asking questions, and finally Dick said, “Hilary, I am up here with all these ideas, and you are down there trying to work the most minute of details.” I laughed but said that while the ideas are what drives a project, it is the details that allow it to happen successfully. So I asked Dick directly, “What do you want from the community, and is there any tax money that is being used?” Dick said he just wants support from the community; and in fact the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s land-use committee is working towards a rezone motion which is necessary for the project to go forward.
He also says no tax money would be used. But that is not really true if the occupants include the Vashon Library, a facility owned by the Vashon Park District or the Vashon Island School District. Then our tax dollars are going to support private enterprise.
Before everyone jumps on the bandwagon, let’s take a closer look at this project.
What the K2 Commons is striving for is an indoor place where people can hang out and where businesses can relocate to. It sounds like a mall. If we move the center of town, what will that do to the businesses in the core area now? The community center is not like the community center I grew up with. This community center is really an athletic club with membership fees. The living room may only be used by members. This becomes a private club.
I asked Dick how Granny’s could afford a 12,000-square-foot space for $1.8 million dollars as well as $60,000 in annual condo fees. Dick realizes that the nonprofits cannot afford this and is looking for investors to buy the space and rent at a loss, with the hope that they could sell their space in 20 years (all rental leases are for 20 years) and then make their profit. When Dick talks to you he makes everything sound as if it is a done deal, so I actually spoke to some of the nonprofits. The food bank has already said no. Harbor School loves the space and desperately wants more space but cannot afford the K2 terms. Granny’s is looking over the financing and has put the project on hold at this time. The park district sees its priority with the fields it shares with the school district. Any talk of an indoor soccer field or indoor park would require a bond issue to pay for it, and the park district commissioners did not seem interested in floating such a bond. The school board members said that they have many capital issues to discuss, and the K2 project would be one that they are looking at, but they too are not rushing to commit now.
Basically everyone I spoke with seemed to be standing on the sidelines with a wait-and-see attitude. The idea of moving into this new space was enticing, but the money part was the holdup. For each extra dollar that goes into rent, that is one less dollar the nonprofits get to use for their individual missions.
Please don’t label the people who ask questions. Let’s continue to ask the questions and have the debate. That is what makes a healthy community.
— Hilary Emmer is a community activist on Vashon.