SEATTLE POPULAR Monorail Authority board member Richard Stevenson, whose employer is also the monorail project's landlord, has executive influence over more than $100 million in property along or near the train's planned elevated downtown route, including land that might be purchased by the monorail authority. This apparent conflict of interest is not widely known, but Stevenson says he has already solved it. As president and chief operating officer of Clise Properties, one of downtown Seattle's major landholders and developers, Stevenson will recuse himself from participating in public business that affects the privately held firm. "Anything that directly impacts our properties," says Stevenson, an appointed board member since February, "I won't be able to vote on. I think that's the right way to handle it."
That includes a $10 million developable tract bordering one of the Seattle Monorail Project's planned stations at Fifth Avenue and Bell Street. Fifth and Sixth avenues and Battery and Bell streets define the block-long, 252,000-square-foot site. It was once a Cadillac dealership and now is home to dinner theater Teatro Zinzanni. At the opposite, southwest corner of Fifth and Bell, Clise owns a parcel assessed at $436,000, occupied by a one-story commercial building. The monorail plans to build its Belltown station at that intersection, with the entry footing on the Clise property. Besides that Clise site, other affected properties, according to the monorail's environmental-impact statement, are the Seattle Glassblowing Studio, the Belltown Bistro, and Hot Glass Color and Supply down the block.
An alternative plan would move the station's footing to the east side of Fifth, where the only obstacle is a privately owned parking lot. The glassblowing studio's owner has been actively campaigning for that alternative to avoid demolition of his costly studio investment.
It turns out Clise owns that vacant parking property, too. Clise thus controls three of four corners at the new station site.
THAT CLISE PROPERTIES rents office space to the monorail authority is well known, but there is little or no public awareness of the company's other holdings along and near the monorail route. Clise holds most of its real estateclustered in the Denny Triangleunder its corporate names and some under other titles. One, Washington Securities, is listed as owner of two of the three properties at Fifth and Bell. Asked to confirm that Clise owns the land, Stevenson said, "You'll have to talk to Joel Horn," the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority executive director. Asked again, Stevenson answered: "Well, yeah, it's our property."
"Frankly," he said, "that's one of the stations I've recused myself from. It will directly impact our properties."
Clise also owns two other properties on Fifth and Sixth avenues, under the name Clise & Hammer. Under just the Clise Properties banner, it owns at least 13 tracts, some with high-rise office buildings, along the planned monorail downtown route or within two blocks of it.
ONE HISTORIC low-rise, the venerable, 10-story Securities Building, sits between Fourth and Third avenues on Stewart Street, next to the monorail route. That is where the monorail authority leases space from Clise. As Clise chief operating officer, board member Stevenson is effectively the monorail authority's landlord. The 10-year lease is held by Clise's Washington Securities Co. The space consists of 17,987 square feet within the Third Avenue mezzanine, for which the monorail authority pays a favorable submarket rate of $14.75 per square foot. There is also a 4,000-square-foot meeting space off Fourth Avenue that rents for $4,800 a month.
Geof Logan, a monorail critic, asked the state auditor in March if the lease violated state law. (He was then unaware of Clise's other holdings along the monorail's route, so he didn't raise that issue.) In his response, state Auditor Brian Sonntag concluded, "The board member who rents office space to the authority negotiated this lease prior to his appointment to the board. Thus, the provisions of state law (Chapter 42.23 RCW) do not apply to this transaction.
"However," Sonntag added, "the law would govern any future transactions between this board member and the authority." The law he refers to says, in part, that no public officer can "directly or indirectly" benefit from any contract "made by, through or under the supervision of such officer, in whole or in part. . . . " According to the state code, an officer can avoid a conflict by disclosing involvement if he or she has "only a remote interest in the contract. . . . "
Monorail officials think any conflict is negated by Stevenson's vote recusal. "It has just been very clear that anything that has to do with Clise Properties, he recuses himself," says authority spokesperson Lee Keller. "We think that's sufficient." Says Stevenson: "This is all part of being involved in doing something and getting something done for the city, and if there's a problem as you go along, a conflict, you recuse yourself."
Clise is a major downtown political force and campaign contributor. Owner Al Clise has already given Mayor Greg Nickels $600 toward his 2005 re-election effort. The firm gave $1,000 to One Seattle, the group opposed to the recently failed initiative to elect council members by districts.
Stevenson says the implication behind any monorail conflictthat he and his company can profit from itis not necessarily true.
"I hear other property owners complain about having these trains 20 feet outside of your window, roaring by," Stevenson says. "And there are issues related to view blockage. The monorail has to be properly placed, or it will be a blight to some.
"Essentially, I feel that if it works good for the rest of downtown Seattle, and Ballard and West Seattle, then it will be fine for Clise Properties."