Before it's too late, be sure to stop in for chow mein and a round of pool at your eclectic Interbay Chinese eatery, Lee Chee Garden. If you're more continentally inclined, there's the Lumberjack Slam at your Denny's restaurant in Ballard, or subs from your Philly's in Crown Hill. And don't forget to pick up a copy of your newspaper, the West Seattle Herald. Those four businesses comprise $9.5 million worth of properties, and you own them all.
Well, the land and the buildings, anyway. When I asked for "a free drink for the owner" the other night at the Lee Chee, the only thing served up was the bartender's cold stare. But the popular eatery is among 34 properties owned by you, me, and other Seattleites. Valued at $61.5 million, they are among the assets to be jettisoned by the slowly shrinking and ultimately disappearing Seattle Monorail Project (SMP). The land-sales revenue—it could be millions more, depending on actual sale prices—will go toward reducing the agency's debt, left over after Seattle voters last month aborted the three-year effort to build a monorail from West Seattle to Crown Hill.
The future of the properties, some of them obtained by SMP under condemnation action, is uncertain. The list includes homes, apartment buildings, and parking lots. The most expensive plot is the $16.5 million former Northwest Center for the Retarded campus in Interbay. For sure, the land won't automatically revert to earlier owners. "People ask why we can't give them back" if the sellers give back the money, says outgoing SMP board member Cleve Stockmeyer. "Our hands are tied. Under state law, they [ex-owners] have no interest in it," and SMP is obligated to sell the property for the best price.
However, former owners and the general public can submit bids on the properties, which are being eyed by commercial developers and public agencies, as well. Any deals will have to be approved by SMP's board, and the land will be sold in bundles, providing the best site use, rather than strictly by parcels. The agency's legal adviser, Ross Macfarlane, told the board Wednesday, Dec. 7, that the goal is to have all sales completed and funds received by the end of May. "We're working to ensure that any sales of any personal and real property will be done at fair market value," he said. "Anything that is done at less than that creates a legal issue" and could extend the need for more tax payments by Seattle car owners. The 1.4 percent Seattle vehicle- license tax is expected to last at least into next fall to pay off the agency's debt. Jonathan Buchter, SMP's financial director and now its chief operating officer, says it is "my plan to attempt to put us out of business as rapidly as possible." Staff, which totaled 43 last month, will be down to four full-timers by 2006. Expected revenues next year, mainly from the property sales and taxes, will hit about $97 million. Buchter expects the debt, around $110 million as of November, to be reduced to $10 million by the end of 2006.
Macfarlane says SMP is developing a competitive process to sell assets. Public agencies interested in the properties will get first dibs if they initiate a condemnation process on a desired parcel. SMP would pull that property off the sales list so it could be acquired for a public purpose, Macfarlane says. The only property to receive specific formal interest so far is a site across from Qwest Field near King Street. The state Department of Transportation and Sound Transit want it for light-rail expansion, and "I think it will work well," Macfarlane says. Personal property, such as office equipment and computers, is being sold through the state's surplus sales center, Macfarlane says, and much of the furniture at the Third Avenue headquarters is being sold to a new tenant. SMP spokesperson Natasha Jones also says that more than 220 boxes of material have been shipped to the state archivist for safekeeping.
One property not included in the sell-off is the much-disputed "sinking ship" parking garage site on Second Avenue in Pioneer Square. Planned as the location of a monorail station, the $10.4 million parcel was obtained under eminent domain in a battle that went to the state Supreme Court, which recently ruled in favor of SMP. But the acquisition was never finalized. The board on Wednesday approved a resolution with owner John Fujii to end the acquisition in return for a promise not to assert any claims for costs or liability. Fujii will redevelop the site once the parking garage lease expires.
Among those at the board table Wednesday were incoming members Beth Goldberg and Jim Nobles, who, when formally seated at the first of the year, will help close down the agency they were elected to lead last month. Tim Kerr, a public financial specialist who unsuccessfully ran for the board in 2003, also was appointed to a vacant position on the board.