District 7 City Councilmember-elect Andrew Lewis went to an UpGarden end-of-season meeting where he pledged to help the gardeners with their effort on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
District 7 City Councilmember-elect Andrew Lewis went to an UpGarden end-of-season meeting where he pledged to help the gardeners with their effort on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Uptown gardeners met Wednesday night to plot next steps for pressuring Seattle Center leadership to ditch plans to close the UpGarden P-Patch.

The UpGarden was constructed on top of the Mercer Street Garage in 2012 through a memorandum of agreement reached between Seattle Center and the Department of Neighborhoods and was part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Seattle World’s Fair. The memorandum states that the P-Patch was to be temporary, and would eventually be replaced with mixed-use development as envisioned in the Seattle Center Century 21 Master Plan.

Gardeners were surprised to learn in late October that the P-Patch would have just one more season before Seattle Center reclaimed the space to add back parking for roughly 100 vehicles.

UpGarden is slated to close next November.

Gardeners strategized how best to convince Seattle Center and city leadership to allow UpGarden to continue during an end-of-season meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 13. An online petition started earlier this month has more than 700 signatures currently.

District 7 Seattle City Councilmember-elect Andrew Lewis pledged his support during the UpGarden meeting.

“I am happy to be a resource for it, write any letters that you need, talk to any department heads about it,” Lewis said, adding his term doesn’t start until January. “Right now, I’m just a guy who won an election last week.”

Once he has staff in his District 7 office, Lewis said, he will assign someone to focus on preserving UpGarden.

Oak View Group, which is spending more than $900 million rebuilding the Seattle Center arena, takes over operation of the First Avenue North garage and its revenue under its development agreement with the City of Seattle. OVG also plans to construct 850 parking stalls under the new arena.

But Seattle Center argues parking demand once the arena reopens will require increasing capacity in the Mercer Garage, which is currently being seismically retrofit. Parking demand is supposed to drop once light rail expands to Seattle Center in 2035, but the passage of Initiative 976 has placed a question mark on future funding for Sound Transit 3 projects.

Lewis said he wants to speak to representatives with Oak View Group and the Department of Neighborhoods, as well as seek legal guidance from the city about whether UpGarden could be spared by way of an ordinance.

The Department of Neighborhoods (DON) manages the city’s P-Patch program, which has long struggled with high demand for garden plots and a lack of space. UpGardeners were upset that DON had not been actively looking for a new P-Patch space over the years, knowing that the Mercer Garage was temporary.

“I would say within two weeks of us knowing, you knew,” said DON Community Garden coordinator Sandy Pernitz during the Nov. 13 meeting.

Pernitz encouraged UpGardeners to continue organizing, but she also stressed that they should apply to be transferred to another P-Patch. There are about 85 gardeners using UpGarden.

“I’m not going to be able to place you all, that’s a truth,” Pernitz said. “You’ll be on a waiting list.”

A lot of gardeners have asked to transfer to the Queen Anne P-Patch, she said, but turnover is not very high.

Kristina Westbrook was able to join UpGarden in 2013, and said she’d also signed up for the Queen Anne waitlist. Several years later a spot opened up in Queen Anne, she said.

Seattle Public Schools and the City of Seattle entered a public process partnership agreement in late 2017, which anticipated school-related uses at Fort Lawton and Seattle Center. The school district had considered rebuilding Memorial Stadium and constructing a new high school at Seattle Center. When Westbrook learned last spring that SPS had made no progress on that front, she requested to remain on the waitlist for the Queen Anne P-Patch, she said.

Westbrook is the Area 3 lead for the UpGarden. She said she had several new gardeners join her section last year who will be on the bottom of the list for transfers.

Westbrook was one of the gardeners upset DON had not been proactive in finding a future site for UpGarden since its opening seven years ago.

Gardener Gerry Kuaimoku said the garage transfer agreement between the city and Oak View Group had been discussed back in 2017, so planning for the loss of UpGarden should have started then.

Pernitz said senior leadership from Seattle Center and DON have met.

“They told me they are looking at other site options,” she said.

The city’s budget for P-Patches would need additional funding for a relocation to happen, she said.

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2020 budget proposes using $3 million in sweetened-beverage tax revenue for garden relocation assistance and maintenance.

UpGarden lead coordinator Robert Grubbs said he went to a city council budget session, where Councilmember Mike O’Brien said he didn’t believe the tax revenue should go toward P-Patches.

The city council created a dedicated fund for all sweetened-beverage tax revenue in July, after Durkan used additional revenue from it to supplant general fund dollars for certain human services programs in her 2019-20 biennial budget.

O’Brien sponsored the legislation, which he said would preserve tax revenue for its original purpose, which includes expanding food security and nutritional health education programs for low-income people and communities of color most impacted by the soda tax.

Lewis said he think P-Patches should qualify for that tax revenue, and he believes he’ll find support with Dan Strauss and Alex Pedersen when they join him on the council next year.

The Ballard P-Patch, which is in jeopardy of closing due to redevelopment, is attempting to raise $2 million in funds to save its space. Our Redeemer's Lutheran Church, which owns the parcel where the P-Patch is located, is selling the land to cover a needed renovation.

UpGarden has no immediate plans to begin fundraising to cover its likely relocation, said Stephanie Krimmel, UpGarden communications coordinator, and the group is currently focusing on educating people in the community about the P-Patch and increasing support for its preservation. Responding to gardeners who said the campaign should also focus on the general lack of P-Patch space in Seattle, Grubbs said he would reach out to GROW, which serves as the fiscal sponsor and advocacy arm for community gardens in Seattle.

While Pernitz is unable to help UpGardeners with their advocacy work, she encouraged them to keep fighting.

“You’re not just displacing a garden,” she said. “I feel like you’re displacing a community.”