Plans to replace the Seattle Center skateboard park with one on Elliott Avenue West are on hold and may be scuttled, according to several city sources.
The development follows months of work and two public planning meetings over the design for a park next to a King County Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) facility on Elliott.
The change also imperils a relatively tight timeline that calls for having a replacement in place before the old skateboard park is demolished to make way for the world headquarters of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
However, contrary to a recent story in an alternative weekly, the change of heart is not based on a county demand that the city buy the land outright instead of leasing it, according to Pam Bissonnette, director of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.
Instead, the Seattle City Council and Mayor Greg Nickels have directed the Seattle Center to look again for a location on Center grounds or - alternatively - to have Seattle Parks and Recreation find one on Parks-owned property closer to the campus than the Elliott Avenue site, said Parks spokeswoman Dewey Potter.
"We're caught in the middle," she said of the city department that has taken the lead in the project and now has been ordered to hire a consultant to help in the search.
Houston, we have a problem
Replacing the facility was a condition of the city's sale of the land to the Gates Foundation, said Tatsuo Na-kata, an aide to city council member David Della, chair of the Parks, Neighborhoods and Education Committee.
The council ordinance that OK'd the sale specifically asked for a replacement location "in close proximity to the Seattle Center campus," and doing so was the responsibility of the Seattle Center, Nakata said. "At the time, it seemed reasonable."
The council, he added, was concerned about the Elliott Avenue site because it is so isolated from the Se-attle Center. So council members Della, Jean Godden and Peter Stein-brueck directed the Seattle Center to go back and take another look at replacement options on campus, Nakata said.
Seattle Center spokesman Perry Cooper said staff had already looked at all of the potential locations. "There was none."
For example, he said, a narrow strip of land on Fifth Avenue North next to KCTS-TV was considered but dropped. "That one looked to be too narrow a spot."
Center staff also considered, but dropped, the idea of using land behind the Center-owned parking garage south of Key Arena on First Avenue North, Cooper said. The problem there, he explained, is that the property is in an area zoned for residential use.
Yet another possibility was to use an open greenspace on campus for the location of a new skateboard park. That would fly in the face the Seattle Center's Master Plan, which calls for adding more greenspace, not eliminating any, he said.
Still, Nakata said, council members wonder if the Center could do better. "Given that there are 73 acres on the campus, they're not sure the review was thorough enough."
The idea of hiring a consultant to find a new location for the facility came up only recently, and the council is wondering what the mayor is up to, according to Nakata. "We have a lot of questions about that," he said. "Why would you need a consultant to look at the issue?"
Marty McOmber, a spokesman for Mayor Nickels, said Nickels had second thoughts about the Elliott Avenue site because of concerns voiced by, among others, Parents for Skateparks, which has been highly critical of the Elliott Avenue location. "We heard those [concerns] and decided to take a look again."
McOmber didn't answer directly when asked if he thought the Seattle Center had missed something in its search for a new location on campus. "We're just asking them to do it again," he said. "We're just going to look at all options and determine which one is best."
The money angle
One potential on-campus option is the parking lot east of Memorial Stadium, but like the stadium, the parking lot is owned by the Seattle School District.
Still, city council member Richard Conlin suggested that would be a viable site when planning began several months ago. At the time, he thought the city could come up with $100,000 in general funds to buy the lot. "I'm continuing to pursue that," Conlin said.
No one from the deficit-ridden School District returned calls for comment, but Conlin said the School District is still balking at the idea. "Their concern is they make a lot of money off that [parking lot]," he said of an estimated $1 million a year. "What I've said [to the School District] is, you could still make a fair amount if you sold part of it."
Using part of the parking lot for a skateboard park would fill an immediate need and still provide space to drop off people, said Kate Martin, director of Parents for Skateparks. "Ultimately, I could envision the whole space could be a welcome mat to the Se- attle Center."
But Martin is skeptical a search for other on-campus alternatives will do any good. "I can't imagine that they will find something at the Seattle Center," she said.
Only $900,000 is available for building a new facility, which might not include a replacement for the basketball court next the existing skateboard park, Potter from Parks said.
Replacing the basketball court was never really part of the deal, she said. "It was a concept." At the same time, responding to comments from the Queen Anne Community Council, including an off-leash dog run at the Elliott Avenue location is now under consideration, Potter said.
However, $900,000 is barely enough to pay for construction costs of a new facility, whatever it might include, she said. And the bottom line is there is no Parks Department money available for buying land, Potter added. Instead, the most probable approach would be to lease the Elliott Avenue property, according to earlier design meetings.
Leasing the property is still an option, but it's not the only one, according to Bissonnette from King County.
The county is required by law to get fair-market value for any land it sells, but selling the Elliott Avenue property would involve only the much-cheaper surface rights because the CSO facility may need the subsurface rights for possible expansion in the future, she said.
Bissonnette estimated the cost for surface rights would be a little more than $1 million, and she said the payment wouldn't have to be made in one lump sum. In addition, making payments on a purchase would be comparable and possibly cheaper than leasing the property, Bissonnette added.
Another alternative would be to set up a "draw-down" account to sell the property, she said. Here's how that would work.
The sales price would be paid off over time when - instead of paying cash - the county credits the Parks Department purchase account each time the county buys easements on park property. That happens a fair amount of time, according to Bissonnette.
"We do projects all over Seattle in parks," she said.
A recreational opportunity
Whatever decision is made about the new skateboard park, King County Council member Larry Phillips said the land next to the CSO facility is well suited for some sort of recreational use.
A recreational use would serve as mitigation for having the waste-water-treatment facility on the waterfront, and that proviso was contained in a 2005 county budget ordinance, Phillips said in an Oct. 28 letter he wrote Nickels and Della.
Phillips also said the idea of building a skateboard park there came up after he was approached by Seattle Center staff, but he stressed the decision about what to put there is up to the city. "It's not ours to choose."
Assuming the skateboard park plan falls through, the county may be able to find another recreational use, Phillips said. "I don't know what that would be."
That might not be an issue in the end. McOmber from the mayor's office said the city still needs to ad-dress concerns about the Elliott Ave-nue location.
"Then again," he said, "we may end up using that site."
Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at email@example.com or 461-1309.