The city hall ,police depart and recreation center have been a topic of discussion since before I was elected to city hall. The buildings were originally purchased from Highline School District for $1.oo dollar many years ago.
The argument for building a new city hall complex is that as the years go buy the maintenance increases every year. One estimate was that it would cost a million $$$ to main the buildings over a 10-15 year period. Give or take a $100,000 a year. So why throw good money after bad on an aging building, so goes the reasoning.
The city manager had an engineering assessment done and the recreation building clearly did not meet earthquake seismic safety standards. Frankly, it was before my tenure so I don’t know if he was authorized to have that report done or that he just did it on his own. Either way, it became a public fact and the rush was on to build a new city hall complex
.The previous city council approved the engineering plan for a new city hall to be done . They said they needed it to raise $$$ from the Uber wealthy in Normandy Park. Mind you ,not some simple drawings for viewing but a full blown engineering layout at the cost of over $160,000 . Whoo…wait a minute all we needed was a little schematic. The city manager assured us that this was how it is done for the big boys and girls with deep pockets !
I said in Public testimony that spending that much money was not called for when the city hadn’t even decided wether it needed to proceed with building a complete new city civic center or not . I wasn’t on city council at that time. I was on the Planning Commission.
Well that city council voted for it. I saw it as a waste of money just like the Manhattan Village Plan ,that the State and city chipped in for , years ago. Oh , we won an award…but what actually changed as a result of the money paid to Miller -Hull again?… Nothing ……. because the OWNERS of the property were not interested.
Eventually the city council had spent $120,000 on two thirds of the Civic Center plan and apparently they needed additional changes or to “complete” the plan , so Miller -Hull needed another $40,000. By this time l was on city Council and I was the only person who voted No to continue the process for several reasons I will explain now.
#1. We live in the Coronavirus Era. The only thing keeping millions of people and the economy afloat is trillion dollar bailouts. That cannot go on indefinitely without creating a Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe with astronomical inflation. IF we have another economic collapse like 2008 or worse , we could be forced to disincorporate our city because of property valuation declines . We would not be able to pay for our self induced tens of millions of debt.
Does anyone think we would be better served by King County Police with their budget cuts and hindered enforcement of laws ? How about King County services with their coming budget cuts? LOL! Roads being paved in a timely manner ? I doubt it. I simply will not put our city financial security into jeopardy for a building we can save money for later.
I have been on the Financial advisory group for several years. We will pay off our last city bonds in December of 2022. We will then have the highest bond rating AAA and thus borrow money at the lowest rate possible, if we choose to. I’ve told my fellow council members I don’t think we should even be talking about this dangerous fiasco until our debts are paid. Now there is a novel old school idea…pay your debts off and save money for down the road!
#2. The proposed location is wrong. The Normandy Park Police Department does the vast majority of their work up on 1st Ave., as one would expect. It is much more rational to have a police department building up on 1st Ave where most of the crime occurs. This would increase the sense of security across the board for all Normandy Park residents. This seems like a no brainer to me.
#3. As for a Recreation Center that’s a bit more complex. We need to ask ourselves what do we need a Recreation Center for now and in the future ?
The problem here is we really don’t have data , especially around youth. After all we are not building a facility just for today’s older folks. What do young people want …if anything at all ? Will they even utilize a recreation room? Most of the kids I talk to would rather stay home and play video games . Their social activities circle around the internet like gaming rooms- not hanging out in a rec room. Do we need a big building for the few social groups like card players? Could we not just rent one of the multiple empty store fronts up on centrally located 1st Ave?
What about preschool classes? This has always bugged me. Why aren’t preschool classes offered at Mar Vista? I’m frankly tired of Highline School District being inflexible on this issue. We pay their staff with our taxes. What about classes like dancing and karate etc? Well once again there are plenty of spaces in empty store fronts up on 1st Ave. Burien has these sort of activities too but they are private businesses that rent their own storefronts.
Should the city be competing with private businesses- giving essentially free rent at a city hall to private businesses that rake in the money? We have Baseball fields and soccer fields we rent. As for basketball we could build an outdoor court or once again why not Have it at Mar Vista ? We could work with an open minded HSD on that issue.
The point of all this ramble is 1. Do we even need or want a traditional recreation center? 2. Do we have real data indicating what the population of today and tomorrow want? 3. Why can’t we move some of these activities up to centrally located 1st Ave and thus provide better suited and more flexible services that are less expensive ? We really haven’t even explored our options here in Normandy Park , let alone joint operations with our close neighboring sister cities.
#4. Let’s move on to a new city hall. We are rapidly moving into the Digital Age of society and that includes government services. Our main city hall has been largely deserted for a year as most of the departments employees work at home. Many of them like this arraignment . It saves them travel time , $$$ on gas and decreases our carbon footprint a bit too. Many cities are looking at making these arraignments permanent .As we move into the Digital Era we should be looking at this too. Even if we decide to keep a permanent office Versus a flexible meeting room, is the current location the best location? I’m thinking there are better choices..like once again ,up on easy access 1st. Ave. There are lots of empty store fronts that have never been occupied. We could buy them or rent them.
That leaves the main city hall council building. A few thoughts on aesthetics. There is a lot of talk in the Economic Development Committee (EDC), about city Branding. Oh ,Branding, branding branding….They talk the talk but do they walk the walk with bold or meaningful concepts and ideas? Branding IS important. My dad always told me ,” if you are going to do something, then do it right”. I agree.
The plan that was presented to us as if it were a fait accompli. The city manager assured us there would be no need to raise taxes …lol! The watered down bare bones plan was the equivalent of a bait and switch car deal…oh you want tires too? Other council members who work in building also confirmed the cost estimate needed to be doubled. Then mysteriously that initial plan at about $4-5 million was suddenly replaced with a more realistic plan running from $8-40 + million. At least in the second version / revision it was admitted that the residents would need to vote to approve the sale of bonds. That sounded much better to me. Let the people decide.
Now if we look at the plan itself. It has all the unique charm of a Big Mac. Not the architects fault. They were tasked with coming up with something that was so cheap the city wouldn’t need to have a bond vote – at least for the bare bones 4-5 million version.
It has the technology that will be outdated even before it would be built. I asked if it could run on solar power so as to keep city hall running in the advent of power lines being blown down. They said “no ” that would cost more money. I asked if it could have a rain garden collection system so city hall could be off line of the water district in case of emergency like an earthquake. Same answer. I pointed out that the Bullitt Building downtown was soooo efficient it MADE Money. Why ? How? Their system takes all the water and poop from their bathrooms and literally recycles it into compost ON SITE and then they sell it ! That building is completely off the gird, is much more ecologically sustainable, catastrophe proof and just happens to meet and exceed the future planning codes of King County. It also makes a Branding statement that would attract small high tech start- ups to Normandy Park . It would put us on the map as cutting edge Deep Green NP . It could be award winning like the Bullitt Center. Does it cost more ? Probably in the short run but in the long run no. You can read The Bullitt Center Financial Case Study for details.
This is how we brand our city and attract the kind of businesses and people we want here. As I’ve said, we need to pay our bonds off FIRST. Then save money and do it right.
Lastly there is the question of location. Well ,you could do this right where it is or up on 1st Ave. No problem with that. However just humor me and let’s think outside the box a little while. Bear with me here… :).
While canvassing I went to every single residence in Normandy Park..no kidding …I did. I stumbled upon a place I’d never been before in NP. It’s called Hidden Valley and there was a parcel for sale that included about 25 acres, if I remember right. A beautifully Manson ,a lovely barn, a pond with wetlands and of course beach front. Maybe just maybe , that Manson could be transformed into the new city hall and the barn into a abode for art or , card games , or dance practice room or even a rental for ??? The beach could extend the area for kayaking the Water Trails Association wants for Puget Sound kayakers. The possibilities are nearly endless AND by having a city hall at that location we would protect that area from becoming some ugly mass apartment condo monstrosity like Alki Beach , in the future.
Yes I know there are many reasons all this might not be possible or that naysayers will object to , like : where’s the $$$ ?, What about road access? Do they want to sell.? Well it was for sale a couple of years ago for about 25 $ million but they took it off the market when they had no takers…at least that is what I heard. The Mayor has told me she will give the owners a courtesy call since she apparently knows the owners. Road access could possibly be paid for by state grants because seafront access is highly desired by them and would protect valuable coastal shoreline. So yes , one really has to think outside the box and do due diligence. It takes time and energy but I think it is well worth the effort. It never hurts to ask and what an amazing city hall it would make ! It would be a Branding home run to put beautiful Normandy Park front and center around Wa State. Off grid , – ecologically sustainable- money making – and aesthetically amazing……. so…..
1. Pay off ALL our bond debts in Dec. 2022 and be Debt Free ! 2. Then start saving $$$ for new city facilities for several years, (unless some miracle big donations come our way).
3. Then by that time we can seriously look at ALL our options . 4. a new generation will be in a much better position to make decisions on what they will need .
5.We will have a lot of money saved up and we won’t be putting our city and children in a perilous financial position.
That’s my view of the big picture regarding any new capital projects in Normandy Park. Thanks for reading…whew !