[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Waterland Blog, nor its staff:]

Just like the opening statement of The Seattle Times article states, (about the sale and probable demolition of the historic Masonic Home/Landmark on the Sound) the biggest problem is significant financing.

Following, I would like to add a few clarifying pieces of information in response to many of the comments on this (Facebook) thread. These are my opinions and observations and don’t necessarily reflect the consensus of the Council or the Staff.

Why Now
My best guess is that Highline College’s “Thunderword” newspaper just did a terrific piece on the property and process on November 19, and The Seattle Times picked it up as a public interest article.

Lack of Public Pushback
The statement in the Times article about the lack of public pushback is incredibly misleading. In the three years that I have been an elected, this subject has come up on several social media platforms with a cumulative hundreds of community comments following – including my own. The City and the Council have read these, and I personally have taken them as public comment.

People have tried. They have brainstormed, McMenamins looked at it, well-connected real estate brokers all over the region and nation have been notified and aware of not only the availability, but several pending and failed sales. Personally, I contacted two national level, 100+ year-old universities that exist on multiple, physical campuses – no traction.

How did all this activity happen? People and companies, both regional and national, were notified and aware of the property and its status – multiple times! I personally do not believe that the city has lacked transparency and I definitely haven’t.

So, what about the zoning?

The recent rezone to Institutional Campus was actually an action that should have been taken long ago, was in accordance with the historical usage, and worked to accommodate a previous and serious investor. This person/company had an emotional connection with the property, did not want to demo it, and we/the City did all we could to help the process move forward. But the deal fell apart.

A City Purchase
The reason the City did not purchase it is simple; we could not afford it. When considering how to spend our money or comparing us with federal governments or even our sister cities we need to recognize that we are a city of +/- 32,000 people and +/- 10,000 households. If you do the math . . .

The Masons estimated $40M to renovate the property. A conservative estimate based on the current construction and building industry is probably closer to $50M. (*Note: this is for private industry. A government project would cost much more)

So, $50M + $12M = $62M ÷ 10,000 households = $6200 per household in Des Moines.

And then – – we would have a huge enterprise to run. Many regional and national businesspeople and corporations had already considered the numbers for retail, office, and tourism space and couldn’t make it pencil. Would our citizens appreciate this kind of investment without a financial return?

There is definitely an emotional and cultural return, but is that the price our community would want to pay?

Someone did the numbers for themselves which resulted in another private ownership.

Private Property
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that this is private property. We may all love it, but unlike the Statue of Liberty or Stadium High School, it does not belong to the United States, the State of Washington, or a City. And, no previous owner has ever protected it with historical designations.

To force a property designation upon a private owner is wielding a murky authority. When governments do it to citizens, and in modified form to other, subordinate governments, it is many times called an, “unfunded mandate.”

For example; What if the City of Des Moines decided that we liked the Christmas lights in Woodmont so much that we wanted to keep them up permanently, and instituted a code accordingly. Residents would have to keep them up, pay for the electricity, and replace them when they burnt out, rusted, were stolen, or broke. And, these decorations would have to stay intact through any purchase and sale transaction – and the City would not help.

I advocate for our City on 7 regional boards and committees and one of the most permeating principles in local government is this: We do not want unfunded mandates – from the Federal government, the State, or the County. I believe our citizens want the same thing on an individual level.

If we don’t want to infringe on the privileges of private property, what can we do?

Back to Karen Kaiser and Barbara McMichael. If we want this landmark to stay, but do not want to violate private ownership, we might try to find a way to compensate through partnership.

As mentioned before, there has been a LOT of brainstorming already in order to produce partnership to no avail. But, we can keep trying.

Someone needs to find enough money from someone who loves the property enough to pay for it. A local or regional non-profit with grant offerings of $20k or even $100k are not going to do it.

Can we convince the County that it needs this property? What about the State? Or, the federal government? Is there a non-profit that we have not thought of? Some other university?

Is there a group of citizens willing to search for funding, partners, or investors? That would be FANTASTIC! For me personally (remember, I am only speaking for myself here), there is one caveat.

My personal stance
I am extremely reticent, for all the reasons above, to put extensive restraints, either fiscal or time, on private property without a promise of compensation to the owner for lost process or investment.

I believe each individual citizen would appreciate the same consideration whether it be regarding their private homes, or businesses small and large.

My responsibility is to all the citizens. My ears are open.

I will close with a quote from Senator Kaiser, “It will have to have significant financing lined up to be heard.”

– Traci Buxton

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