Sunday, March 7, 2010

Magnuson Park Privatization

The city has long restricted the sort of tenants that can lease space in Magnuson Park: concession stands, recreation-equipment rentals, a few nonprofits, and art studios. Certainly no commercial offices were allowed—a park rule prohibited them. But in the last year, the city has used fancy footwork to eliminate that restriction for Building 11, on Magnuson's north shore, and 20-odd artists are being evicted to make room for commercial development.

Under the plan, more than one-third of the 1940s building in Magnuson Park—one of several warehouses and hangars among the lawns and ballfields—would be renovated for commercial office space, rentable to any tenant, regardless of its contribution to the community.

"I think we're drifting away from our original vision of what Magnuson Park was supposed to be," says city council member Nick Licata, who in 1999 brokered the official deal transferring the naval property at Sand Point to the City of Seattle. (The U.S. Navy–owned land had been used as a park since the 1970s.) The city envisioned a park dedicated to the arts, recreation, and environmental stewardship. Now, Licata—along with the council's Parks & Seattle Center Committee chair Sally Bagshaw and Council Member Tom Rasmussen—is concerned with the changes under way.

It wasn't until August 2009 that Seattle Parks and Recreation skirted around land-use covenants put in place to keep the parcels from being leased to just anybody. "This property shall be used and maintained for public park and recreation purposes in perpetuity," the covenants on Magnuson Park state. Adding, "The property shall not be sold, leased, assigned or otherwise disposed of except to another eligible governmental agency."

Last year, the parks department (with the city council's blessing) persuaded the federal government to let the city transfer the covenant from Building 11 to property next to the former Crown Hill Elementary in Ballard. The parks department didn't make any announcements or field input regarding the covenants, and it is currently undergoing the same process for Building 2. The spaces would be divided into offices, a restaurant, and other commercial ventures.

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