A real estate broker representing a private firm has abruptly decided to end its agreement with Washington State Parks to lease the seminary building at Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore.
The company had started negotiations for a lease that could have funded more than $40 million in renovations for the crumbling building and lasted as long as a century. The parks department and the company had signed a nondisclosure agreement, a practice typical of private commercial real-estate deals.
Parks spokesperson Michael Hankinson said that the decision by Dan Mathews, an executive with broker Kidder Mathews, came as a shock.
"The news is disappointing," Hankinson said. "It seemed the potential tenant had an interest in the preservation of the seminary building and was willing to fund its rehabilitation. A rare opportunity."
Representatives for Kidder Mathews did not to the Reporter's request for comment.
Parks spokesperson Virginia Painter said that state employees were committed to being transparent with process from the beginning of the discussions.
"What happened was that one of our staff members signed the disclosure petition with the real estate company when they actually had no authority to do that," Painter said. "As all this was moving forward, we were concerned. We are a public entity and decided it was our duty to do everything properly."
Painter said that department employees went to the Washington State attorney general asking to receive the authority to release the documents concerning the agreement. The documents will be released to those who placed a public records request on Jan. 6.
"We sent a courtesy letter to our potential investor to let them know what we were doing and they chose to withdraw their interest," she recalled. "But now we move forward and are still very interested in finding a way to preserve the building that we know is very important to many members of the [Northshore] community."
Parks employees will still hold a public meeting next week to discuss the future of the seminary building. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 14, at the Northshore Utility District, located at 6830 N.E. 185th St. in Kenmore. The meeting was to include a discussion of the potential lease.
"The potential opportunity that was being discussed is no longer active, but that does not mean we stop talking about a solution for this significant historic building," said Washington State Parks Director Don Hoch. "We had intended to start a process with the public to explore the future of the structure, and we intend to continue in that process with the public."
Hoch said that any partnership or long-term lease agreement proposals that may surface will go through appropriate planning, permitting, environmental review and public involvement before any decisions are made.
"We have a stewardship responsibility here, and we're committed to exploring any partnership proposals that may help us preserve this building as part of our state's historic legacy," Hoch said.
Tom Fitzpatrick, member of the Friends of Saint Edward State Park, said he considers the news of the business pulling out of their agreement with the parks department to be both good and bad news.
"Many people thought that the agreement with this private business was being rushed, so I think it's good news that now everyone has more time to think about things before decisions have to be made," he said. "But the bad news is that this was an opportunity to do something about the building that we now might not get again anytime soon."
Saint Edward Seminary stands as an iconic feature of the 316-acre park on Lake Washington. Constructed in 1931 as a Catholic Seminary, the building is brick and cast stone and features Late Romanesque Revival Style architecture. It has 80,000 square feet and includes a bell tower, study hall, library, chapel, classrooms, dormitories and kitchen. A grand hall is rented out for events, but most of the building is currently unused. The building and surrounding landscape are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Status of the building has long been of interest to the public and to historic preservation, political and community leaders. This past summer, a diverse group of interested parties met with the parks director and commission members to reinvigorate the discussion about finding financial support to preserve the structure. In November, the commission adopted a resolution directing staff to explore partnerships that could help with that goal.
"A lot of us feel that state parks needs to get their act together because there seems like there's been a lot of fumbling around on their end," Fitzpatrick said. "In their defense, part of the problem is that we get what we pay for. Funds for state parks has been cut by 90 percent and organizations under that kind of stress aren't going to perform optimally."
Fitzpatrick mentioned the Friends of Saint Edward State Park intends to have a meeting before the state's meeting on Jan. 14 to discuss the seminary's situation.
"I think we might consider a motion to officially say to state parks, 'this is an issue that is going to come up again and you need to be better prepared to deal with it than you were this time,'" he said. "I think the community in general has a great interest in the park and wants to see good things happen to it."