BY KEN MOCHIZUKI
Examiner Assistant Editor
The City of Seattle is currently soliciting Requests for Proposals (RFP) for a developer to renovate the now-empty former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Assay Office Building at 815 Airport Way South on the southwestern corner of the International District.
According to a statement issued by the City of Seattle Office of Housing (OH), “The United States Assay Office was housed on the building’s top floor, where millions of dollars of gold and other precious metals were processed. The building serves as a reminder of Seattle’s historic relationship with the Yukon gold fields.”
Built in 1931, the 77,000 square-foot site is also where the federal INS processed and detained immigrants. Last year, the City of Seattle began negotiating with the federal General Services Administration (GSA) to acquire and develop the site. According to the OH statement, the GSA has deemed the building “surplus to the needs of the federal government.” The INS now operates a facility in Tukwila.
In describing the “Community Vision” for the site, the OH statement continues:
“At various meetings with community representatives, a consensus vision has emerged for a revitalized INS Building. The following reflects a ‘wish list’ of building uses and characteristics that community members believe can help the INS Building become a strong, significant community asset for years to come. The RFP process is designed to identify a proposal that can demonstrate financial feasibility and incorporate as much of the community vision as possible, including:
• a mixed use project that ideally contains housing with focus on affordability for low wage workers;
• space for social service agencies with focus on helping the immigrant community (e.g. English as a second language classes, job training);
• space for displays that help us remember and celebrate the immigrant experience, reflecting historic uses of the building;
• a reuse plan compatible with future possible redevelopment efforts on adjacent and nearby parcels to help move the area toward a more pedestrian friendly environment of more diverse activity;
• renovation and maintenance of the historic structure to help ensure that the community retains older buildings with links to historic uses of the area as additional construction occurs.”
The OH statement went on to say that “several potential public agency users have contacted the City regarding leasing space in the building as part of a future redevelopment project.”
During a community meeting last week, OH Director Adrienne Quinn added that community representatives also expressed interest in “retail on the first floor” and a cultural center at the site. Latino community members, she said, suggested that the site possibly house the Mexican consulate and other Mexican American businesses.
The INS Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, requiring that exterior and interior features of the building be preserved. A developer “cannot tear down the building and build something different,” Quinn said.
Therefore, Quinn said there are two options for “disposal” of the site:
• A Public Benefits Process. The INS Building will become a historic monument, and the site can be used to generate revenue to continue operating as a historic monument. City and federal guidelines to redevelop as a historic site must be followed. For this option, the developer will enter into a long-term lease with the City, renovate, maintain and manage the site, and rent out space for income.
• Negotiated Sale by the City. The developer who acquires the site agrees that it “must be for a public purpose, although there is no restriction to a particular use,” the OH statement reads. It continues: “This type of negotiated sale between GSA and the City is acceptable where the expected public benefits to the City are greater than the anticipated proceeds derived from a competitive public sale by GSA. In addition to the public use requirement, a negotiated sale by GSA requires the City to return any excess profits beyond the original purchase price, if the City sells the site within three years … Developer will be expected to propose payment to the City of a minimum of $998,000 to acquire the building …”
The City prefers the second option, Quinn said, since “the City doesn’t want to be the owner.” GSA, she added, also “wants some type of return.” She emphasized, as does her department’s statement, that there “should not be any expectation of City funding” to help finance the developer’s project.
The City requires that the developer complete renovation of the INS Building within four years.