Dec. 27–A proposal to restore the historic seminary building at Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore for use as a lodge-style hotel could clear one of its remaining hurdles in January.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission at its Jan. 5 meeting will consider a 62-year lease for 5.5 acres in the center of the 316-acre park, which includes the seminary building and the grounds immediately surrounding it, to a Seattle developer, Daniels Real Estate, which specializes in historic renovations.
Developer Kevin Daniels hopes to repurpose the badly deteriorated interior of the seminary into a hotel with 80 to 100 guest rooms, conference center, meeting rooms, a wellness spa, and a restaurant and cafe. The building's Romanesque Revival architecture and Art Deco interiors would be preserved and restored to federal standards. The seminary building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
"We're passionate about the project, not just saving the building, but creating a special place for the city of Kenmore and the region as a whole," said Daniels, whose previous projects include Union Station and the Starbucks Center.
In lieu of rent, Daniels will purchase and transfer to state parks almost 10 acres of privately owned, undeveloped Lake Washington waterfront on the north edge of the park. A recent appraisal put the value of that property at $3 million.
Additionally, Daniels has agreed to charge overnight guests a fee comparable to a daily Discover Pass. State Parks estimates that will generate an estimated $246,000 a year for its general fund, or $55 million over the life of the lease.
Daniels will also improve existing public parking so there is no net loss for park visitors, as well as add an underground parking structure and surface parking for hotel guests and employees.
The lease between Daniels and State Parks also requires Daniels to provide 1,000 square feet of free office and classroom space within the seminary building for use by the park for outdoor or environmental education and events.
Some neighbors and visitors oppose the project, saying it will introduce a commercial enterprise into a tranquil park. Many of the same people, including the group Citizens for Saint Edward Park, have opposed previous commercial ventures in the seminary building and said they'd rather see parts fall into ruins than a hotel on the site.
State Parks purchased the seminary and grounds from the Seattle Archdiocese for $7 million in 1977. In 2014, following deep cuts to its budget, the Parks Commission concluded that it didn't have the estimated $14 million to $16 million needed to address deferred maintenance and bring the seminary up to seismic and safety codes.
It directed staff to either find a partner to finance a rehabilitation or vacate the 90,000-square-foot seminary building.
At its January meeting, the Parks Commission will also review the completed environmental assessment for Daniel's proposal. The assessment concluded that the seminary building and the immediately surrounding grounds, which includes a pool and a gymnasium, contains no critical natural habitat and that the project would have minimal environmental impacts.
"There aren't any high-level, red-flag concerns," said Bryan Hampson, development services director for Kenmore.
But the environmental review also says that the project would result in an increase in noise, traffic and visitors. It also noted the proposed hotel restaurant would introduce evening activities and lighting at a time the park is now generally closed.
"Obviously, there will be some change to the park," said Michael Hankinson, state parks planner who is overseeing the Saint Edward proposal. "Will you still be able to walk every single trail? Will you still be able to picnic on the Great Lawn? The outdoor recreation experience will remain. That's really important to Parks."
A no-action alternative was also reviewed in the environmental assessment. Under that plan, Parks would vacate and fence the seminary grounds. The current short-term rental of the seminary dining hall for weddings and other gatherings would no longer be available.
Hankinson said that Parks staff has recommended the commission approve the lease with Daniels.
"This project gives the public the most expansive access to the building in its 90-year history," he said.
Kenmore development staff also has recommended that a city hearing examiner approve Daniel's proposal and site plan. The city will hold its own public hearing on the project in February.
If the Parks Board of Commissioners approves the lease with Daniels, and if the Hearing Examiner also signs off on the project, the Kenmore City Council will take a final vote on the plan this spring.
Daniels' plans have won support from local business and community leaders who see a destination resort — on the model of Salish Lodge or Semiahmoo Resort — as adding jobs and visitors to the Kenmore economy.
Brad Mott, a Kenmore dentist and board member for the Greater Bothell Chamber of Commerce, said that in addition to the economic boost, the historic preservation of a local landmark will be a great community asset.
"Daniels has come out here and spoken many times. He's committed to doing the project well, to doing it right," Mott said.
The proposal also has the support of historic preservation advocates who agree allowing the building to be fenced off or knocked down would be a huge loss of a significant architectural resource.
"We think it's important to rehabilitate the seminary building, put it into economic use and preserve it for all citizens," said Allyson Brooks, the State Historic Preservation Officer. "It's a state resource. It's not a local resource."
Previous proposals to rehab the seminary building for a McMenamins restaurant and brew pub and another by a private security firm for offices, were shot down by strong neighborhood opposition.
Some of those same opponents are also fighting the lodge proposal as a commercial encroachment on one of the few remaining natural preserves in an increasingly urbanized region.
"There's a lot of razzle dazzle around the proposal," said Kenmore resident Ann Hurst, who nominated the seminary and adjacent buildings for the Historic Register. "Daniels is such a good developer, but that doesn't mean development is good for the park. It's not good for this urban area that needs a place of fresh air. It's not good for park users or for children who run through there now with their soccer balls."
Mountlake Terrace resident Stuart Vazquez, who runs an environmental education and consulting company, Eco-Logica, said he hikes the trails every Friday with his wife. He said there aren't enough close-in places that provide solitude and peace for people and wildlife.
"Building a hotel is good for jobs and economic development, but it will change the character of the park, the way you can enjoy it now as a quiet place. We shouldn't always have to sacrifice the environment to have economic growth," he said.
Daniels said he respects the voices speaking out on behalf of the park and shares their love of the peaceful setting.
Daniels envisions the lodge itself as a place of refuge, where guests are transported back to the 1930s when the seminary was built. He notes that State Parks will retain ownership of the building and the estimated $45 million in improvements, all at no cost to the public. And an architectural landmark will be preserved for future generations.
"We're saving the building. That's why we're here," he said.
Lynn Thompson: email@example.com or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes