The clock is running out on Ace Hardware’s effort to find a place to build and stay in Sammamish.
The lease expires at the end of August 2013. So far, every effort to work with the City of Sammamish to find a new location and clear the path to build has failed. It’s not for not trying.
Tim Koch, the owner of Ace here in Sammamish, must get a permit from the City in January or February if he is to immediately start construction and have a building completed by the end of August. So far, all efforts to work with the City and find a solution have come to naught.
Koch contracted to buy some property in the Southeast Quadrant of the Town Center, but regulations crafted for the Town Center–for developers in mind, not a single applicant, which has proved a flaw–stopped Koch cold. There are many complex reasons, ranging from roads to storm water drainage to Koch wanting to proceed with a single building that conflicts with the Town Center Plan desire to avoid more strip malls.
The City refused to allocate part of its $3 million in funds dedicated for the Town Center infrastructure to help Koch get started. Why? A year after allocating the funds in the budget, the City had not crafted criteria for doling out the money. Setting aside the immediate issue of Ace, I find this year-long inaction to be inexcusable, frankly.
Regulations and demands by the City drove Koch’s development price up to $3.5 million, including hundreds of thousands of dollars for a temporary road and storm water costs. Had the City had criteria for dispersing its money, perhaps some of these costs could have been mitigated.
The City was urged as far back as 2009 to offer financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis as last-money-in for storm water or parking garage costs.
What this means is that whoever was prepared to develop first, regardless of what quadrant came first, the City should be willing to provide financial support provided the developer had all but the final piece of funding in place.
The City never adopted this policy–and three years later, Koch was expected to bear the entire cost at a time the City could have kick-started the Town Center.
Koch’s Ace wouldn’t have been the only beneficiary. I’ve learned that as many as six other businesses were prepared to join Koch in a new commercial center.
Also back in 2010, the City Manager terminated Town Center Project Manager Michael Matthias, who had shepherded the Town Center Plan through the Planning Commission and City Council, removing the key point man from implementation of the Plan and sending a message that implementation wasn’t a priority. Manager Ben Yacizi said it was a cost-cutting measure. Matthias now heads a Tumwater development plan.
In January 2012, I proposed in a seven page memo to the City Small Business Incentives and Enterprise Zones as ways to ease development in the Town Center. The Staff reviewed it and sent it to Council’s Economic Development Commission–which promptly shelved it, where it sits nearly a year later. Here is the document: Sammamish SBI_TCEZ.
At the behest of Tom Odell, after he became Mayor in January 2012, the City engaged a consultant to tell them (among other things) what the City was or wasn’t doing to promote the Town Center. Among other things was the absence of a Michael Matthias-type and an Economic Development Commission, two things persistent critic John Galvin had pushed the Council to have ever since Matthias was terminated. And Galvin was absolutely correct.
The City Manager has proposed several budget items for 2013 to implement recommendations from the consultant. But three years have been lost to inaction and missteps.
The City has failed to:
- Adopt a last-money-in approach to provide financial assistant;
- Adopt a first-come, first-serve approach to financial assistance;
- Have a Town Center Development Manager;
- Create an Economic Development Commission comprised of the business community and developers; or
- Consider, at the Council’s EDC level, any of the proposals I submitted nearly a year ago.
With respect to the Ace situation, it has to be noted and acknowledged that the Staff has spent hundreds of hours at no charge (typically this time is billed) trying to find a solution for Koch. Efforts continue to try and find a location that can at the least serve as an interim solution. But Regency, the landlord to Ace, owns all but the Saffron complex (where Simone’s restaurant and other businesses are) and Ace’s options are very, very limited.
Ace serves about 150,000 customer visits and pays the City about $73,000 in taxes annually. This is all about to go away unless some solutions pops.
From a practical standpoint, there is no solution I see that is available to Ace that would allow construction of a building before the lease expires. With Regency owning almost all commercial space and favoring national chains over local business, this leaves only the Saffron complex within the City. There are physical constraints to this solution.