Price of Everett’s municipal court disputed

  • Mon May 3rd, 2010 3:23pm
  • News

By Debra Smith Herald Writer

EVERETT — City leaders plan to decide Wednesday whether to spend $6 million to expand the city’s municipal court.

Two businessmen said they could shave at least $1 million off that price — maybe more — if the city bought their buildings instead.

The problem, they said, is nobody from the city’s administration will sit down and talk.

One of property owners, Tom Hoban, the head of Coast Equity Partners in Everett, said he and his staff “repeatedly asked city staff to set up a meeting to negotiate the price or make a bona fide offer” on a building on Broadway.

He said he was never contacted for a sit-down.

The other owner, Dan Jenkins of Weiss-Jenkins Property in Seattle, said he approached the city about the Chicago Title building on Hoyt Avenue and his proposal disappeared “into a black hole.”

Jenkins said he could renovate his building to the city’s specifications and then sell it for around $5 million.

“From my perspective, this is a microcosm of what goes on in government in general,” Jenkins said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Everett’s municipal court needs to grow, and city leaders are trying to decide whether the city should expand the current building or buy something else.

The City Council plans to hold a workshop and then vote on the matter 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

It’s a significant vote, one that’s been described by city leaders as a “30- to 50-year” decision.

The key staff who are familiar with the project were out of the office Friday, Everett city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said. She was unable to respond to questions about the owners’ concerns, the cost of the expansion or the reasons the city may want to spend more to stay in its current location.

Long-term it may cost less to operate at the current site than elsewhere, Councilman Jeff Moore said. The city must weigh parking, impact on neighbors and the age of the building, too.

“The administration plans to provide a presentation Wednesday at the council,” he said. “I think that will undoubtedly provide clarity on why they are recommending the Wetmore site.”

Most of the council hasn’t heard details, Councilman Drew Nielsen said.

City staff have handled the research and prepared a resolution that would only OK a plan to renovate the current building at 3024 Wetmore Ave. That option is expected to cost about $6 million. That works out to roughly $420 a square foot, he said.

“How a remodel gets that expensive is puzzling,” Nielsen said.

Location and long-term operation costs may be more important than what’s cheapest now, Nielsen said. The municipal court is located near staff at the police station and City Hall. Snohomish County Superior Court also is nearby, which allows the city’s court to use the county’s jurors rather than selecting their own.

“I don’t know what we’re going to find out at the council meeting at Wednesday,” Nielsen said. “It may be they’ve done some calculations on operations.”

He added, “I don’t see why that would be significantly different than at Chicago Title” building, which is right down the street.

Nielsen stepped down from a leadership role on the council April 22 because he felt the city was rushing the decision. City leaders and the public will get their first look at the plan Wednesday — the same night a vote is scheduled.

Meanwhile, the property owners are hoping the city will give their proposals a closer look.

Hoban sent several city council members a letter last week to complain about a process “fraught with inaccurate information” about the building he’s trying to sell.

The city spent nearly $6,000 for outside firms to perform an appraisal and a renovation estimate on Hoban’s property. A pre-design estimate prepared by the Seattle consultant Rider Levett Bucknall estimates renovating the building would cost $1.9 million. That number doesn’t include the purchase price of the building.

What the city didn’t do, Hoban said, is sit down and talk numbers. He thinks he can provide a “turn-key” building for between $1 million to $2 million less than the municipal court expansion and provide 2,000 more square feet.

The property is the same one Democrats attacked Dino Rossi for because of $20,000 in unpaid property taxes. Rossi, a Republican, believed to be considering a run against Sen. Patty Murray, works with Hoban. Those taxes were paid Friday, Hoban said, and have nothing to do with the municipal court.

“We simply need an invitation into a setting where we and the city can complete a fair and open process,” he said.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com.