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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hales and Staff Take Reporters on Field Trip to Proposed Home for Right 2 Dream Too

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Dec 4, 2013 at 5:15 PM

Mayor Charlie Hales shows off his proposed new site for Right 2 Dream Too: an Old Town warehouse at 320 NW Hoyt.
  • Denis C. Theriault
  • Mayor Charlie Hales shows off his proposed new site for Right 2 Dream Too: an Old Town warehouse at 320 NW Hoyt.
Staffers for Mayor Charlie Hales, eventually joined by the mayor himself, shed more light this afternoon on a potential breakthrough development in the Right 2 Dream Too saga first reported on Blogtown earlier today: a rapidly moving plan that would move the homeless rest area into an empty warehouse at 320 NW Hoyt as soon as the end of this month.

Their announcement came roughly at the end of a 60-day window that Hales promised prominent Pearl developers who were fighting the city's initial plan for Right 2 Dream Too—moving them beneath a Broadway Bridge off-ramp—and asking for time to craft an alternative.

"We've got a lease in hand, ready to sign," Hales told reporters outside the site during a chilly set of interviews outside the 1925 warehouse building. "We did it within the 60 days."

But Hales and his staff also made clear that time was running short to get that deal together. Further—pointedly acknowledging that Right 2 Dream Too had not yet agreed to make the move—they also said they meant to drive home that urgency by going public at a meeting where neither R2DToo nor their lead sponsor in city hall, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, were invited to attend.

An agreement with the property's owner, Alco Investments of Seattle, would need to be signed by December 16, policy director Josh Alpert says. The reason? Other parties have expressed interest in the warehouse property, which has been on the market off an on in recent years.

"We are urging them to take this deal," said Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, when asked by Aaron Mesh of Willamette Week whether Hales' office was resorting to "brinksmanship." Hales later repeated the sentiment.

And if they don't? Right 2 Dream Too would have to stay at its current lot, at NW 4th and Burnside. Neither staffer indicated Hales would allow a move to the Station Place parking lot in the Pearl that Fritz had chosen, in concert with Hales. "They'll stay where they are," Haynes says.

Alpert also confirmed, as I'd reported this afternoon, that two of the developers opposing the Pearl move, Dike Dame and Homer Williams, have expressed an interest in buying the Station Place parking lot, often referred to as Lot 7. But Alpert walked back any notion that proceeds could be used to help with the Hoyt move. Alpert also says he doesn't remember if he first learned of their interest after Fritz and Hales put the lot in play and that there was "no particular plan" to sell it.

Among the biggest sticking points, they said, was the length of the lease. Fritz told me earlier today she had "significant concerns" about a lease that would last just 12 months. Alpert and Haynes said that's where they'd left things in a negotiating session with R2DToo last night. But they said they'd since been told they could have up to 15 months and that Fritz had been informed, if not the rest of R2DToo's board.

"The people who own the land want to sell it," Alpert says. "They know Old Town is developing."

It was unclear if the extension would sweeten the deal for R2DToo's board members, who clearly feel frustrated after getting this close to a deal on a site they overwhelmingly are excited about. I've called Ibrahim Mubarak, R2DToo's spokesman and lead figure, for comment. He's apparently meeting with Fritz. Fritz expressed frustration that she hadn't heard of the meeting.

Any lease would be between the city and Alco, with the city and R2DToo entering into a use agreement giving R2DToo permission to occupy the site. It would cost the city $10,000 a month—and Alpert says maintenance crews for the city are ready, on a "pro bono" basis, to do required code-related work, including installing bathrooms, sprinklers, showers, and a wheelchair ramp. Alpert says a mass shelter is allowed in the building under current code.

Both Alpert and Haynes praised the site for the same reasons R2DToo's board likes it: it has heat and plumbing, but it's also close to social services and public transit. It also has 8,000 square feet of outdoor space, to go along with 10,000 square feet inside. R2DToo would be able to use only the first floor, to avoid triggering seismic retrofits, staying at its current capacity of 100 people. (It's possible R2DToo could move onto the outdoor land, temporarily, while work is taking place inside.)

Alpert said he and Fritz toured the site with Mubarak the day after Thanksgiving, and Alpert said he'd also toured it a few days before that with the property manager and realtor who's got the site on the market. It was on the short list of proposed sites that the Pearl group, led by Dike Dame and Homer Williams, sent to R2DToo last month.

But another, familiar sticking point might also be looming. Just like with the Pearl, neighbors of the Hoyt street site could decide to throw a wrench into the works. Alpert says Hales and Fritz have begun calling neighbors. He also said the chair of the Old Town Chinatown Neighborhood Association and some board members have been approached. It's not clear if owners of several condominiums realize what's being planned.

The Old Town neighbors had asked for a briefing on the plan at their next regular meeting, today—but then asked to postpone it so they could attend to other business and let a deal come together.

"They know about it," Alpert says.

Hales made clear that he sees a proposed Hoyt move as temporary. In fact, he says, that's one of the reasons he likes the site. It won't be a "subterfuge" that, he says, continues to concentrate social services in a neighborhood that he's targeted for employment growth, including tech offices.

"There's no place you can propose to locate 60 to 80 homeless people," he says, "where there will be a spontaneous cheer."

The idea is to run this as a pilot project, he and his staffers all said, in hopes of getting better data and measurable outcomes about the work Right 2 Dream Too has been doing in the more than two years since it took root along Burnside.

Hales, however, said he wanted that work to happen while people were "inside." It was a theme both Haynes and Alpert continually kept repeating. Hales wants the housing bureau to keep pushing for a better answer and he's also promised to keep working with the county on budgeting for homelessness programs and more housing options. Hales also committed to supporting the outline of R2DToo's model, which he says is high-impact but low-cost.

"The clock starts ticking now," Alpert says on finding a longer-term answer.

Hales' staffers were quick to credit Fritz for making this a big deal—saying she hardly waited after getting the Bureau of Development Services this spring before leaping toward a solution for the code-penalty morass Right 2 Dream Too found itself in on Burnside. (Fritz, in fact, had been an advocate for the site mere months after it opened.)

"I really appreciate her leadership," Hales said.

But they also were quick to talk up Hales' role in shaping the discussion over an alternative site to the Pearl. They said that's why they didn't invite Fritz to the announcement. It was their baby to birth.

"It was the mayor who intervened and changed the dynamic," Alpert says. "It put the onus on the mayor's office."

Hales says he hopes R2DToo doesn't say no, even if they're free to do so. He specifically said he wouldn't resort to fining the site if it stayed on 4th and Burnside. The deal to move to the Pearl was driven by a lawsuit, filed by the site, after the city dubbed the place an "illegal campground" and began levying fines that eventually topped $20,000. The relocation deal wiped away those fines.

"I don't have any appetite for fining people on this subject," Hales said, adding he was more worried that their current landlord might sell. The city has been working with him on a sale, after all.

"If they have a problem, I don't think it's the city," he said, talking about the city's efforts to move the place. "It's that they're occupying a piece of property where the owner has other plans."

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