In a divided vote this morning, the Council moved out of committee the agreement between the city and Bosa Development for the Civic Square project across the street from City Hall. But it wasn’t without some hand-wringing.
Council member Sawant, the lone “no” vote today, raised questions as to whether it was a “sweetheart deal” for Bosa. Under her questioning, the city admitted that they haven’t obtained a recent appraisal on the property’s value. Sawant estimated it at $40-45 million.
That’s far less than the $16 million that the city will be receiving in cash, but that one figure doesn’t tell the whole story. Here’s a quick refresher on the history of the site since the old Public Safety building was demolished in 2005. The city remains under the original agreement with Triad unless and until it finalizes an agreement with Bosa (who negotiated a transfer of Triad’s rights under the original agreement). That means there are certain representations already in place with regard to sale price, as well as conditions of the agreement that add complexity such as the public space and the entrance to the Pioneer Square light rail station. And there is the cost and further delays associated with the inevitable litigation if the city breaks the agreement in order to start over; FAS director Fred Podesta referred to “considerable liability that the Council has been briefed on,” most likely in executive session with their attorneys. That makes it difficult to estimate the real value of the property today; with a clean, fresh start, it might be $40 million (it might not), but that isn’t reality.
Nevertheless, Sawant pushed hard for a clean start to negotiating an agreement, noting that it’s a prime piece of land in a highly desirable location so potential developers should be plentiful. Council members O’Brien and Herbold said that they share her concerns but also recognized that the property is encumbered with risks and liabilities, and they have a willing partner in Bosa as a path to get clear of it. “I think this is a good deal,” O’Brien said. “I wish it were better. I don’t want to take the risk of throwing it out and starting over.” Council member Burgess noted that this is the fourth attempt to finish this project, and said that starting over and hoping for a fifth attempt with a new, unidentified partner is “not a good idea.” Herbold also pointed out that significant proceeds from the agreement have already been committed to the Equitable Development Initiative.
There was good news, too. Podesta and a labor representative confirmed that a Project Labor Agreement with the local trades has already been agreed upon, based upon the city’s workforce agreement. Herbold had planned to introduce an amendment today to require that as part of the agreement with Bosa; the Council adopted the amendment anyway, as Herbert requested, to “memorialize” it as a standard for public/private projects to advance local labor.
The agreement was voted 4-1 out of committee, with Burgess, Johnson, Herbold and O’Brien for and Sawant against. From here it moves to the full Council for final approval.
UPDATE: Normally with a divided committee vote, the Council delays the final Full Council vote for an extra week in order to allow time for the rest of the Council members to get up to speed on the issues and discuss with their colleagues. In this case, however, they are not doing that. According to a spokesperson for the City Council, “The Committee Chair and Council President waived the Divided Report delay rule, so the civic square vote will happen this Monday Sept 11.”