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November 7, 2014

Auction set for Dec. 5 for old Fed building

Photo courtesy U.S. General Services Administration [enlarge]
The Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors rejected a plan to turn the building into a downtown school.

The old Federal Reserve building at 1015 Second Ave. will go to auction after the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors voted down a plan to acquire the building and turn it into a downtown school.

The six-story, 90,000-square-foot building is listed on the U.S. General Services Administration auction website at http://1.usa.gov/1xaptXx. GSA spokeswoman Stephanie Kenitzer said bidding will begin Dec. 5, and the auction will close Jan. 28. The starting bid is $5 million.

Had the school board moved ahead with the plan for a downtown school, it could have acquired the building at no cost. But the renovation had a price tag of up to $53 million. The school district has $5 million on hand for the project, But it would have needed to borrow the rest or included the cost in a future levy.

School board policy requires the district to identify a source of funds to repay any money borrowed. According to documents prepared for the meeting, the district didn't do that for the downtown school renovation, meaning a yes vote on the plan would violate board policy.

Representatives of the school board did not return a request for comment on the decision.

Jon Scholes is vice president of advocacy and economic development for the Downtown Seattle Association, a big supporter of a downtown school. Scholes said the board's decision doesn't mean it is done pursuing a downtown school in the building. He said some of the federal requirements — specifically that the school would have to open in three years — were too onerous for the school district. If the district can get the building at auction, it would have more control over the timing of the project, Scholes said.

The building has been vacant since 2008 when the bank moved to new space in Renton. As part of a federal process to dispose of the building, GSA first offered it to federal agencies. When there were no takers, GSA opened the process to organizations with a public function like the arts or education.

Organizations that provide services to homeless people got the first crack at the building among public organizations, Kenitzer said. Compass Housing Alliance submitted an application to acquire the building, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not approve the plans.

Private developers have tried to acquire the Federal Reserve site in the past. A deal to sell the building to Sabey Corp. for $19.75 million fell through after a preservation group filed a lawsuit.

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