Comment (2018-01-17): CB 119150 is a Debt Obligation – please vote No

To: Seattle City Council
From: Jonathan Mark
Date: January 17, 2018
Subject: CB 119150 is a Debt Obligation

Dear City Council,

My name is Jonathan Mark and I’m with Protect Volunteer Park. I have some comments on the proposed Asian Art Museum lease agreement, CB 119150.

This is an unusual lease because the landlord is to pay the tenant, not the other way around. I think it is a debt obligation more than a lease, because the City is committing to make future payments and provide rent-free use of City property. Considered as a debt obligation, it is onerous and would be forbidden under the City’s debt policies. The term is too long, 55 years, and the payments are not fixed, but increase over time.

The City has not even had an appraisal done to estimate the market value rent which is being foregone, surely an essential data point to determine the public cost of this proposal. But we are asked to bind the next 55 years of City policymakers to these terms and budgetary expenditures.

The process around this lease has been opaque. Our team was first able to access a draft on December 1, more than a year after the expansion plan was first presented to the public by Seattle Art Museum. The public should have been told that the expansion plan requires an ultra-long-term obligation to subsidize the tenant, far in excess of the value of public benefits provided.

A mature cultural institution should be able to budget an expense item for the use of its facility, not demand it be provided for free by the public. Please vote down these bills and ask the administration for a new plan whose public cost is balanced with the public benefits, and which is chosen with appropriate public involvement.

Thank you.