Senior center officials share strategy to close funding gap for new Edmonds Waterfront Center

    Edmonds City Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, left, chair of the council finance committee, discusses the Edmonds Waterfront Center proposal with Rick Steves, far right. Steves has been a major financial supporter of the project.

    Representatives from the Edmonds Senior Center came before the Edmonds City Council’s Finance Committee Tuesday night to lay out their plans for raising an additional $3.5 million to finance construction of the Edmonds Waterfront Center — set to replace the existing Senior Center on the Edmonds waterfront.

    There is a sense of urgency in moving the project forward, because the senior center has been allocated state grant money that it needs to use by the end of June. The hope is to demolish the existing building and break ground on Waterfront Center construction this spring. Permits have not been issued yet, “but they will be soon,” said Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite.

    The vision for the Edmonds Waterfront Center is a new 26,000-square-foot sustainable building that offers a range of programs emphasizing health and wellness, recreation and education for people of all ages while still responding to the unique needs of an aging population living in south Snohomish and north King counties. The plan includes beach restoration and improved access to the waterfront site, which is being funded separately by the city.

    The senior center, through its capital campaign, has been fundraising in earnest for the past year, since learning that the center’s construction target of $10 million skyrocketed to $16 million due to the region’s extremely hot construction market.

    The campaign is still $3.5 million short, and on Tuesday night the council heard what Capital Campaign Director Daniel Johnson described as “our rough blueprint for how we are going to get to $16 million.”

    The city leases the current building to the senior center, and under the lease agreement, the council could withhold consent for the Waterfront Center project if it determined that funding was insufficient or if the council wasn’t confident that the $16 million goal could be reached.

    As a show of support for the project, the council in April 2018 agreed to amend the city’s lease so that the city covers all costs — estimated at $900,000 — for Waterfront Center parking lot and frontage improvements.

    On Tuesday night, Johnson and other senior center officials explained their multi-pronged effort to secure the additional funds — through a combination of government funding, grant and foundation funds, private donations and a community campaign. Also on hand was Edmonds-based European travel expert Rick Steves, who has been a major financial supporter of the project.

    “I’m concerned about the momentum,” Steves told the council, “and the risk of losing state funding and creating more inflation as the project gets delayed. As soon as we break ground and start building this thing…when it’s tangible and people see it, it’s going to make it a lot easier to get over the goal line,” he added.

    Daniel Johnson during his presentation pointed to a variety of potential funding sources for the $3.5 million shortfall. At the state level, Sen. Marko Liias and Rep. Strom Peterson are spearheading legislation during this legislative session that would provide $2 million in funding. An individual representing veterans is interested in contributing $500,000 in exchange for naming the Waterfront Center’s health center the Veterans’ Health and Wellness Center — and providing services to veterans. Another $500,000 gift is pending from a local family with an interest in the arts who sees “the potential in the center for making the most of the arts and connecting with other arts organization in the community.” The senior center also has a $200,000 grant application pending with the Verdant Health Commission related to food service and nutritional education. In addition, fundraisers have approached Snohomish County, which is “a long shot,” but there are supporters there who recognize the Waterfront Center as a regional asset, Johnson said.

    Finally, the senior center also has four new board members and is “striving for 100 percent board giving,” Johnson said.

    “We’re trying to have as many irons in the fire as possible,” he added.

    As a contingency plan, the senior center is working with a Bellevue-based firm, Semble, that specializes in nonprofit financing. Semble has created a prospectus for supporters who would be interested in providing low-interest loans — rather than making donations — to help fund Waterfront Center construction on as an-needed basis.

    Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, who chairs the finance committee, and committee member Neil Tibbott had a range of questions for the presenters aimed at ensuring that budget projections for the new facility — both in terms of revenue and expenses — were clear. The two councilmembers also encouraged senior center representatives to include additional details before the financing plan comes before the full council — likely at the end of March or beginning of April.

    “I think you’ve provided a number of ways forward, multiple options to get to the $16 million,” Tibbott said.

    A rendering of the Edmonds Waterfront Center.

    Buckshnis also raised a few other concerns, including what the senior center would do if contaminants were discovered underneath the building after it was torn down. While the center would be liable for cleaning up such an issue, representatives replied that past reports on the property indicated the majority of material found there has been sawdust — to be expected from the days when the land was home to shingle mills.

    City of Edmonds Finance Director Scott James asked senior center representatives if they were confident that they would be able to acquire all of the individual pledges — currently at $600,000 — noting it’s been his experience that capital campaigns sometimes can’t collect from donors. Johnson responded that the senior center has a good track record, adding that it collected 100 percent of pledges made to the Waterfront Center project in 2018.

    Senior center representatives also presented to the finance committee a feasibility study, conducted by JGL Food Service Consultants, that outlined the potential for Waterfront Center revenue generation through room rentals and catering for events such as weddings and birthday parties — as well as through an on-site cafe. Total annual revenue estimated from combined catering and venue rental ranged from a low of $380,000 to just over $500,000 on the high end.

    — Story and photo by Teresa Wippel


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