Reader view: An open letter to the Economic Development Commission

We need your help. Our mayor has proposed purchasing 10 acres of commercial real estate to develop a mixed-use complex via a public/private partnership. On the surface, this sounds appealing. Who wouldn’t want to dream about all the possibilities and promised amenities? However, the $37 million purchase price for this “landmark” property would be only the downpayment on a yet-to-be-defined development plan at an unknown cost. Intermingled with this are strict stipulations on land use in the purchase agreement making only 25% of the property potentially tax revenue-generating to help pay off the purchase and development costs. The remainder would be non-revenue generating “public space” supported by more property tax dollars.

This is where we can use the Economic Development Commission’s (EDC) help. We need an independent assessment of this opportunity. And I believe that you are in the best position to do so. You were all appointed based on your business background, knowledge, and sound judgment  Your charter even encourages you to engage in matters of your own interest for the good of the community.

Directly from our municipal code:

“10.75.030 Powers and duties.

  1. The commission is empowered to advise and make recommendations to the mayor and city council, and as appropriate to other boards or commissions of the city, on such matters as may be specifically referred to the commission by the mayor or city council, or on matters independently generated by the commission, related to:
  2. Strategies, programs or activities intended to generate economic development and consequently increase jobs and municipal revenue.”

You don’t need to wait and be asked by either the mayor or council to advise and make recommendations. You are empowered to do so!

I can think of no other matter of greater economic importance to the city than this. The ramifications to our future budgets and property taxes are huge if we get this wrong. We need to go in eyes wide open with facts and data to understand the financial risks involved.

This requires an unbiased and apolitical assessment. With this being an election year and the majority of our elected officials up for election, it is not necessarily conducive to sound decision making on any of their parts. Besides, the council will be embroiled in the budgeting process in a little over a month, leaving no bandwidth for them to do this assessment justice. And having them understand our current financial situation is part and parcel with going forward with any land purchase agreement. Will we even have the budget necessary next year to plan for this purchase?

Since neither the council nor administration has reached out asking for your assistance (to my knowledge) it is up to you to unilaterally step up and lead. You have the skills, knowledge and network that can be brought to bear on this important decision.  I’m sure if you need additional help, your network would be more than willing to devote a little time to provide additional insight.

I would hope that the administration will cooperate with the EDC with this and provide the necessary insight that has already been generated to bring this idea as far as it has already come. If not, I believe that the EDC has the required resources to provide credible recommendations without them. Trust but verify.

Unfortunately, time is not on our side. Before the end of the year, we need to determine if we will put non-refundable money on the table to hold the purchase agreement price and terms and conditions.

To the mayor and council, I urge you to put on your extended agenda a placeholder to directly hear the recommendations from the EDC prior to any vote on this purchase. Doing so will speak volumes into wanting to hear from your constituency. Not doing so, well, we know what that says too.

Through this effort the EDC can demonstrate the true value of citizen volunteers. And to think of the benefit of getting a green light from the EDC in gaining public acceptance of the idea. Or are the mayor and council afraid to listen to other experts who have relevant insight and knowledge?

EDC, please step up to this calling.

— By Jim Ogonowski

Jim Ognowski lives in Edmonds.

    1. Thanks Mr. Ogonowski. Extremely well said. Fully support your recommendation for EDC involvement and assessment.
      The $37 million Mayors albatross is an extremely wasteful and expensive project we should not be undertaking. Instead, we should be investing in fixing our sidewalks and roads in Edmo nds as they are a disgrace and a hazard to all – especially our seniors and handicapped population.
      Hopefully many Edmonds citizens will cry out in support of your recommendation.

      1. Totally agree with you Mr. Landry! This property is far away way from most citizens in Edmonds. Why do we need the Mayor’s fantasies which could fund what is totally needed?

  1. As a citizen of Edmonds, I agree with this completely. and will follow the process, if it happens. It’s also fair to ask whether the City has the ability to do a better job than the private sector. And whether the interests of the city can be pursued just as well through its control over the zoning, planning, and other regulatory functions.

  2. Very well stated by Jim Ogonowski . Based on news lately about Edmonds budgets, sounds like they can’t handle things now, let alone add something of that size on a whim of maybe this maybe that.

  3. Jim,
    I fully agree with your common sense approach to this issue. Hopefully the NEW mayor and NEW city council will govern with a common sense approach instead of approaching issues with “half baked” feel good solutions

  4. This whole proposal is pretty sketchy and poorly financially thought out. The city of Edmonds is going to have some pretty serious budget shortfalls coming up.

  5. Thanks to Jim Ogonowski for putting his intellect and professional experience to use in solving an issue around the need for sound governance in a city he holds dear. His creative approach to finding a non-political process by which to evaluate this opportunity is solid and should yield a great long-term outcome for Edmonds.

  6. See, this is the whole problem with Edmond’s city government going back for many administrations now. The big ideas are coming from well meaning, perhaps, but in reality self serving individuals who are all hot and bothered about their legacy projects and the public perceptions of THEIR proposals for an even greater Edmonds for the entire region; as opposed to the citizens telling them what THEY want for just a livable city for all actual citizens in all neighborhoods. Our system is broken and needs to be fixed somehow, to put actual needs and priorities, as perceived by ordinary citizens, over “pie in the sky” and “look what I’ve done for you lately” expensive projects often rewarding special interests in town and the whole region. We’ve over done the Art Center vibe, while neglecting our natural resources and real park system needs. We’ve made attracting tourists and catering to the entertainment industry more important than public safety and putting our scarce resources where they actually make sense. No one but our past mayors and ourselves to blame for this.

  7. Jim- read the recent meeting minutes for the July 19th EDC meeting when they are published. They were given a presentation on this ‘shoot the moon’ proposal.
    Personally, I don’t focus on the parcels’ purchase price when I think about this opportunity. I focus on a round number of $100Mil to build out the concept. The timing is all wrong- commercial property sales are depressed now because of the high borrowing costs. This timing seems to favor the seller. The appraisal the city has assumed ‘highest and best use’ of the parcels (like 800 apartment units). So our value as Edmonds residents will be much less if we move City Hall there, or build a pool and community center. If this is such a good deal, why aren’t there 2 other offers on these parcels?

  8. This economic development opportunity calls for significant participation by the EDC, and I appreciate Mr Ogonowski’s point that by code they can be players with or without an invitation. This commission was briefed at their July meeting, and per Director two spots on the forming advisory committee are for members of the EDC.

    1. Thank you Jim, for laying it all out for us! Barring the passed zoning laws, a land seller cannot have enforceable stipulations, unless the seller lives adjacent to the property and might have issues with building an edifice that restricts the seller’s view or access. All else is usually covered by good zoning laws. Last I checked, purchasing something makes it the property of the buyer, to make of it as he/she wishes… we live in a capitalist economy, and property is well-protected by law. For the sellers to include in the selling contract “strict stipulations for land use”, is aspirational. They can also include strict stipulations for a unicorn farm, and/or a mermaid refuge; they’d be just as unenforceable as the limited land use provision. So, having resolved the dilemma on the use of only 25% of the land, we should consider buying this land only once we have a detailed plan, a detailed budget, and a thorough cost/benefit analysis, in order to ensure that it would result in a maximum benefit to the community the project is supposed to serve, and not a vanity project on which we blow $39 million of our hard-earned money.

  9. There is no prudent position on this but “guarded”, and I think the council vote to proceed reflected that. One CM was absent. One CM was enthusiastic. The other two “yes” votes thought it was worth exploring for the “cost” of the refundable $100K deposit. Two CMs abstained from that vote. I voted “no”; While the minimal commitment made it tempting, this didn’t seem to address our most pressing needs and the time and effort put into this isn’t moving our other priorities forward.

    That said, I am (and all councilmembers are) now obliged to support the decision of the majority — and so I will/do.

    As a reminder, the decision made was merely to take the 6 month period to vet the opportunity. We will either be sold on the value of proceeding by then or we can walk away.

    1. Yes, Vivian, your summation is correct and the two of us that abstained had yet to actually receive sufficient information which both of us said in our closing comments.

      My concern (and many citizens) was how this issue was “rolled out” with both the CP and Mayor at the press conference announcing the Landmark purchase option prior to Council even having one executive session to discuss merits and pros and cons. The TIF concept was addressed in the Economic Development Commission but it never rose to Council input. Also the $37mm cost with a much lower value on tax roles. Then there was the 75/25 (non-revenue versus revenue) split option not found anywhere in contract AND our Attorney saying he was not part of negotiations. Who was then?

      This is a classroom example of what not to do when attempting to purchase a piece of property committing taxpayers to potentially millions. More importantly what happens if we had a simple majority of like-minded CMs who some say was the issue in 2020-2021 with many examples to give such as emergency ordinance, tree code, design standards for short plats under tree code, Pruitt conditional appointment and so on.

    2. Vivian, In my opinion your “No” vote would have been the best way for everyone to vote based on how this thing was rolled out by the mayor and your CPres. , apparently without any Council input or even knowledge based on Diane’s comments. This looks like mayor and CP collusion, whether it was or not. With one CP absent, your very proper no vote (under the circumstances) and two abstentions, I don’t think you really have much of a majority to feel you have to support in the long run. Hopefully the $100,000 ends up being just a no interest loan and not an outright gift to the seller in the end. Also, if I read it right, the $100,000 doesn’t even go to toward the purchase price if the final agreement to buy goes past the six months mark. Not very shrewd negotiating; and your No vote was the right vote in this case.

  10. Theresa Hollis is another one of the smartest women in Edmonds. She is a key citizen who needs to be listened to more, while we listen to entrenched politician and regional movers and shaker types, past, present and future, a lot less. She is a citizen volunteer with much to offer to the conversation about our leadership and budget needs. She is all about governing based on real needs and priorities and she “ain’t running for nothing” except concerned Edmonds citizen. who’s willing to volunteer when and where needed.

    The more I think about it, I think it is past time to let some of these really smart women take over and run the joint for awhile. Think Diane Buckshnis, for example. Do you like citizen town halls by neighborhood, governing and budgeting by priorities, an end to the silly waste of money missing link project, a mayor candidate actually talking about real problems instead of just some vague promises of good management by a relative new comer? Vote Buckshnis for Mayor, Aug. 1 Primary.

  11. Thank you CM Olson for your insight. However, I’m not sure what the “forming advisory committee” is. Who are the members and what is their charter? Who leads the committee?

    I still stand by my request to have the EDC provide an impartial assessment of this opportunity. Having been on the Housing Commission, I know that if city staff is involved with the advisory committee, we will get a filtered, biased presentation at the end. We can’t afford it this time, both literally and figuratively.

    We only have five months left now.

    1. I don’t have more information than what was shared above— that it is being established by the administration and that they will be advising involved staff (which, from the meeting seems to be most of the directors, parks, economic development and planning).

    2. Why do we even need or want Staff Advisory Committees? We have plenty of citizen volunteers with the smarts to look at these issues in an unbiased manner. JIm is 100% correct about staff involvements in visioning and planning ending up in biased assessments. Wake up people before it’s really too late for a fair and equitable Edmonds; not dominated by power and influence motivated Mayors. All management level staff people, with the possible partial exception of the Police Chief, owe their first loyalty to our Mayor’s to keep their jobs. Do you think they are really ever going to support a contrary viewpoint to their boss’s visions for a greater Edmonds?


  12. Thank you, Jim, for requesting the EDC impartial assessment.
    Part of what makes this whole proposed purchase sketchy and shady is the “forming advisory committee”. Who are the members and what is their charter? Who leads the committee?

  13. My $0.02: I voted to invest the fully refundable $100k to give us six months to do our due diligence about this opportunity. However, i still have significant questions that need answers before I will vote to proceed to the next phase. I’m trusting the Administration to provide the answers. Time will tell if Council is convinced the cost/benefit pencils out.

  14. Jim, as a member of the EDC I get your point/s. The presentation by Staff to the EDC had new information that is nowhere to be found on the city website. EDC members were sent the slides after the meeting but what is missing is the staff presentation. The EDC creates minutes but does not record the full session. Because of time constraints we did not have time to ask many clarifying questions.

    Putting all the politics aside, we have only a few weeks to sort out the pros and cons to see if we should proceed. I plan to our EDC staff liaison to do a write up and make that available with the new slides.

    Jim is speaking to the Landmark deal but in reality, we have all sorts of issues that come up and citizens what to help sort out the issues. Boards and Commission can be of help sometimes, but many issues do not fit into their work. Two things stand out.
    1. Council needs better data and more information in a timely manner to do their job.
    2. Since we will never have the money to do it all, how do we prioritize?
    Let’s Help!

    1. You make great points here Darrol and I don’t disagree, but I think our Mayor’s and staffs need to be a bunch more about just doing what the people want done and less about manipulating the narrative and vision with big expensive ideas all the time. We need something like a standing volunteer citizen investigative committee or task force based entirely on desire to serve the community by doing studies and conclusion statements from the ordinary citizen point of view published in local media. This should be officially sanctioned by code, but elected officials should have no say in who or who doesn’t serve. We need something to balance the power dynamics of our Mayor’s and their staffs.

    2. Thank you Darrol for being the first EDC member to lend your insight. This, along with the perspective of the council members, just reinforces why we need an independent assessment of the landmark site purchase.

      I’d like to try something here. Knowing that the EDC as a whole may not be willing or able to make a public pronouncement yet, can I ask individual members to comment here? Are you willing to take this on regardless of being asked or not by the City Council or mayor? Yes, somewhat putting you on the spot, I know.

      The reason for the request is that I sense time is running out. City staff has shown a propensity to run the clock and push decisions to the last minute giving the Council little time to digest and react. In this case it is literally a minimum one-million dollars of non-refundable money on the table as of December 31st. And there is a lot of due diligence work to do.

      This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity for Edmonds. I would like to see it succeed too. Please convince us that it’s possible within our means.

      1. Jim- why do you think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Edmonds? The commercial real estate market is depressed now because of the increases in interest rates by the Fed. Only multi family projects are being built. Do you have any market knowledge about this being a rare opportunity? Will there be another parcel owner wanting to sell and retire in the next 3 years or so? I personally think a 10 ac parcel and related buildings are way beyond our capacity to tax ourselves and pay for it . If we want a community rec center, indoor pool, police precinct, and maybe one more facility, we need closer to 5 acres. The road access to this site is a problem. It has been since day 1. Location, location, location should be a focus of any property acquisition by the city.

  15. Jim, I am a member of the EDC and my remarks here and above are my own and do not represent other EDC members. Also please note that 3 council members commented above with added details including the discussion of the role of the EDC going forward. Based on comments of various CMs above and elsewhere the verbal presentation and slides added new information that should be made public ASAP. The EDC minutes for this past meeting are normally available the Friday before our next meeting. Time is valuable so as reported above I asked staff to post the slides and the notes for the presentation on the city website. I will let folks know when the request is honored.

    The EDC is scheduled to meet 5 times for a total of 10 hours before Council will make its decision. Hard to understand how those 10 hours would play out. It would take a lot of overtime and even if our pay is doubled or tripled it still would not be enough to by a cup of coffee.

    Jim, my comments here and above are not because you have challenged the EDC but because I will always try to help.

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