There's no way you've missed the news this week, first reported by Daniel Beekman at the Seattle Times, that city council candidate Jon Grant says a developer offered to help make some campaign spending against him "go away" if Grant could convince the Tenants Union to drop a lawsuit involving the developer in question. That is some truly shady shit.
In response to the allegations, the mayor announced today that he wants the city to cut ties with the developer in question as soon as possible.
"I am extremely disappointed by these questionable actions," Mayor Ed Murray said today. "They do not represent the values of our city. Seattle expects and deserves better.”
Grant says that Brett Allen, an executive at Triad Capital Partners, approached him at a coffee shop on Saturday asking Grant to help pressure the Tenants Union to settle a lawsuit involving Triad in exchange for Allen's help killing plans for an independent expenditure against Grant's campaign.
Former mayor Mike McGinn (who has endorsed Grant) says he was also contacted by Allen. A text from Allen to McGinn explains the offer and ends: "Deadline is Monday @ noon - after which certain bad things can't be undone. Thanks again for your efforts to try to help us both! And Go Hawks!" Grant's political consultant, John Wyble, says he got a call from Triad lobbyist Tim Ceis (who's since stopped representing Triad, according to Wyble) offering the same quid pro quo.
Yesterday, Allen released a statement apologizing and saying his text to McGinn was "inappropriate." I've called him for comment on today's news, but haven't yet heard back. UPDATE: Triad has released a statement saying the company "severed ties" with Allen yesterday. Read the full statement at the bottom of this post.
The lawsuit in play here was filed in January by a group of tenants with the support of the Tenants Union, of which Grant was then the director. It claims that the city illegally renewed a permit for Triad's project on that giant hole in the ground across 4th Avenue from City Hall. The tenants' suit argued that while the city regularly allows low-income tenants to be displaced by expensive projects with little recourse, it offers developers endless patience and special treatment.
Triad Development—which was founded by John Goodman of Goodman Real Estate, one of Grant's top enemies—entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement with the city for the property back in 2007, agreeing to buy the property from the city and develop it. Both that agreement and the permits to actually build on the site have been extended since then. Triad planned to build a high-rise tower, parking garage, and public plaza on the site. Triad would own the tower and garage and "the city [expected] to receive the $25 million in the value of the plaza and other improvements," the Puget Sound Business Journal reported late last year. Yet—despite the economic recovery, cranes all over the Seattle skyline, and prime location of the property—the developers haven't made much progress on the project.
Then came this nonsense from Triad's Brett Allen. (Seriously, guys, this has to be one of the stupidest things we've seen in a while. If you're the developer in question here, why would you go to the No. 1 enemy of developers in this city thinking he would cut a deal with you? And why would you put that in a text message? To Mike McGinn? Mike. Fucking. McGinn. This whole thing only reinforces Grant's narrative about developers' influence on City Hall. I'm not sure Grant's campaign could have created a better scandal themselves to draw attention to his cause.)
Anyway, the current purchase-and-sale agreement expires on December 31. Murray said today the city won't extend that agreement beyond the end of the year and he's asked City Attorney Pete Holmes to find out if there's a way to terminate the contract even sooner "in a responsible way."
"It appears that Triad has not finalized many of the requirements to keep the project moving forward," Murray said today. "It has not shown us evidence of project financing. It has not secured necessary permits. Triad also has yet to reach an agreement with King County Metro on access to the downtown bus tunnel. Under these circumstances, I have no reason to believe Triad will be able to meet the terms of the contract and close the sale of the property.”
The tenants bringing the lawsuit lost in King County Superior Court this spring and then appealed that decision. The lawyer representing the tenants in that case, Knoll Lowney, said after the mayor's announcement today that it could be six months before a decision on their appeal, but they're not dropping their case yet.
"At this point, it's talk," Lowney said of the mayor's decision. "We have to see what happens between now and December 31."
Murray relied pretty heavily this morning on the fact that the agreement for the property in question was settled on before he became mayor. In objecting to the news about the alleged blackmail, Murray framed it as something that pushed him over the edge on a project with which he was already frustrated.
But the group that brought the lawsuit, Displaced Tenants For Transparency and Accountability, said in a statement today that "we provided a way for the city to get out of the deal a year ago." Instead of backing out of the deal, though, the city attorney's office sided with Triad to fight the lawsuit. Since the city was one of the parties in the agreement that was being challenged in the lawsuit, it makes sense they'd fight a challenge to that agreement. But the advocates are arguing here that the city could have acted differently if they'd really been so opposed to Triad holding on to the project.
"The city's allegiances have been to developers," the group said in a statement. "Now is the time to stand with tenants."
The tenants group says it's reached out to Holmes, but hasn't heard back yet. (UPDATE: Holmes' spokesperson Kimberly Mills emailed to say Holmes isn't in the office today to respond: "He appeared at the mayor’s request at the 9 a.m. press briefing, then headed out. I’m sure Mr. Lowney will get a response as soon as Pete has a chance to catch up.")
Regardless, it's likely that early next year we'll be hearing about potential new plans for the site. When asked what he'd like to see on the lot, Murray dodged. "We'll let this run its course," he said. The mayor said that other developers have approached the city with interest in the site. Does he think the lot should be affordable housing? Again, he was noncommittal, but said that under his administration's recent housing affordability plan, any development of housing on the site would require some affordable units. (The all-important HALA plan includes mandatory inclusionary zoning, which allows developers to build taller buildings if they set aside some units in those buildings as affordable.)
Holmes echoed Murray's frustration over the project today, though it's still unclear whether he'll recommend the city cut out of the agreement early or just wait it out through the end of the year.
"A project of this size and sophistication requires a level of professionalism that you can rely on," Holmes said. "While I share the mayor's disgust at the tactics that were reported, I have to be concerned looking at the city's interests about what you're going to do with a business partner that is showing such clumsy attempts to cut corners."
UPDATE: Here's the full statement sent by e-mail from Triad CEO Fred Grimm:
I formed Triad in 1984 and we have always enjoyed a great reputation in Seattle and elsewhere. That is why we were selected to develop the Civic Square Project eight years ago. The Mayor’s comments this morning do not reflect who we are. His remarks spring from the recent actions by one of our employees. These actions were not authorized nor in line with our values or the long-standing history of this company. We severed ties with that employee yesterday. As for the Position 8 City Council race, we have not contributed to either candidate or to an independent expenditure.
We share the Mayor’s frustrations with the delay in this project. We are co-defendants with the City in a lawsuit. The courts keep ruling in our favor and once their appeals end, we can commence with construction. We look forward to fulfilling our obligations under our contract with the City and fully expect them to do the same. It will be a great development.