Belltown has been waiting nearly 10 years for its community center, which was to be funded with $1.9 million from the 1999 Community Centers Levy.
But thanks to a series of bureaucratic snafus, false starts by the housing agency hired to make the project happen, and escalating land prices that have made the community center's already paltry funding look like a pittance, the project remains in limbo, unlikely to ever reach fruition. The latest proposal from the city's parks department (which did not return a call) would reportedly relocate Belltown's community center to South Lake Union, into the crumbling parks department headquarters in Denny Park. After renovating the building, Parks would move elsewhere, leaving the facility for Belltown to use at some point in the future.
But, Belltown activists note, at no point in the future will Denny Park be in Belltown. That makes the city's Denny Park proposal look less like a compromise and more like a broken promise.
The demise of the Belltown Community Center is a tangled story involving several city departments, community groups, and a nonprofit housing developer. The Low Income Housing Institute was supposed to codevelop a piece of land with the community center—first as low-income housing, then as condos, and finally on only half the site, according to city housing director Adrienne Quinn. (LIHI's director, Sharon Lee, did not return a call for comment.) After LIHI tied up "millions of dollars from several different departments" with no visible progress, Quinn says, "the city decided to decommit the funding."
"Parks didn't come back with Plan B," says Zander Batchelder, president of the Belltown Community Council. "They just said, well, we're not doing this. That really pissed me off, because it was approved by a vote of the people."
The timing couldn't be worse for the city. On Tuesday, June 24, after The Stranger went to press, the city's parks levy oversight committee was scheduled to vote on the project list for a new parks levy that could go before voters later this year. The council could find itself in the position of soliciting voter support for another levy when it hasn't finished building what it promised in the last one.
Another element of the new parks levy that's likely to be controversial is $11 million in funding for upgrades to the 75-year-old Seattle Asian Art Museum building in Volunteer Park, which is owned by the city. The funding is the single largest item in the latest levy proposal, and comes at the expense of upgrades to two other facilities, the Green Lake bathhouse and the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. Supporters of the SAAM renovations say it will be tough to pass a levy that doesn't include the improvements; Cara Egan, a spokeswoman for the art museum, says the $11 million "is about half of what the total renovations will cost."