The Kenney previews new design that saves the Seaview building

May 5, 2009 at 12:03 pm | In Development, The Kenney, West Seattle news | 1 Comment

That’s architect Gene Guszkowski, showing one of the new renderings that his firm AG Architecture has drawn up since The Kenney changed its mind about demolishing the iconic century-old Seaview building as part of the $150 million redevelopment project it’s been working on since last summer (first WSB report here). He presented the new plan last night at Fauntleroy Church during a community meeting organized by the Morgan Community Association and Fauntleroy Community Association; as MoCA’s new president Deb Barker put it, “The owners and architects are here to get feedback from you”:

Barker is a former chair of the Southwest Design Review Board, whose current members will see The Kenney’s proposal a week from Thursday (6:30 pm 5/14, Senior Center of West Seattle). So what feedback was offered last night by the 30-plus in attendance? Read on for details and more photos:

The Kenney’s CEO, Kevin McFeely, opened by saying, “I think you’re going to be excited by what you see here tonight” and promising to incorporate further feedback. As he turned over the mike to Guszkowski, the architect said, “Working on this project has been energizing.” He also joked about jet lag, since his firm is based in Wisconsin, and he has traveled here multiple times as this project has gone through a multitude of meetings (see our archived coverage here).

He recapped the evolution of the proposal; though our first report was in August, the first Design Review Board evaluation was in October (WSB coverage here). After going through the months of history, he got to the pivotal part of the recap, suggestions from the public and Design Review Board members, “why not save the Seaview building?”, which project managers had insisted just wouldn’t work with the plan, for reasons from its location on the site to the configuration of its interior spaces.

“Our first thought,” laughed Guszkowski, “was, ‘are these people nuts’? Then – ‘this may be within the realm of possibilities’ … gave way to the notion ‘could we move this building?’”

As reported here April 14, The Kenney consulted with experts, most notably Nickel Brothers, which specializes in saving and moving buildings (its local rep, Jeff McCord, is a West Seattleite and former Design Review Board member). Then, said the architect, the focus turned to, “So if we move the Seaview building, what would we do with it?”

kenneycupola.jpg

Answer in the current proposal: Commons and administrative spaces. Guskowski went on to describe how it might be moved — bring it up in the air and slide it forward about 180 feet to the forefront of the Fauntleroy/Myrtle corner:

The architect admitted the mere idea of picking up the cupola-topped building and moving it has him fascinated: “I’m getting into fantasizing, when they move this thing and every TV camera in Seattle is here and it’s on CNN … think of how good it would be for The Kenney and Seattle.”

But first, there’s the matter of the building’s potential status as a city landmark. It’s NOT one now – but McFeely says they plan to “self-nominate” (if they had gone ahead with the demolition plan, it would have undergone landmark review anyway, as is the case for every half-century-plus-old building) and that a consultant’s report on that is complete. If it becomes a landmark, that comes with pros and cons – pros, potential financial incentives – cons, city approval would be needed for changes, including the moving proposal itself.

But the new proposal is not all about saving the Seaview. Guskowski said, “The second big idea that’s come out of our meetings, is the challenge of bring service into the building off SW Othello, which is narrow” – that’s the street on the south side of The Kenney’s property. So now they’re working on figuring out how to create a service area off Fauntleroy, along the east side of the site.

A few more details about the new plan – this might not include a large underground parking garage as was previously envisioned; “enclosed” parking is the word used last night, possibly with “some” underground parking. The large “donut” building at the heart of the site would be built in two phases. Part of it would be fronted by three-story-high sections to “create articulated pedestrian space (around the building) … with a constant rhythm of green space, building, green space, building, all the way around the site.” On the west side, the building would be set back 62 feet from the street.

While this plan preserves the Seaview building, it no longer includes anything resembling the “park-like space” that now exists at the northwest corner of the site. That drew a question from an attendee who asked if architects had yet done the tree survey that had been repeatedly requested at previous meetings and will be required before construction, since some of the larger trees may have to be preserved per city regulations. Answer: No; the trees most likely to be saved, Guszkowski said, are along the northwest edge of the site. Also requested in that exchange, a “sun angle survey,” which Guszkowski said could be done by the May 14th Design Review meeting.

Other questions/concerns included:

Size of the units? 800 to 1400 square feet.

Are they apartments or condominiums? Neither, explained Guszkowski, whose firm specializes in retirement centers: “They’re owned by The Kenney – you pay an entrance fee that’s like the value of a single-family home – then monthly fees for the services you get. When their stay is over, the entrance fee is returned to their heirs. You’re basically trading the value of your homes for living here.”

A “green roof” was suggested, so that residents could watch the sunset, or garden.

What’s the biggest impediment to moving the Seaview building, asked another attendee. Answer: “We’re working with structural engineers, talking about how we’re gonna strap this baby together, pick it up and move it … if it falls apart while we’re moving, we’ll put it together as best we can. It’s a careful tradeoff we’re trying to make. The tradeoff is,” Guszkowski explained, “the dollars spent in tearing it down and building something new, versus the dollars spent to move it. It’s going to be one of the most interesting challenges of my architectural career.”

Then came questions about height. More massing diagrams were shown – this one looks at the site, in the proposed configuration, from the south side, with Seaview moved to the northwest corner:

The center building, while potentially six stories, was described as two stories higher than the Fauntleroy entry, because of the site’s grade. The highest spot on the site, with the new buildings, would not be as high as the roofline of the relocated Seaview building.

Regarding another height/view concern, the architect promised that the building “is not going to have huge electronic elevators … or a huge mechanical equipment penthouse” that could raise the elevation of the structure: “It’ll be a collection of smaller units.”

An attendee who said she’s representing “people who couldn’t come” said she still feels the neighborhood hasn’t been listened to, because of the not-honored-yet requests for a tree survey, and because of the street-vacation process that would be required for part of the south side of the site, which she noted would be a complicated process.

If all goes smoothly from here, McFeely says construction would start in about a year; it would be done in three phases, as described before, starting with the south side of the site, where a new “health center” would be built. Asked about financing for the project, previously estimated at about $150 million, he said: “We have not secured financing yet, partly because of what’s been going on in the economy … we wanted to be a little further along in the process before we went out for that. … We will begin seriously looking for financing in the next three to four months.”

But first, there’s the Design Review Board meeting, which again is at 6:30 pm Thursday, May 14th, at the Senior Center in The Junction. Public comment is always welcome and encouraged at DRB meetings, so if you have anything to say about this project, be there.

FAUNTLEROY NOTE: As FCA president Bruce Butterfield mentioned at the meeting’s end, a neighborhood-preparedness meeting as part of the SNAP program (Seattle Neighborhoods Actively Prepare), coordinated by FCA, is set for Fauntleroy Church at 6 pm this Thursday.

1 Comment

  1. It is encouraging that the process of hearings and community meetings seems to be working in the case of redevelopment of the Kenney. An earlier meeting brought forth a suggestion from one of the attendees to move, instead of demolish the historic Seaview Building. The architect and Kenney have taken the idea and run with it. Now, instead of finding reasons it would not work, they are looking for ways to make it happen. Let us hope it works out.

    Comment by Ron Richardson — 9:34 am May 6, 2009 #

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