Ace is slipping away

The clock is running out on Ace Hardware’s effort to find a place to build and stay in Sammamish.

The lease expires at the end of August 2013. So far, every effort to work with the City of Sammamish to find a new location and clear the path to build has failed. It’s not for not trying.

Tim Koch, the owner of Ace here in Sammamish, must get a permit from the City in January or February if he is to immediately start construction and have a building completed by the end of August. So far, all efforts to work with the City and find a solution have come to naught.

Koch contracted to buy some property in the Southeast Quadrant of the Town Center, but regulations crafted for the Town Center–for developers in mind, not a single applicant, which has proved a flaw–stopped Koch cold. There are many complex reasons, ranging from roads to storm water drainage to Koch wanting to proceed with a single building that conflicts with the Town Center Plan desire to avoid more strip malls.

The City refused to allocate part of its $3 million in funds dedicated for the Town Center infrastructure to help Koch get started. Why? A year after allocating the funds in the budget, the City had not crafted criteria for doling out the money. Setting aside the immediate issue of Ace, I find this year-long inaction to be inexcusable, frankly.

Regulations and demands by the City drove Koch’s development price up to $3.5 million, including hundreds of thousands of dollars for a temporary road and storm water costs. Had the City had criteria for dispersing its money, perhaps some of these costs could have been mitigated.

The City was urged as far back as 2009 to offer financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis as last-money-in for storm water or parking garage costs.

What this means is that whoever was prepared to develop first, regardless of what quadrant came first, the City should be willing to provide financial support provided the developer had all but the final piece of funding in place.

The City never adopted this policy–and three years later, Koch was expected to bear the entire cost at a time the City could have kick-started the Town Center.

Koch’s Ace wouldn’t have been the only beneficiary. I’ve learned that as many as six other businesses were prepared to join Koch in a new commercial center.

Also back in 2010, the City Manager terminated Town Center Project Manager Michael Matthias, who had shepherded the Town Center Plan through the Planning Commission and City Council, removing the key point man from implementation of the Plan and sending a message that implementation wasn’t a priority. Manager Ben Yacizi said it was a cost-cutting measure. Matthias now heads a Tumwater development plan.

In January 2012, I proposed in a seven page memo to the City Small Business Incentives and Enterprise Zones as ways to ease development in the Town Center. The Staff reviewed it and sent it to Council’s Economic Development Commission–which promptly shelved it, where it sits nearly a year later. Here is the document: Sammamish SBI_TCEZ.

At the behest of Tom Odell, after he became Mayor in January 2012, the City engaged a consultant to tell them (among other things) what the City was or wasn’t doing to promote the Town Center. Among other things was the absence of a Michael Matthias-type and an Economic Development Commission, two things persistent critic John Galvin had pushed the Council to have ever since Matthias was terminated. And Galvin was absolutely correct.

The City Manager has proposed several budget items for 2013 to implement recommendations from the consultant. But three years have been lost to inaction and missteps.

The City has failed to:

  • Adopt a last-money-in approach to provide financial assistant;
  • Adopt a first-come, first-serve approach to financial assistance;
  • Have a Town Center Development Manager;
  • Create an Economic Development Commission comprised of the business community and developers; or
  • Consider, at the Council’s EDC level, any of the proposals I submitted nearly a year ago.

With respect to the Ace situation, it has to be noted and acknowledged that the Staff has spent hundreds of hours at no charge (typically this time is billed) trying to find a solution for Koch. Efforts continue to try and find a location that can at the least serve as an interim solution. But Regency, the landlord to Ace, owns all but the Saffron complex (where Simone’s restaurant and other businesses are) and Ace’s options are very, very limited.

Ace serves about 150,000 customer visits and pays the City about $73,000 in taxes annually. This is all about to go away unless some solutions pops.

From a practical standpoint, there is no solution I see that is available to Ace that would allow construction of a building before the lease expires. With Regency owning almost all commercial space and favoring national chains over local business, this leaves only the Saffron complex within the City. There are physical constraints to this solution.

 

 

 

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5 Responses to Ace is slipping away

  1. Is Sammamish capable of functioning as a City? While there are a few high-visibility things that get done fairly well, it seems there is a much longer list of “not ready for Prime Time” activity, “planning for the future” among them. Honestly, there are many times I think I’d be happier to cleave the place at the Zip Code line and split it up between Issaquah and Redmond…I’m not sure anyone really appreciates what Ace adds to this place in terms of quality of living. It’s one of the few stores here I find indispensable.

    • I couldn’t agree more. The Sammamish city government doesn’t appear to have the ability to function as we grow. While I’m no fan of growing a large commercial business sector in Sammamish, we still need businesses such as Ace. I say it’s time we look to new leadership capable of getting things done in an efficient and effective manner.

  2. Sean Smith says:

    I think the city should help build a (temporary) building for Ace on the land it will lease from the YMCA as part of the community center. If the building design is done right, the space could be re-purposed once Ace finds a permanent home. The building could then be a rental space for possibly a: winter season farmers market; flea market; auction house; dance hall; indoor remote controlled car race track; indoor soccer field. The possibilities are endless!

    Let’s have an advisory vote on this.

  3. ysohigh says:

    An article sent to City Council and City Manager November 16th that sheds more insights into the issues at hand.

    Dear Council and City Manager,

    The current town center plan as it currently exists limits anything from happening. The plan requires a developer to come in and build the whole thing via a UZDP. We aren’t a big enough community to draw this infamous developer to the community as Mr. Curley mentions with his experience talking to a shopping center developer. The numbers simply do not work to make something happen.

    During this transition we need the ability to develop what is meaningful services to the community. As Mr. Odell points out we need a few restaurants and some services. These few restaurants and services could be the beginnings of Town Center here in Sammamish. We need to start somewhere. Mr. Odell goes on to mention he doesn’t want a large development here anyway.

    This is very disturbing to hear since the Town Center plan very clearly shows what appears to be the equivalent of a Redmond Town Center here in the Sammamish town center area (the City of Sammamish promotional Town Center Video is Here). There are some glaring disconnects between what is envisioned by the City Manager and his staff and the City Council that need resolved.

    There is no feasibility for any large project in the Town Center under the current guidelines. There is also equally no capability to create some much needed restaurants and additional services under those guidelines either as proofed by the Ace proposal. We’ve successfully boxed ourselves into talking in circles and getting nothing done.

    Why is it that the “UZDP” requires 1 elusive developer to be responsible for our fate? This Town Center plan is designed for failure. I found it very refreshing to hear Mr. Gerend comment about making much needed changes to the plan which might enable some of the scenarios that keep us from moving forward.

    There was also mention of a LID for paying for infrastructure which seems premature. There are many more obstacles that need to be resolved before this happens. Adding a LID on top of the deep stack of development hurdles is insult to injury.

    Finally, our demographics are similar to Bellevue but our location is more like Duvall or Carnation (both of which have more diverse services than us). Demographics are a very small factor in our development potential that I believe has been over weighted in our psychoanalysis. We’re a smart over achieving community but how much value does that really add when you’re not near a freeway, don’t have infrastructure, no parking garage, Low Density, 10% Low Income Housing, Poor Traffic Orientation, TDR’s and a UZDP requirements?

    We need out of the box.

    Alden Linn
    22609 SE 4th St
    Sammamish WA 98074

  4. Seth Eliot says:

    From: Tim Koch, Ace Hardware
    Date: Mon, Dec 3, 2012 at 9:44 AM
    Subject: Save Sammamish Ace Hardware!

    Dear Valued Ace Customer,
    We appreciate your interest in supporting our efforts to stay in business on the plateau! This is how you can help! Come to the next City Council meeting, Tuesday, December 4th at 6:30 pm and share with the Council why you need Sammamish Ace Hardware to stay on the plateau.
    We sincerely appreciate all of our customers and hope to continue to serve you! We have attached a short document with Frequently Asked Questions and Topics of Discussion. We hope to see you at the City Council meeting, this Tuesday at 6:30 pm!
    Sincerely,
    Sammamish Ace Hardware

    Save Sammamish Ace Hardware

    Thank you for participating in our efforts to: Save Sammamish Ace Hardware

    We hope you attend the next City Council Meeting:

    Date: Tuesday, December 4th
    Time: 6:30 p.m.
    Where: City Hall at Sammamish Commons – Council Chambers
    801 228th Avenue SE

    Your presence at the meeting is valuable. By sitting together and supporting our cause, you are sending a signal to the City Council that this issue is important to the people they serve.

    At the beginning of each City Council meeting, the Council provides an opportunity for members of the public to address the Council on issues of concern. It is during this time that we ask you to provide your opinion to the City Council on the proposal currently before them with regards to relocating the Ace Hardware.

    At the meeting, you are encouraged to participate enthusiastically. If you are inspired to applaud or offer some other observation, fantastic! Just please remember to keep within the bounds of common sense, courtesy and respect. Remember, we are trying to win the support of the City Council!

    We’ve attached a page of FAQs and Topics of Discussion that support our cause. You are welcome to use these if you decide to speak at the meeting. However, your own personal observations are the most important thing to offer. If you cannot attend the meeting, then consider sending an email of support to the City Council at:

    citycouncil@ci.sammamish.wa.us

    You may also call City Hall to leave a message for the Council at 425-295-0550 or you can send each Council member an e-mail to provide your thoughts. To obtain individual contact information go to the City webpage and select City Council on the left.

    Working together, we will make a difference.

    Thank you for standing up to: Save Sammamish Ace Hardware

    Frequently Asked Questions:

    Q: What do we want the City Council to do on December 4th?

    A: Ask the City Council to direct staff to fast-track the Development and Property Exchange Agreement.

    Explanation: The City Council does not have the project in front of it for approval yet. We need the Council to direct staff to fast-track the project which requires Council approval of a Development and Property Exchange Agreement and to bring it back to the City Council for deliberation and decision.

    Q: What will the Development and Property Exchange Agreement do?

    A: The Agreement will approve a land swap between the City and a private land owner, and approve the new Ace Hardware on 228th Avenue NE just south of NE 4th Street.

    Explanation: To make it work, the City is being asked to swap land with a private property owner and approve the project. The private property owner is ready to create replacement storm ponds for the City and to build the new Ace Hardware.

    Q: How does this save Ace Hardware?

    A: Ace Hardware would get a new long-term lease and a new store.

    Explanation: The new store cannot be built unless the City approves the land swap and the project. If approved by the City Council, then the property owner can move forward to build the new store and enter a long-term lease with Ace Hardware.

    Q: Why can’t Ace Hardware lease different space?

    A: There is no location within the City of Sammamish that has the space and proper zoning to take Ace Hardware.

    Explanation: The City is not large and it was quickly determined that there is no other developed location that can Ace Hardware could relocate to.

    Topics of Discussion

    Issue: Why does the City need to fast-track the project?

    Discussion: Ace Hardware’s lease expires on August 28, 2013. The new store must be fully constructed before then so that Ace Hardware can move to the new location prior to the expiration of its lease. Construction needs to start in February. Normal city approval timelines are 4-6 months or more. Without a fast-tracked approval by the City Council, the new store cannot be built in time and Ace Hardware will close.

    Issue: Traffic Reduction—Project Reduces Vehicle Trips off the Plateau

    Discussion: Without Ace Hardware, every car trip that went to Ace Hardware will need to drive off the plateau to find a hardware store. That will make traffic worse and will require more vehicle miles and hence more energy usage. Because Ace Hardware does a great job of stocking special products, many of those vehicle trips will need to go further such as to Woodinville or Renton to find the same products making the problem that much worse.

    Issue: Economic Development—Save Jobs

    Discussion: The loss of Ace Hardware will mean the loss of 25 jobs. These are good jobs and many are full time key employee family wage jobs. Many Ace employees have worked there for years and Ace has provided jobs to many of our youth over the years. These employees cannot easily transfer to other similar jobs since new demand with likely be spread to many stores, some far away, making it inconvenient for employees living in Sammamish. Plus, there is a different culture in big box stores.

    Issue: Economic Development—Save Tax Revenues

    Discussion: The loss of Ace Hardware will mean the loss of sales tax revenue that will now go to Redmond, Issaquah, and other cities. Saving Ace Hardware means keeping the residents’ tax money here at home, rather than sending it to other cities.

    Issue: Valuable Community Resource

    Discussion: Ace Hardware is more than a hardware store. It is a community gathering place for residents to mingle and exchange information. Plus, Sammamish residents go to Ace Hardware to learn how to accomplish Do-It-Yourself projects that improve their homes and neighborhoods. Ace Hardware supports the greater Sammamish community in a way that big box stores in other cities cannot do.

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