Thursday, August 9, 2007

Sabey to Demolish Part of the Rainier Cold Storage Building Complex

This comes as no surprise to any of us who took one of Sabey Corporation's recent building tours, but the company has announced plans to demolish the rapidly sinking/crumbling Stock House portion of the Rainier Cold Storage Building on Airport Way. This includes the building across from the Vespa dealership, and the facade across from Jules Maes.

They invited us neighbors to tour the building last month so later we could present unbiased testimony as to its state of disrepair. It's an old brick building that was used as an ammonia freezer for decades, to the point that the ground underneath was frozen solid for 24 feet down. The building heaved up an entire foot on top of this ice ball, and now it's in the process of thawing out. And subsequently sinking.

So yes, I can testify that it seemed unsalvageable. I was actually a little scared to even be inside it. They had marked Xes on the walls across cracks, and you could see that their marks had visibly shifted just over the course of some months.

In an e-mail to the Georgetown mailing list today, Sabey representative Jim Harmon wrote:

The silver lining here is that a new building can be placed of equivalent mass, setback off the street to create pedestrian room, allow reasonable vehicle access and circulation, and open up the "great wall" between the east and west sides of Airport Way. This building is in the process of being designed.

Johnson Architecture + Planning, whose work doesn't blow me away but could certainly be worse, is supposed to have some designs done by September 1. Let's hope they're on their best game for this project, which will one of the biggest changes to the neighborhood since I-5 went in.

Here's the application to the Landmarks Review Board to get permission to demolish the structure. You can see the maps and the history and everything there.


John said...

Jva, I haven't had a chance to scour all of the proposed demo documents, but there is a question in my mind: did Sabey actively pursue engineering remedies to save the building, or did they actively pursue a justification for demolition, seeing that saving the building would substantially cut into the bottom line?

Considering all of the historial buildings in Pioneer Square and along 1st Ave S that saw major damage after the Nisqually quake, yet so few saw demolition, it seems plausible that the point of all the meetings may have been to diffuse potential opposition and bad PR in a very activistst neighborhood against a decision that was already made in the finance department. It's a classic corporate "grassroots" PR strategy, similar to "greenwashing" and "wise use" that we saw in the 80s to counter other kinds of polical action.

What do you think?

JvA said...

Good question, TPN, and I don't have a good answer. I haven't examined all the documentation either.

Their line is that they walked into it with an open mind, and later they discovered that the building was unsalvageable.

Whether this corporate developer really walked into it with a completely open mind or was secretly hoping to demolish and reconstruct, I can't say for sure. It seems unlikely they'd buy into the project without a hope they could build something new and profitable.

But what I do know for sure is that the building seems unsalvageable to me. It is not like the buildings in Pioneer Square; it is sitting on a block of ice that is going to continue to melt for years. How do you fix an ammonia-soaked building sitting on top of a melting block of ice?

And I have no doubt that Sabey reached out to the neighborhood and offered these tours so people like me would end up doing exactly what I am doing this very second. Yes, it was smart PR.

Now that I have seen the inside of the Stock House, I believe them that it can't be saved. And my concern is not about what they would have done if the building had turned out to be borderline salvageable instead of completely unsalvageable, but rather what they will put up in its place.

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