The wooden box rests on a weathered chainlink fence and is less than 50 feet away from the massive construction site where the remains of a 12-story building have been all but pulverized into dust since the firefighters gave up on saving them on September 6, 2018.
It’s a question most “bikers,” “trippers,” and “trashmen” have asked since the site was first sealed off in June, and have never gotten any definitive answers as to why.
With the much-talked-about convention space under construction, the city of Seattle is determined to get the structure’s demolition started, even though some say it’s more destructive than necessary.
In July the City Council denied a contractor’s request to hang scaffolding from a large crane above the space until a structural engineer could review the condition of the piles on the site—a move the City Attorney argued went too far. The contractor, which is working on the site under the name Island on Fire, returned to the site with an attorney for further city reviews, and pleaded to have scaffolding installed to stabilize the construction site.
The site on the Edgewater Hotel on Lake Union is highly visible to anyone in the region, so it shouldn’t have been too hard to get an answer. Even the plan to do a more thorough analysis of the piles was loudly opposed by neighborhood leaders.
In another city when a controversy like this reaches a critical mass, the circumstances could easily be wrapped up in a murder mystery. But in Seattle, where the construction site is just a clear sightline from the Schwan Center, a historic landmark on a higher elevation, the silence has been too deafening for city leaders to take action.
No one—but especially no one—is denying the pile’s structural problems. Lumber that ought to be no more than a few inches high is 15 feet high and growing. And the old beams that support the roof have been bent back decades—from as much as 30 inches of soil underground.
Adding to the pressure for action is the fact that the building is now a significant economic liability for the city’s local hotels. The Schwan Center, which is adjacent to the building site, holds 80 percent of the revenue from hotel rooms and holiday events in Seattle during the winter season—which it relies on to pay for needed repairs. And there is no letup in sight: the proposed steel structures are nearing completion.
Mayor Jenny Durkan is in town this week to talk about new business initiatives—including climate change. Her spokesperson Tom Wade told Fox News that she is “very supportive of permitting this removal,” though the mayor was unaware of the “memorandum of understanding.”
It turns out that the statement—in other words, whatever is in the memorandum—was communicated to the media only after C.J. Chappell of Seattlepi.com got a hold of it.
There is no precise timeline for demolition, but the contractor and its subcontractors hope to keep the shovels in the ground as quickly as possible. Mike Smith, the deputy executive director for the Schwan Center, said that the building’s owners have “a reasonable amount of time” to make a decision about whether to issue an eviction notice to vacate the building.
He describes the possibility that a parcel of land across the street, occupied by a Whole Foods, could be sold and redeveloped as far more desirable—with a more upscale hotel and shopping, for example—as a disaster for the community’s hotel economy.
But perhaps Seattle can join our civilization’s great thinkers and recognize that cities have a sense of civic urgency around now: We still have time to solve this problem or, for that matter, to find a better solution. How about a new environmental official?
Martha MacCallum is a Fox News anchor and author. The author of “First Impressions: A New American History,” she is also the creator and host of Marist College’s Marist College Global Intelligence Academy.