It’s rare that a neighborhood group in Seattle would push for a historic building to be demolished, but the fight over First Hill’s Harborview Hall is not a typical one.
Members of the citizens advisory committee for Harborview Medical Center’s major institutions plan say they are on the ropes in a last ditch effort to have the art deco hospital building torn down to make way for some much needed public open space.
On Friday, a city hearing examiner will hear testimony over whether plans should move forward for a Harborview Hall preservation project.
A final decision is expected in the following weeks. Under King County’s plans, the hall’s 9th Ave facing facade between Jefferson and Alder would be preserved and much of the rest of the 11-story building would be rebuilt to include a 7-story addition.
Debate has gone on for years over the future of the 95,000 square-foot, 1931 hospital building. In 2011, CHS reported on Harborview’s plans to demolish the unoccupied building to make way for an open plaza as per the hospital’s overhaul plans. At the time, King County executive Dow Constantine also expressed an interest in finding a way to preserve the county-owned building.
In March 2012, the county selected Sabey Corp as its developer for a possible preservation project at Harborview Hall. Sabey soon got to work on proposing changes to Harborview’s “major institutions master plan” to allow for the adaptive reuse of the building. In October, the city’s Department of Planning and Development approved the preservation plans as a “minor” amendment to the hospital’s master plan. It’s that decision — that the changes did not constitute a “major” amendment — that the First Hill citizens group wants the hearing examiner to overturn. If the hearing examiner rules in favor of the citizen group, the county would have to resubmit their plans to the city.
John Dolan, a First Hill resident and member of the citizens advisory committee, has worked for years to have the original plaza plan re-instituted. Dolan said a plaza would go a long way towards giving patients and neighbors much some needed green space and keep the hospital from being so closed off from the rest of the neighborhood.
“It’s very sad and it doesn’t have to be this way,” he said. “I’m heartbroken that this has happened.”
The lack of green space isn’t the citizen advisory group’s only gripe with Harborview’s plans. According to the group’s appeal, Harborview’s planned parking capacity has not increased since plans to save the building were adopted. Since Harborview hasn’t used the building for years, the group also doubts claims that it could be used to further the cause of the public hospital. The county is including new green space as part of the preservation plan, but Dolan said it is a pittance compared to the original plaza.