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Housing of God? St. Mark’s Cathedral considers future plans for its St. Nicholas building home to Gage Academy and Bright Water School

The St. Nicholas building (Image: The Bright Water School)

There could someday be more than housing for more than the Maker at St. Mark’s Cathedral but any possible changes are still years off as the congregation of Saint Mark’s is beginning considerations of what to do with a signature part of its 10th Ave E campus, the St. Nicholas building. A consultant has recommended changing the building into a multi-family residential development.

The building at 1501 10th Ave E, just north of the cathedral proper, is home to the Gage Academy of Art and the Bright Water Waldorf School. Both of these schools have leases that run through 2023, and the church is in the early phases of deciding what to do with the building when those leases run out.

Even though the consultants have made a recommendation, the Very Rev. Steven Thomason, dean and rector of St. Mark’s stressed that the church is still weighing its options, and that nothing is happening in the immediate future.

“We are not making any decision, any time soon, about what to do with the building,” he said.

The church’s involvement in the property stretches back to 2003. At the time, St. Mark’s and a group called the Willow Trust purchased the building from then-owner Cornish with an eye toward converting it into a parish life center. The church wasn’t ready to move forward with the life center at the time, and so they began renting it out (technically subleasing it, since the building is officially owned by an LLC made up of the church and the trust and then leased to the church) to Gage and Bright Water.

Now the members of the Willow Trust, who have thus far remained anonymous, are granting full ownership of the building to the church. So, the church is beginning consideration of what it will do with the property.

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Thomason characterized the exercise as due diligence, allowing the church congregation to be fully aware of their options. He noted that they are happy with their current tenants and remain committed to the leases for at least the next three years.

After those three years, though, there are some big questions. The building itself would likely require a few million dollars’ worth of renovations, including a new roof and seismic and mechanical upgrades. Paying for that would require a capital campaign, and there is always a chance that it wouldn’t raise enough funds.

But, working with a builder, they may be able to find ways to defray the costs by converting the use of the building. The property is zoned for residential use, on the historic registry, and there are height restrictions in the area, so Thomason said the idea of tearing it down to be replaced by Capitol Hill’s ubiquitous apartments is a non-starter. And the congregation recognizes the building’s place in the neighborhood.

“The church is keenly aware of the beauty of the structure,” Thomason said. “Our goal is to try to preserve the integrity of the current building.”

The building dates to 1926 and was built as a new home for the exclusive St. Nicholas School, “a private nonsectarian girls’ school founded in 1910,” Historylink reports. Four years later, St. Mark’s completed its rise on the land to the south of the school. Set back by the economic crash in 1929, the cathedral remained unfinished until a project to finish the limestone interior and upgrade the structure’s Depression-era glass was completed in 2018. St. Nicholas could use some similar upgrades.

The building in 1975 when it was home to Lakeside Middle School (Image: Seattle Municipal Archives)

There are still a number of options for redeveloping the building, Thomason notes, including adding in that life center that was the original purpose of the purchase. Toward that end, the church retained Meriweather Advisors, the real estate consulting company, to help them navigate the options.

Meriweather suggested the idea that it might be converted to a residential space. They are now soliciting ideas from developers on what that might look like, if they chose to go forward with the changes.

While funding for the church’s mission is a top priority, they are also planning to consider how they might integrate a parish life center, be it in the Saint Nicholas Building or somewhere else on the campus

Thomason noted that the church might even decide not to convert the building, and instead continue the leases with Gage and Bright Water.

If they do redevelop, Thomason said the idea would be to use any funds generated to further the church’s mission of social justice outreach.

“We are approaching this that whatever we do will be guided by enhancing our mission,” he said.

Members of the church are holding a meeting via Zoom to discuss the possibilities September 20th. Thomason said there isn’t yet a timeline for when they might take any next steps.

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5 months ago

I don’t know. Two schools is already quite a bit of social good.

I can’t imagine the limited addition of residential space possible in that building would matter in terms of increasing housing. Or are they talking about expensive housing for wealthy people? Then using the funds from the rents for other purposes? I suppose that makes some sense, though the optics on that seem pretty terrible.

It is their property to do with as they wish. I’m just not sure about covering this in a social good message if they’re kicking out two schools. Anyway, hardly the biggest problem we have right now.

5 months ago

What would comprise a parish life center?