New details are emerging about a potential buyer who historic preservationists say could have provided an alternative to the coming demolition of Providence Heights.
According to the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, the trust had found an investor who was willing to buy the entire campus, which was built for the Sisters of Providence in the 1960s. The investor wanted to use the property, which contains 200 dorm rooms, as a veterans village, while still preserving all of the buildings, including the chapel with its 30-foot stained glass windows.
The campus, which was voted an Issaquah landmark by the Issaquah Landmarks Commission in July, is currently owned by Plateau Campus, LLC, a subsidiary of Churchome in Kirkland (formerly known as The City Church).
According to a settlement agreement reached Oct. 24 to end a lawsuit between Churchome and the city of Issaquah, Churchome is free to follow through with its intent of demolishing the campus. Churchome has stated that it needs to demolish the campus because the land can be resold at a higher value, and the church claims it needs this money to fund its religious mission.
Last year, the Issaquah School District voted to exercise eminent domain over the property, with the goal of putting a new high school and elementary school on the site.
According to Jennifer Mortensen, preservation services coordinator with the Washington Trust, Churchome “claimed they could not enter into any sort of purchase agreement with the investor while the eminent domain process was going on with the school district.”
However, Mortensen said that the lawyers with whom the Washington Trust has been consulting said that “the school district has no legal bearing on the property until they actually assume ownership.”
She added that she believed Churchome was looking for “a way to get out of engaging with investors.”
Churchome did not respond to requests for comment.
Churchome’s alleged rejection is all the more devastating, Mortensen said, because the investor was offering the fair market value for the property if it were developed into housing lots.
“This never happens, that someone waltzes in with tens of millions and says, ‘I will fix all of your problems.’ It was just a total miracle,” Mortensen said. “It blows my mind that people would turn him down.”
The trust would not disclose who the interested investor is or how much he offered for the property.
The campus, Mortensen said, is built in a way that it “could last a long, long time and really thrive” if it were not demolished. She pointed to Europe, which she said “secularized a lot faster” and “c[a]me up with unique solutions” for its older, religious structures so that they did not have to be torn down, but instead could be reused.
Chris Moore, executive director of the Washington Trust, said that the investor and the trust had located another property that they believed the district could be use for new schools, and that the investor had been willing to work to secure the property for the district.
However, according to the trust, the district stated that it had already looked at the site in its property search around the area, and deemed it unsuitable.
“My guess is that Providence Heights fulfilled more criteria, and the district might have seen it as easier,” Moore explained, noting that Providence Heights is all one parcel and has a willing seller.
Still, the trust feels that the landmark designation of Providence Heights alone should have been enough reason for the school district to turn its eyes to another possible site.
“From our side, the fact that this campus is there should have been a reason not to select that site,” Mortensen said. “It’s really disappointing that preservation isn’t valued high enough.”
“The school district decided that tearing down a historic structure is less problematic than other locations … but I don’t believe the school district, using taxpyer dollars, should be involved in tearing down a region’s history,” Moore said.