SDCI permits show that what’s going up next door to the Eagles nest is not a parking garage, but a five-story hotel with four live-work units, 10,500 square feet of retail and below-grade parking for 213 vehicles.

Developer reneges on 400-unit parking lot at Eagle’s site, plans for hotel

The plans to build a parking lot at a once Fraternal Order of Eagles commercial property have now changed, and what’s going up in its place is a five-story hotel.

The property at 5244 Leary Ave N.W. was once owned by the Salmon Bay Aerie of the Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E.) but was sold to Jim Riggle, a Ballard developer, last year after a contentious battle among members and trustees.

Accusations flew as Riggle, owner of Olympic Athletic Club (OAC) and Hotel Ballard, allegedly swayed the Eagle’s club decision by enrolling his own OAC members in order to swing a vote in favor of purchasing the property.

The Ballard News-Tribune reported last year that the OAC offered to pay for its members to join the Eagles. Membership dues were $36. Also, the OAC circulated a flyer that said they would to build a structure at the purchased property with space for 400 units. They were encouraged to vote. The OAC also promised a “special party” at the Ballard Hotel (catered by Stoneburner with a raffle and live music) after the final Feb. 6 vote as a “special ‘Thank you!’ to everyone who made the effort to make it possible to solve the parking problem!”

Hundreds of new and old F.O.E members showed up to vote. After a two hour meeting the vote was declared to be in favor of the sale 211-78.

People said Riggle’s ploy was unbecoming to the Eagle’s bylaws, their spirit and their democratic tradition. Members quit. The Eagles even suspended members who opposed the sale, including long standing trustees and their own president at the time, James Forgette.

And what was at the crux of the matter? Money and parking. According to trustees, the Eagle’s were struggling financially, and Riggle was willing to pay what was believed to be a good price for the lot. Riggle offered $2.4 million for the property. Barry Hawley, a commercial broker, reported that the appraised value of the property was $1.6 million to $1.9 million if it wasn’t polluted. The site was once a Chevron gas station and will require a clean up that would cost at least $500,000, which the Eagles considered a potential financial liability.

Furthermore, with parking becoming an ever-increasing problem in Ballard, Eagle members and OAC members expressed desire for more of it. Riggle promised Eagles and OAC members special access to the new lot.

However, now a year later, plans have changed. SDCI permits show that what’s going up next door to the Eagles nest is not a parking garage, but a five-story hotel with four live-work units, 10,500 square feet of retail and below-grade parking for 213 vehicles.

The Ballard News-Tribune caught up with Riggle last week, and he shared a different opinion of what happened last year and talked about his plans for the hotel.

Riggle explained that he is still and has been a longstanding member of the Eagles and that the trustees have been involved in the plans for a hotel.

“We are exploring the option of building more Hotel rooms so we can better serve the local community by accommodating more guests. The population growth in Ballard, combined with all of the new office space being built in Ballard, appears to support it,” said Riggle.

“The officers and trustees are aware that we are exploring the option to build a hotel. We in fact widened the space between the buildings from five feet to 10 feet in order to accommodate seating and a better walkway. … Eagle’s members will receive the same parking discount as OAC members who do not use the Club.”

Riggle denied that the OAC led people to believe he would build a 400-unit parking structure.

“We agreed to build additional parking and allow the Eagles to park and pay the same discounted rate as OAC members, which will happen. A specific number of parking stalls was never negotiated or agreed upon because we didn’t know what type of structure we would be building. The current plans are for up to 230 spaces.”

The Ballard News-Tribune procured a copy of the flyer made to OAC members, and it does indicate construction of a 400-space parking structure. The Seattle Times also reported the figure.

As to how many OAC members were actually recruited to vote, Riggle didn't know for sure.

“I don’t know. 15-20? But, the final vote was 211-78. Therefore, it didn’t impact the vote. I support the Eagles and they need and want new members, especially people who live and work nearby.”

Riggle’s tactics to swing the vote were called “shady” by many members. The Ballard News-Tribune asked Riggle if he thought the way he procured the property was misleading.

“No. We were completely transparent with the Eagles. As you know, we paid considerably more than the appraised value of the property. Also, we agreed to assume liability for the underground oil tanks and contaminated soil on the property, which was formerly a gas station.”

Indeed, but incidentally, on the night of the vote last year, one member questioned if the OAC would make good in providing parking for Eagles members in the future and whether a 400-unit parking garage would even come to fruition. He pointed out to the hundreds of people at the vote that the OAC had been sued in 2011 for attempting to void lifetime OAC membership contracts when it changed their name on their business license but retained the same governance (Olympic Racquet and Health Club to Sewanee, Inc).

Riggle denied to comment on further details about plans for the hotel. However, it may be noted that Riggle has had a less than positive response from the public about the design of his other hotel, Hotel Ballard. Back in 2013 The Stranger asked if Ballard was doomed and drew attention to the aesthetic of the then new hotel. Commenters responded:

"This particular new building, the Ballard Hotel, is hideous, looks like it belongs in Vegas next to the fake Eiffel tower."

"You don't see any problems with a behemoth of yellow stucco punctuated by air conditioning vents and balconies that wandered in from a Southern Plantation mail-order catalog? You have no qualms about archways of chalky, chunky sandstone on loan from the Magic Kingdom collection? The entire Hotel Ballard facade (and the hotel interior, I'm told), screams of money without context or taste."

"Horrid horrid horrid hotel. ... It looks it was transplanted from suburban Phoenix."

"You can tell Hotel Ballard lacks any self-consciousness by the street sign proclaiming its rooms to be 'opulent.' Sorry but I expect my rooms to be plutocratic. That building, including the adjoining restaurant, belongs in Kirkland."

The design review meeting is scheduled for tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Ballard Community Center. Check for details about the meeting, and look to the Ballard New-Tribune as this story develops.

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