Monday, February 28, 2011

March Happenings

Those who feel they haven’t already heard enough about the planned replacement of the SR-520 floating bridge will have two opportunities in March to get the word directly from the Washington State Department of Transportation.   On March 9 (1-3 pm) there will be a public meeting on the subject at the University District Tully’s (4700 University Way NE), and on March 14 (11 am-1 pm) another such meeting will be held at Seattle Central Community College, Edison Building Commons (1701 Broadway Avenue).   If you are interested in knowing more about what the opposition thinks of the bridge-replacement plan, there’s a recent posting on the Seattle PI site that does a pretty good job of summarizing the perceived negatives of the Governor’s “preferred alternative.”  Another source of anti-WSDOT rhetoric is the Coalition for a Sustainable SR 520, whose most-recent set of misgivings is available here.

[By the way, if you want to sign up for SR-520 electronic tolling (which will begin this Spring), you can—in theory—do so at this website.  We say in theory because the site apparently has had a few bugs.   And if you’ve already signed up for the Good to Go! program (WSDOT’s clever moniker for the electronic-toll payment system), so sorry: you’ll just have to start all over again.  Let’s just say the bureaucrats screwed up the original registration system. If you don't want to go internet, you still can buy a Good to Go! pass the old-fashioned way at your neighborhood Safeway and at other locations.]

There will be two opportunities in March to learn what’s happening with the Madison Valley Stormwater Project by attending “drop-in” sessions, presented by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). One session will be held on March 5 (9-11 am) at Casa Del Café (2818 E. Madison Street), and another will be held on March 11 (8:30-10:30 am) at Café Flora (2901 E. Madison Street).  If you are a Madison Valley resident or business owner in the area you may want to attend one of these sessions as a matter of self-interest.  SPU is asking for input concerning how to handle the following:  1) potentially doing some construction at night, 2) temporarily eliminating some additional parking along E. Madison Street, and 3) reducing traffic to one lane on E. Madison during certain periods of the open-trench construction.  In any event, Madison Park residents (like everyone else) should expect delays on Madison in coming months, whatever the specifics of SPU's ultimate plan. We will cover that story once decisions have been made on the timing and extent of these traffic restrictions.  In the meantime, information on the Madison Valley Stormwater Project is available at SPU’s project site.

The Pioneer Association of the State of Washington hosts its General Meeting on Saturday, March 26, at Pioneer Hall (1642 43rd Avenue E.), 12-1:15 pm.  Following the general meeting, speaker Jeff Rodgers (great, great grandson of Governor M.E. Hay) will share his Washington State pioneer family history, and John and Steve Lundin, Seattle attorneys and amateur historians, will share the story of their grandfather, Mark Odell, and his historical Northwest connections.  Doors open at 11:30, and the public is invited both to attend the session and to view the pioneer memorabilia on display at the Hall

Senior Services is sponsoring Aging Your Way, a gathering of “Baby Boomers and other older adults who plan to age,” on Thursday, March 3 (5:30-8:30 pm) at the Garfield Community Center (2323 E. Cherry Street).   The goal of the meeting is to bring people together to “envision a community that will help support everyone as they age.” According to Sabrina Jones, Community Organizer for Senior Services, the meeting is intended to be inspirational and to motivate people to work on projects that help make their community friendlier to everyone.  Specifically, participants will attempt to identify what “services, programs and supports will help people (including you) age confidently” in our part of town.  Reservations are required for the session, with the RSVP deadline being Tuesday, March 1.  Visit for more information, or contact Joanne Donohue at (206) 727-6206 (  Food will be served!

The UW Botanic Gardens is sponsoring a class in Pruning Woody Plants on Thursday, March 3 (9 am-3 pm) at the Graham Visitors Center in Washington Park Arboretum (advance registration required: $70, including lunch).  Another class “designed for the general audience,” Plant Identification, will include six classroom sessions on Tuesdays (7-9 pm), beginning March 8, plus two fieldtrips (March 26, 1-3 pm and April 16, 8 am-4 pm).  Advance registration is required: $160.  Information on both of these classes is available here.  Or you can call (206) 543-8801.

The UW Botanic Gardens is also bringing back the Environmental Summer Day Camp program this year for First through Sixth Graders (ages 6-12).   The cost is $250 per week for sessions that run from 9 am until 3 pm, Monday through Friday.  Drop-off and pick-up is at the Graham Visitors Center in the Arboretum.   Week One (July 11-16) is entitled “Native Plants and People”; Week Two (July 18-22) is entitled “Little Green Thumbs”; and Week Three (July 25-29) is entitled “Arboretum Detectives.”   There is a limit of 36 campers per week, and there are optional “extended camp” programs (at additional cost) for before and after the camp programs each day.  Information is available here, or you can call the phone number listed above.

Pharmaca (4130 E. Madison St.) is sponsoring an all-day (well, 11 am-6 pm) event on Sunday, March 13, entitled “Are all those pills you’re taking still relevant?”  Erik Altmann, ND, encourages you to bring in your supplements and pills for his evaluation of what he thinks is necessary and what isn’t.

[Photo of 520 Floating Bridge by David Hogan (Cap’n Surly) on Fickr, used by permission.]

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Merchants rally to McGilvra’s cause in March

If you thought that the recent dustup between the McGilvra PTA and the Seattle School District would lead to a decline in parental support for the School, it appears you’d be wrong.   The PTA is, in fact, about to embark on one of its most ambitious fund-raising efforts to date: a month-long partnership with local businesses to raise both money for and awareness of our high-achieving neighborhood public school.  The PTA hopes to benefit the businesses as well, urging McGilvra Elementary’s parents and supporters to shop the neighborhood aggressively in March, hopefully making this a win/win situation for businesses and parents alike.

During March, many Madison Park merchants will participate in the Round-up for McGilvra Elementary program, in which they will ask their customers if they’d like to round up their purchase balance to the next dollar, donating the proceeds to the McGilvra PTA.   Many businesses are also participating in the Night Out for McGilvra, a shopping and dining-out event planned for March 31 (4-8 pm), where a percentage of sales from each supporting merchant will be donated to the PTA.   Moreover, some businesses have agreed to make outright donations.

According to Don Philip, McGilvra PTA’s Vice President of Fundraising, the Madison Park Business Association was immediately on board to the idea of supporting McGilvra with a month of fundraising, once the idea was broached.  “This is a community school and you are community businesses, so why shouldn’t we work together?” was the PTA’s pitch to the merchants, he said.    Parents followed up by contacting neighborhood business owners face to face, including those who are not members of the Business Association. The PTA’s Karen Cretekos, who was involved in this outreach effort, says, “The reaction has been very favorable.”   Some merchants, she notes, even came up with their own ideas for helping the cause.

To date, the businesses that have elected to participate in the Round-up program or  to simply provide on-site cash jars for direct donations to the PTA are:  Bert’s Red Apple, Best Buds, Bill the Butcher, Canopy Blue, Cookin’ at Madison Park, Madison Park Cellars, Madison Park Hardware, Madison Park Jewelers, Madison Park Veterinary Hospital, Marshall’s Cleaners, The Original Children’s Shop, Park Postal, Red Wagon Toys, Scoop du Jour Ice Creamery, Spa Jolie, and Studio Karri L.

The merchants who’ve agreed to donate a percentage of their sales during the Night Out on March 31 are:  Bert’s Red Apple, Bing’s Bar & Grill, Cookin’ at Madison Park, Martha E. Harris Flowers & Gifts (covering gifts only), McGilvra’s Bar & Restaurant, The Original Children’s Shop, Red Wagon Toys, and IndieFlix.

According to Cretekos, Madison Park Café has agreed to host a benefit dinner for the McGilvra PTA on March 24, and Madison Park Conservatory has agreed to donate 15% of its breakfast and lunch sales on March 19 (10 am until 2:30 pm).   Bill the Butcher (Madison Valley) will donate 10% of sales from 3:30 until 7 pm every Tuesday in March (mention McGilvra Elementary and you will be entered in a raffle to win steaks and gift certificates).  The Attic, meanwhile, will donate 20% of all sales on Monday, March 14 (5-9 pm), and Arosa Cafe will donate 5% of sales between 9:30 am and 12:30 pm every day in March.  Other merchants making cash or in-kind donations include:  Mad Pizza, The Music Factory, the Madison Park Times, Key Bank, City People’s, Toby Lumpkin Realtor, and Tully’s.

The PTA’s efforts to involve Madison Park/Madison Valley merchants in its fund-raising efforts during March is only one element of the group’s plan to raise a total of $395,000 for McGilvra Elementary this year.  According to the PTA’S Philip, these funds will be used to provide enhanced education at the school, including enrichment programs such as music, that the students would not otherwise receive.   The PTA will also be using the funds raised to pay for tutors, particularly for those grades that have seen a big bump in enrollment this year.  

If you would like to contribute directly to the McGilvra PTA, visit or mail your donation to: McGilvra PTA Annual Fund, 4111 E. Madison St. #46, Seattle, WA  98112.

[Photo courtesy of the McGilvra PTA.]

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Do bloggers get vacations?

Winter Sunrise in the Methow Valley by Paul Butler (Methow Valley News)

In the nearly two years that we’ve been producing the Madison Park Blogger, we’ve never taken a vacation from the blog—until last week, that is.   Though we considered making an announcement of our planned hiatus, we thought better of the idea when we reflected on the fact that a blog is very much like Facebook or any other social networking site.  In other words, it’s probably not a good idea to post information that “telegraphs” to the world your house will be sitting empty for a few days, as ours was.  So we left without comment.

But now we’re back and ready to blog again.

Thanks to the many readers who checked the site religiously last week to see if there were new postings.  Take note of the fact that this is not necessary.  You can receive new blog postings automatically by subscribing to the Madison Park Blogger.  You may choose to get our content in a Reader or as an email.  Check the column on the right side of this blog for the subscription links.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The last spec house in Madison Park?

About 18 months ago we reported on the decline of speculative building in Madison Park, noting that several single-residence developers then active in our market, including Chaffee Homes and Blueline Developers, had decided to stop building new houses here.  Other developers were scaling down operations or just finishing off their properties then under construction.   

This shift was a big change from the previous ten years or so, when it became the norm in the Park for any cottage that was sold to be replaced by a giant house, often one built on speculation rather than by somebody actually intending to live there.  

But those days are gone.  In fact, we may be witnessing the end of spec-house development in Madison Park for some time.  There are only two spec houses currently nearing completion, and the several real estate agents we’ve questioned on the subject are unaware of any new speculative construction about to get underway.

Shown above is the second of two houses we covered last month in our report on short plats.  As we noted then, the house on the street side of this double-lot development sold before it was completed. This is the second house, now nearing completion, located at 2328 42nd Avenue E. With about 1,300 sq. ft., it will be priced in the $750,000 range and will probably be the last spec house to come on the market in Madison Park for the foreseeable future.

Another developer, M2K, is completing two houses (shown below), just to the south of McGilvra School.  With 5,870 square feet and priced at $2,875,000, the corner house at 3719 E. Garfield St. is one of three M2K houses constructed on adjoining properties over the past two years, one of which was No. 2 on the list of The 10 Most Expensive Madison Park Homes Sold in 2010, according to  That house, located at 1523 38th Ave. E., sold for $2.7 million.

But M2K, the last of the major Madison Park developers, is still sitting on an inventory of three houses, including one (pictured below) that was almost--but not quite--sold last year.  This house at 1406 38th Ave. E., just down the street and across E. Madison from M2K’s three-lot development, is proving a difficult sell.  Priced at $1,995,000, the 4,800 sq. ft. contemporary has been on the market for 645 days, according to Redfin.

Two other high-end spec houses in the neighborhood are also having their marketing challenges.   One of these, developed by a local realtor, is this 6,890 sq. ft. Washington Park view home located at 1217 39th Avenue E.:  

When originally offered for sale in 2009 it was priced at $4,290,000, but there was a price drop to $3,600,000 when the house was recently re-listed. The second unsold high-end spec house in Washington Park is one we profiled last year (“New Meaning for the Term Spec House”).  Located at 821 34th Avenue E., this “Old World Elegance” Megahouse, was a $5,650,00 structure when we posted our story. Today, its 5,498 square feet are a more affordable $4,900,000.

By our count, then, there are exactly six spec houses currently for sale in Madison Park, three to the north and three to the south of E. Madison Street.   We are also aware of two other spec houses that remain unsold here in the Park.  But in those two cases, the developers have elected to rent the houses and await a better market.   

Good luck on that!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Police Blotter 2/16/11

Here’s a story hard to believe.  For the three-week period, January 24 through February 15, there were no crimes in the neighborhood, or at least none that was reported to the police.   That’s the official Seattle Police map, above, showing a dearth of criminal activity for the period since our last Police Blotter posting.   Usually there are plenty of little icons on the map, representing three or four car prowls, a couple of breaking-and-entering incidents, and at least a few other random criminal acts (credit-card fraud, car theft and graffiti are the most likely other infractions).

But nothing at all for the past three weeks.  Based on our experience, the no-crime probability was so low that we assumed there must be a mistake.  Not so, according to Mark Jamieson, public information officer for the Seattle Police.  If there’s nothing on the map, it almost certainly means that there has been no police report during the period, he told us.  

How is that possible?  Has the weather just been too crummy for anyone to want to come down here and steal a car?  Or is it that we’ve simply given up reporting the kinds of crimes we’re most likely to be involved in; in other words, anything short of murder?  

To be fair, we should note that crimes that are reported utilizing the police’s on-line system do not show up on the map.  However, there are not that many people using internet-based reporting; and the kinds of crimes reported from our area in the past appear to be pretty minor (theft from a car, graffiti, etc.).  

If you are aware of any crime having occurred recently, we (and the police) would be interested in knowing about it, especially if you already officially reported it.  That would indicate that the map system is not entirely accurate.   If, on the other hand, you experienced a crime and purposefully did not report it, the reason for not doing so would also be interesting to us.   Officer Jamieson points out that it is critical for the police to know where crime is happening.  And as we’ve commented before, police staffing decisions are based in part on the number of criminal incidents reported in the various precincts.  Underreporting can mean under-policing, if that’s a term.

Last month, when we had some actual crime to talk about, we received an email from a victim of an incident reported on our Police Blotter.  Noting that “Diligence is the key to a successful neighborhood watch,” he ruefully commented that if he had done a better job of that he might not have been victimized—or, at minimum, might have been able to help the police catch the culprits. Here’s his story: 

Our garage was burgled and our car [which was inside] ransacked. The garage opens to a back alley.  The main garage door had been left open and was entered between my arrival back home at 6 am and the time I discovered the intrusion at 7:45 am.  They took a pair of men's skis, a snowboard and a box of misc. stuff. The only thing I can remember being in there were baseball cards, nothing of any significant value.  Nothing from the car or trunk was taken.

The aggravating thing is that I'm pretty sure I saw their vehicle idling in the alley when I went out at 7:45, but thought nothing of it as it was light out and it was a nicer vehicle (late model dark sedan, possible Saab or Audi).  It pulled away slowly after I appeared.  Kicking myself now for not getting a better look or a plate number. 

Brazen is the word to describe these people, as the skis/snowboard were inside the garage quite a ways, and they did it so late in the morning.  They were also savvy enough to turn off the headlights as the car faces the main house and the headlights shining in could've alerted me.”

Consider this a word to the wise.

By the way, just to show what a crime backwater Madison Park is relative to other parts of Seattle, just look at this map showing criminal activity in the general vicinity over the past week:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

About those property taxes

We understand from the County Assessor's Office that the 2011 property-tax bills went into the mail starting yesterday, so the homeowners among us are just about to officially receive the bad news.  The local press has done a surprisingly good job this year of preparing the public for what's to come; so if you've been paying attention you already know that in spite of our generally lower property values, you are still likely to be paying much higher property taxes this year.

The reason for this, as we've noted many times, is that there is no direct relationship between assessments (which were down an average of 1.3% in our area of town last year) and tax rates (which are up in Seattle by almost seven percent this year).  Assessments are the government's guess of your home's value based on movements in the market.  Tax rates are determined by the amount of money the government thinks it needs for the year, relative to the total value of the assessed properties in its taxing jurisdiction.   So, when property values decline while government's funding needs increase, the tax rate must be jacked up, first to offset the property-value decline and then to provide the additional tax revenues.  A sorry situation--even for renters, who will ultimately pay higher rates as their landlords' tax bills rise.

Since last year, according to the King County Assessor, the total value of Seattle property fell from $118.1 billion to $114.7 billion, a 2.9% decline.  At the same time, however, Seattle's total tax obligation rose by almost $6 million dollars, a 1.7% increase.

More funds needed from a lower property based translates into higher tax rates.  This year the City of Seattle tax rate has been increased from $9.04 to $9.66 per $1,000 of assessed value, a 6.8% increase.  This means that the tax bill for a home assessed at $700,000 will be $6,762 this year, versus $6,328 last year.  There are no official numbers available, but $700,000 is probably a good approximation of the median* assessed value of homes in Madison Park.  The average assessed value of homes in our Assessment Area is $1,148,000, which means an average annual tax bill of $11,090.

By the way, we did this to ourselves.  Of that $9.66 we're paying, over a quarter, $2.56, is the result of voter-approved initiatives, such as school levies.  The rest is primarily the consequence of spending decisions made by our elected representatives.

Last year, for fun, we took a look at how much our part of town (Madrona and Leschi included) paid as a percentage of the City's total tax obligation.  Our share had declined from 4.12% to 4.11%.  This year there was a much bigger decline, to 4.07%.  What this probably means is that there has been little construction in our area and therefore little additional property value created relative to other parts of Seattle, where new multi-family residential and commercial buildings are always being added.  The total value of property in our part of town declined from $4.86 billion in 2010 to $4.67 billion this year, down 3.9%.  

There's probably not much comfort, however, in knowing that as our property values fall and our neighborhood's share of total taxes declines, the absolute amount of taxes we each will be paying is still going to rise.

This year, as always, the staff of the Assessor's Office was extremely helpful in researching and providing assessment and tax data for us. One of the senior managers there chuckled as she told us how the process plays out every year at this time.  As the tax bills start arriving, she says, it's inevitable that her office will begin receiving calls from people complaining about the unfairness of it all.  Last year, she said, a woman called to say that since she had not voted for any of the tax levies, she shouldn't have to pay for them.  "Guess what?" the manager told the caller:  "Majority rules."

[*Here's a little refresher for those who are not math wonks: the median is the point midway between the top half and the bottom half of the range of values. It is generally regarded as a better measure of home values, since the average value of homes can be skewed by high or low outliers.  For Madison Park and the surrounding neighborhoods in our Assessment Area, high-end outliers, such as the $6.7 million waterfront home which recently sold in Washington Park, distort the average home value but have much less impact on the median home value.  If this is still too complicated for you, send us an email.  An additional note:  The 2011 tax bills are based on property values established at January 2010.   See the map above for the Assessment Area covered by this report (click to enlarge).]

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Maison Michel decamps

We had hardly completed our posting about the new Bob Marley photo exhibit at antique store Maison Michel when we got word that the store had, in fact, closed its doors earlier in the week.  Maison Michel thus joins a lengthening list of departing Madison Park businesses.  The store had seen its share of troubles, experiencing a burglary during the summer of 2009, and a hasty departure last spring from its previous location in the infamous Madison Street building of Constance Gillespie.   The store moved to its current location in the Villa Marina building on 43rd Avenue E. last summer, joining forces with McQuesten Fine Arts to include an art gallery component.

The sudden departure of Maison Michel is certainly not welcome news for Villa Marina's owner, Lakeside Capital Management, which is attempting to push the retail core of the Village a little closer to the Lake.  Lakeside has just finished building out a new (and interestingly configured) retail space in the building, right next door to the now-departed Maison Michel.  The "For Lease" sign on that unit went up last week.  But 43rd is a bit off the beaten path for Madison Park shoppers, and it has been reported to us that Maison Michel's owner, Michael Schoonmaker, was complaining about the lack of foot traffic past his store almost from the moment he arrived.  And while the street is not entirely devoid of retail, there's certainly not much.

In fact, apart from the Madison Park Conservatory directly across the street,  the only business drawing foot traffic to the street, as far as we know, is Terzo Salon, the rebranded remnant of Spa del Lago.  The salon moved into the Villa Marina building earlier in year, leaving its former space across the street vacant.  So by our count, that means three retail units on 43rd now awaiting tenants.

Starbucks to experiment with wine and beer

When we reported last summer that our biggest neighborhood coffee purveyor was soon to be renovated, we said patrons should expect no significant changes to the menu as a result of the revamp.  We noted that although Starbucks had recently been experimenting with evening wine and beer sales at one of its Capitol Hill locations, the company had no intention of extending the experiment to Madison Park.  We had that on pretty good authority.

Within 24 hours, however, Corporate Headquarters took note of our story, and we were asked to take our posting down.  Which we did.  Starbucks later requested that before we reposted the story we remove all mention of alcoholic beverages.  We suspected that we had not heard the last of the issue--and we were right.  Starbucks now confirms that wine and beer will be on the menu once the Madison Park store has been revamped.

Moreover, what was originally thought to be just a minor re-do of the existing space is actually going to be quite a transformation.  Starbucks spokesperson Stacey Krum admits that it's now a more ambitious project than first envisioned.  The new store will, in fact, be similar in design to Starbucks' Capitol Hill location on Olive Way--including "green elements," lots of wood, and new furniture and fixtures.

What happened?  According to Krum, the Corporation has learned some things at Olive Way and wants to expand the experiment begun there by trying it out in the very different environment of Madison Park.  She tells us that the wine-and-beer thing has gone over very well at Olive Way, and Starbucks is pleased with the way people have responded to the new options and to the completely revamped space.

The remodeling of the Madison Park store will take place over the next two months, with construction scheduled to begin as early as late February, according to Krum.  The store will be open during the remodeling, so patrons will get to watch the progress.  There is almost no structural work involved, says Krum, who adds that some of the construction will be done at night.  However, as it looks now, the Community Room will probably have to be closed during all or part of the construction period.

Starbucks has set up an easel in the store showing some design concepts and finishes, for those interested.  There will also be a formal presentation of the remodeling plans for the new store and a chance to ask questions of the Starbucks design team on Wednesday, February 16 at 5:30 pm.  New store manager Andrew Nix, who begins his assignment this week, will be present.  Those who plan to attend are requested to RSVP to

Saturday, February 12, 2011

February Happenings

It’s time again for the Japanese Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum to open its doors and get ready to celebrate the beginning of spring (so we hope). The Garden, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary last year, will emerge from its winter hibernation this Sunday with a traditional Shinto “Blessing of the Garden” ceremony and other opening events, which begin at 11 am. The Japanese Garden (shown above) is located at 1075 Lake Washington Boulevard E.

McQuesten Fine Art’s gallery in Maison Michel (1928 43rd Avenue E.), this month has on display never-before-seen photos of Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley that were taken by Seattle photographer Edward M. Melillo during Marley’s USA Survival Tour. The photos will be on view through the end of the month, at which time, the gallery will close. Owner Dee McQuesten reports that she is just too busy with her framing and fine art consulting business to devote the time necessary to keep the gallery operating at the optimum level. It is expected that Maison Michel will continue to put art on display, as well as the antique furnishings that are the mainstay of the store. Maison Michel moved from E. Madison to its new location during the summer last year and McQuesten added her gallery to the mix soon thereafter.

Madison Park Conservatory begins its Sunday neighborhood dinner series this Sunday, February 13, with a pre-Valentine’s Day dinner hosted by Lucio Gomiero, owner and winemaker of Vignalta Winery (located in the Italian Veneto). There will be one seating at 7 pm, for what the restaurant describes as a special dinner with the special wines of Vignalta. Details, including the complete menu, are available here.

The MPC, by the way, is not only beginning its Sunday dinner program but has now extended service into the daylight hours: Thursday through Sunday, 10 am until 2:30 pm. They are not calling what they're serving lunch, but rather the day menu. Last week that meant chickpeas and salt cod with a six-minute egg, baked eggs, salads, fresh baked goods—and “more.” The Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E. (206-324-9701).

Pharmaca (4130 E. Madison St.) hosts “Maximize Your Cardiovascular Health” with Erik Altmann, ND, tomorrow, February 13 (1-2pm) at the pharmacy, and “Stress and Depression” with Jason Peterson, ND, on Saturday, February 26 (1-2 pm).

Finally, we have this promotional teaser from Bill the Butcher in Madison Valley (2911 E. Madison St.): come into the store and find where we have hidden “a bit of love” in the form of something shaped like a heart. You’ve got until tomorrow to come up with and take a photo of the discovery, which then must be posted (details available at the store). Winners will be awarded a couple of choice steaks for Valentine’s Day.

[Notice to event planners, non-profits, and businesses located in Madison Park and Madison Valley: Madison Park Blogger will be posting a monthly Happenings report in which we will aggregate events expected to occur in the neighborhood during the coming month. If you wish to participate, please email us well in advance of month end with your information. We reserve the right to include or exclude at whim.]

[Photo of the Japanese Garden in winter (2009) by SpiralCageon on]

Thursday, February 10, 2011

KeyBank crashes the ‘hood

On Monday, KeyBank will open the fourth bank branch to grace Madison Park, and the first new one to arrive here in several decades. Those hoping that the space vacated last year by Ropa Bella would be filled by small retail shops (or even a neighborhood sushi joint) will just have to suck it up and deal with the fact that the Village is becoming a little more financial hub and a little less boutique row.

As we reported when the deal was first announced, Key is ostensibly coming to the Park to be closer to its customer base, given that the closest Key branch is located on First Hill. But as we all know, Madison Park is also where the money is, and it’s generally not a bad idea for a bank to follow the money. So, at 9:00 am on Monday, Valentine’s Day, KeyBank will open its Madison Park doors for the first time, holding an all-day Open House featuring cookies from Madison Park Bakery, chocolates and salted caramels from Oh! Chocolate—and free cash for everyone.

We’re kidding about that last part.

KeyBank’s operation here is headed up by Manager Brooke O’Malley, a bright and eager six-year veteran of the Bank, who for the past three years has managed a KeyBank branch on Capitol Hill, where she resides. She’s a graduate of the UW and of Seattle U’s MBA program. In her new role she heads a staff of seven.

O’Malley claims to know the territory well, since her grandmother lives in Washington Park Tower and O’Malley has been coming down here for years, walking the neighborhood with her grandmother and visiting the shops. Since the announcement of her new job she’s made the rounds, and she tells us “the interaction I’ve had with people so far has been great.”

O’Malley reports that KeyBank has made a special effort to be sensitive to neighborhood concerns, beginning with mitigating the noise and unnecessary disruption related to construction of the branch. Additionally, she says, Key worked with the Madison Park Community Council to ensure that the Bank’s signs were compliant with neighborhood standards. And in order not to further impact the difficult parking situation on Madison Street, she says, the Bank has asked its employees to park further away from the Village.

KeyBank has also committed to being actively involved in the Madison Park Business Association and to providing financial support for neighborhood projects. Even before officially arriving in the Park, Key was a contributor to last summer’s successful Art Walk, sponsored by the Business Association. O’Malley says that the Bank will continue to look for ways to contribute to the community.

KeyBank is willing to contribute a bit of money to you, too, if you're willing to open a new account there. But since the Madison Park Blogger is a banker in real life, we're naturally reluctant to use this blog to shill for a competing bank. You'll therefore have to go into the branch for yourself to learn how to get that promised monetary reward. Do it before they run out.

[KeyBank’s Madison Park branch is located at 4105 E. Madison Street. Monday’s Open House continues until 5 pm.]

Monday, February 7, 2011

McGilvra prepares to move on

If they were hoping to hear that the School District would relent and not dramatically increase enrollment at McGilvra, those attending last week’s PTA meeting were quickly disabused of any such notion. School Board member Harium Martin-Morris was on hand to deliver the word from on high: the contract between the School District and the McGilvra PTA will be terminated and the School should expect as many as 300 students to be enrolled there next year.

The hundred or so parents and teachers who crowded into the school library Tuesday evening were given plenty of time to vent about the situation, but what followed was a productive discussion, led by School principal Mary Lane, about they ways McGilvra can adapt to the changed circumstances—and perhaps even thrive. Many parents who came to the meeting skeptical about the School’s prospects are reported to have had a change of heart after hearing Lane’s presentation.

But it was clear from the start of the meeting that before any discussion could take place on the question of “Where to from here?” there would have to be a discussion of “Why are we here in the first place?” On that score, Martin-Morris, who represents a district that includes McGilvra and extends north to View Ridge, did a good job of fielding the parents’ challenging (though generally not hostile) questions.

Former PTA President Bob Steedman questioned whether the School could physically accommodate 300 students, noting the small size of the School’s two portables, the inadequate cafeteria, and limited bathrooms. Martin-Morris responded by explaining the basis on which the District calculates “functional” capacity, and argued that on that basis 300 kids could fit into McGilvra. He noted that the Seattle Public Schools are growing at the rate of two or three small elementary schools per year (500 to 600 new students), and the district he represents has grown more than any other part of Seattle. The excess capacity at McGilvra will be needed to accommodate this growth, he said.

Skeptical audience members questioned why, if that’s true, the District recently sold the one-time Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Madison Valley. Martin-Morris responded that the MLK site was not viable as an elementary school because of lot size and anticipated repair costs, therefore not meeting the District’s needs. A parent also questioned why McGilvra was being expanded when there is apparently significant excess capacity at Madrona Elementary School. Martin-Morris said that Madrona has had management issues that are still in the process of being resolved. He went on to enumerate other issues impacting the School District, including the cutting of State funding and the fact that several Seattle elementary schools, because of the demographics of their neighborhoods, are already operating above capacity. He said the enrollment dilemma for the District as a whole is only going to get worse.

After about an hour of “Why, why, why?” from those assembled, a parent summed up the resigned mood: “Okay. This is done. This has happened, and now we need to deal with it.” Another parent agreed, saying “It’s not that they are picking on little McGilvra. It’s an uncertain time, but we need to be optimistic and positive. Grumbling among ourselves is not going to help.”

With that, the discussion moved on. Earlier in the meeting PTA Co-President Will Kilbourne had presented what he described as a wish list for the future of McGilvra, a set of principles that had been developed by an ad hoc committee of parents. The parents, he said, felt that small-group learning was important and that enrichment programs needed to be available in the School to allow for individual student growth. They also preferred single-grade classrooms.

Principal Lane, however, cautioned that whatever the School does to respond to increased enrollment should be research based and not simply re-engineering old approaches. “I challenge you to look outside the box and be creative in dealing with the new situation,” she told the audience. She noted, for example, “There are some very positive advantages in multi-age grouping. We do not see this as a negative approach.” What this would mean in practice is that there would be some classrooms with two grades, for example with second and third graders learning together. With the increased number of students in the School, she said, “it’s not going to be possible to only have single-age classrooms.” She added that multi-age learning would allow for better differentiation in teaching individual students at the School, with the challenge being to make sure the students are properly grouped. Another approach known as looping, where teachers remain with their students over a two-year period, may also have some advantages for McGilvra, she said.

Lane told the audience that “organizing our resources to support early intervention is a guiding principle” for McGilvra. One way to do that, she said, would be with the use of additional tutors. Kindergarten, which is expected to grow to 88 students at McGilvra next year, would be in single-age classrooms, as would first grade. This might mean as many as four separate Kindergarten classrooms if the projections hold up. Because of the probable imbalance of the number of students in Kindergarten compared to those in first grade next year, looping and multi-age learning will probably not be possible for those classes.

Lane reaffirmed her commitment to the School’s enrichment programs, including Art education, and noted that McGilvra’s literacy programs might even be enhanced by larger class sizes. “There are all kinds of things that we are looking at that are actually exciting,” she said. But the bottom line is that no decisions have been made regarding next year. “I know this is scary and you want what’s best for your children. We do too.”

Lane said that an on-going dialog with the PTA will be necessary for the School to be prepared for what’s coming, and she ended by urging everyone to keep an open mind: “We may get something that is even better than what we have.”

[Photo: Principal Mary Lane explains why change is sometimes okay.]

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Starbucks manager moves on

After eight years with Starbucks, four of them as manager of the Madison Park store, Iaan Hughes hung up his green apron yesterday afternoon for the last time and bid at least a temporary goodbye to all of the many friends he's made during his tenure here. Although Iaan says he's not sure what the next thing is going to be, we understand he is not hurting for potential employment opportunities.

Why is he leaving? "It was time," he told us, noting that he'd been thinking about doing it for several months. The job has been great, he said, and he has enjoyed the relationships he's formed with Starbucks' patrons and others here in the Park. But he'd like to try something new, and now he has the time to figure out exactly what that'll be.

Meanwhile, he's keeping his two other jobs: disc jockey for radio station KBCS-FM 91.3--where he spins bluegrass, country, and rockabilly--and blogger ( If you missed your chance to say goodbye to Iaan, his email address is
Iaan's replacement, Andrew Nix, was on the job today but had made a strategic exit from the premises by the time we swung by this evening to check him out. More on him later...

[Thanks to Barbie Hull for letting us (without her knowledge) steal this photo of Iaan from her blog.]

McGilvra grapples with a new reality

As we reported last month, enrollment at Madison Park’s John J. McGilvra Elementary School will be increased dramatically in coming years as a result of a recent decision by the Seattle School District to end a decade-long agreement with McGilvra’s PTA. That agreement, which had limited class sizes in the School in order to improve and sustain the quality of the students’ educational experience, was covered by a formal contract which still has another ten years to run. The District recently concluded, however, that maintaining the agreement would not be “equitable.” As a result, the decision has been made that McGilvra’s enrollment, which had been capped under the contract at about 250 students, will be ramped up to a projected 300 students, perhaps as early as the next school year.

The implication of this new policy is that there will be a 20% increase in average class sizes at the School, something the McGilvra PTA says it is very concerned about. Although the parents briefly considered a legal fight, they concluded that rather than fight they will have to regroup and find a new way to accomplish the goal of ensuring “McGilvra remains a vital community school,” in the words of PTA Co-President Maria Bridge.

When the contract was first negotiated with the District in 2000, it was seen by the McGilvra PTA as the likely solution to a problem that had plagued the School for many years. Although McGilvra was ostensibly a “neighborhood” school, only 10% of the 235 students attending McGilvra in the late 1990s were from the School’s attendance area, according to the PTA. Moreover, the quality of education at the School was considered low. Neighborhood parents decided to change the equation and hit upon lowering average class sizes as the key to improving the educational experience and attracting neighborhood kids into the School. The parents agreed to fund the purchase of two portable classrooms and to annually raise funds sufficient to pay for approximately three new teachers at the School. The District, in return, agreed to the enrollment cap. The addition of the portables plus the conversion of an interior space into an additional classroom resulted in the average number of students per classroom being reduced from 26 prior to the contact to 21 thereafter.

The agreement appears to have achieved its goals, according to the PTA. Neighborhood enrollment at the School substantially increased (to about 50% of the School’s attendees last year), while the quality of the education received by its students dramatically improved. Students at the School consistently outperform both their City and State counterparts on standardized tests, and McGilvra was one of only five Seattle elementary schools honored during the last school year with a Washington State Achievement Award. From the PTA’s point of view, the contact was working as intended.

So what happened? School District spokesperson Teresa Wippel provided this explanation: “We recognize and appreciate the key role that our parents and our PTSAs play in supporting each of our schools. We also believe it's in the best interest of Seattle Public Schools to make centralized decisions about staffing and class size so there is equitable allocation of space. By owning the [McGilvra] portables, we can ensure the most efficient use of the school's classroom spaces and determine the appropriate staffing level consistent with our funding formulas.” She adds that the District is not abrogating the contract with the PTA but simply exercising its right under the contract to buy the portables back from the PTA (an expense the District estimates to be $60,000 or less). That, however, effectively terminates the contract at its half-way point, giving total control to the School District to determine future enrollment at McGilvra.

The McGilvra PTA now has to deal with what is a fait accompli. Before telling the PTA that the contract’s enrolment caps were no longer operable, the School District already had increased the number of students at McGilvra. For this school year, 270 students were enrolled at the School compared to 246 students last year. There are currently 266 students enrolled; and of these, 70% are from inside McGilvra’s recently enlarged student attendance area, which includes Madison Park and surrounding neighborhoods. The big enrollment increase came primarily in the Kindergarten class, which grew from 39 students to 54 students, year over year. The PTA’s immediate reaction to this has been to hire part-time tutors as a pilot program to help reduce the adult-to-student ratios in the two Kindergarten classrooms.

McGilvra’s PTA has been raising well over a quarter of a million dollars each year to support quality education at the School. Last year, this funding represented about 20% of McGilvra’s operating budget, according to the District. In spite of the changed circumstances, says PTA Co-President Bridge, “Our PTA will continue to raise money to support our teachers and students at McGilvra. We think it’s more important than ever to do so.” She notes that funds raised by parents will most likely be used for academic enrichment, such as supporting the School’s arts programs and the library. Additionally, the PTA may give assistance in core academic areas, such as providing math specialists and tutor support.

Nevertheless, there’s concern by parents that larger class sizes will have a negative impact on the quality of education their children receive at the School. Ann Skrobut, who has two daughters at McGilvra, says she’s been frustrated with the School District’s leadership, though she understands there are a lot of very big issues on their plate and respects the work they are doing. Nevertheless, she adds, “One would think that they might focus their energy on the schools that actually need their help and leave the ones that are doing well alone. I feel like we have had more than our fair share of turmoil: poor leadership, lack of support for special education, and now too-big kindergarten classes.” That said, however, she believes that the McGilvra community will come up with creative solutions to deal with this new challenge. “The volunteers I’ve worked with aren’t going to let something we have worked so hard to build be compromised,” she adds.

Corinne Crabs, a McGilvra parent actively involved in the PTA, is also concerned about the new enrollment levels. She says that studies show that lower class sizes are especially important for children in Kindergarten through at least the second grade. Her husband, Karl, shares this concern, adding that the process also bothers him. “I’m always suspicious of greater centralized decision making,” he told us. “I hope the central planners at the District actually have some ideas about how to keep parents engaged at the individual school level. It seems that the District should be facilitating all that funding and energy coming from the PTA, instead of becoming a bigger bureaucracy.” He adds that he’s still hopeful the PTA can find a way to keep McGilvra an outstanding school.

For its part, the McGilvra PTA is being circumspect, at least in its public pronouncements. Co-President Bridge admits, however, that the termination of the ten-year contract with the District is a disappointment. “We as a parent community felt strongly that this agreement benefitted all of the children at McGilvra, as well as the School District,” she says. “Under our contract we were able to not only educate significantly more students by increasing the capacity of our school at parent expense, but to do so with excellence.” She adds that the PTA was “very flexible in trying to negotiate a fine-tuning of the agreement to meet all of our needs, but the District stated that they were not interested in the same kind of partnership that we have had together.”

Bridge tells us that the McGilvra PTA will be investigating how some Seattle public schools with larger class sizes than McGilvra’s have still been able to maintain high academic achievement. The PTA will simply have to consider assisting the School in some new ways. “Our teachers and parent community have met daunting challenges before,” she says. “Suffice it to say that the parents at McGilvra will do whatever we can to continue to support our incredible teachers and do the best for our students.”

[The McGilvra PTA met last night to discuss the implications of the School District’s decision to ramp up enrollment. We will provide a full report on that discussion in a posting later this week.]