Tukwila businesses facing displacement because of the city’s police station and city courthouse plans say the city needs to increase the help it’s offering them — or some businesses owners will go under.
“I hate to say it but they’ll go out of business without relocation [benefits],” said Simon Castle, paint shop manager of Heiser Body Co., one of the dozens of businesses at South 150th Street and Military Road that face displacement for a planned police station and municipal courthouse.
The city of Tukwila plans to acquire the property for the justice center via eminent domain, a process that allows the city to compel the landowners to sell their properties to the city at fair market value.
The process does not require compensation for business owners who lease the properties. Most of the affected Tukwila business owners — many of whom are immigrant entrepreneurs who have spent years in their locations — are renters.
Some of those businesses have organized to push the city to increase the relocation assistance it is offering. They met for the first time last month.
“The intent of the meeting was to figure a way that we can petition for relocation expenses,” Castle said. “Since the city has indicated there will be no or only minimal relocation costs paid to the displaced businesses, we were advised that coming together as a group would be a more effective measure than going at it alone.”
The group includes a 6-member “multicultural coalition” committee, a majority of which are people of color and a woman.
“The meeting went well… we did organize a small committee to represent the group,” said Bayview Motor Club owner Tofeek Mauda.
Property value and rents are rising in Tukwila. Many small businesses will struggle to survive unless they get the city to fully reimburse displacement costs such as moving costs, downtime expense, finding new property and increased rent, Castle said.
Castle says the body shop employs 40 union-affiliated painters and that it would cost the business $2 million to move. He said in the current economic climate, it seems unlikely that they would be able to find another appropriate location within the Tukwila city limits.
“Without these expenses reimbursed, there are going to be many unique businesses that will have to close up due to the fact they can’t afford to move, or can’t afford to pay higher rents in this economic climate. As such, we have had to form this coalition to fight for the rights of all the business owners involved so that we can preserve our businesses that we have all worked so hard to build,” Castle said.
The group has hired Pacific Public Affairs, a public relations firm, and at least two businesses are privately retaining law firms whose representatives attended the meeting for informational exchange. Castle said he hopes attorneys are not needed for the coalition and that Tukwila treats the small business fairly.
The group plans to submit a petition the mayor’s office and city council members at the first Tukwila council meeting in January. There’ll be two new council members, one of whom is an immigrant.
Castle said a coalition of business owners can mobilize their collective resources.
Despite public outcry during a public hearing in November, Tukwila City Council members unanimously voted in November in favor of allowing the mayor’s office to use condemnation proceedings to acquire the land needed for a voter-approved a $77 million public safety bond measure that passed last year.
Castle said he and other business owners are still upset that they received two weeks notice for that meeting.
“As a business owner, I am disappointed that we, like every other business involved, received only two weeks notice prior to the ‘rubber stamp’ vote at the City Council meeting.”
Other businesses owners have hired their own attorneys to push the city to help them with relocation expenses. Attorney Kinnon Williams, who represents Riverton Heights Grocery, also criticized Tukwila’s notification process.
Williams said other public entities, including the city of Seattle and Sound Transit, have a practice of notifying businesses and property owners months — not weeks — in advance of a possible public project that might be built on their locations.
“Sound Transit, they’re sending out letters years in advance, even when they don’t know exactly which properties will be affected,” Williams said. “The thinking is, ‘How are we going to do this with the least amount of harm?’ That really wasn’t done in Tukwila.”
But Tukwila officials say they are offering relocation assistance to the businesses — in the form of advice and other help. And officials are working on a formula to provide some monetary assistance, based on the business owners’ needs, said Derek Speck, the city’s Economic Development administrator.
“Currently, we offer listings of available properties for sale and lease,” he said. “We also make introductions to specific property owners in the area who might have available sites.”
Speck said the city is sympathetic to the business owners’ plights and is doing what it can.
“They are going through a very significant disruption that affects their owners, their employees, and their customers,” Speck said. “We will do the best with the resources we have… Although we are not required by law to provide assistance to the businesses, we want to do what we can afford.”
Speck said the city is also trying to find a new location for the smaller affected businesses.
“We are researching if there is a way to partner with Forterra and Abu Bakr Islamic Center on their project to purchase and convert an old motel into commercial spaces for small businesses so that the affected businesses can move as a group into that location,” Speck said.
Williams criticized the city’s plans, saying that the state and federal government already have a standard, which includes paying for all of the business’ moving expenses.
“It’s about equity and it’s about fairness,” he said.
While Castle and other business owners plan to go before the city council this month to argue for increased help, Castle remains frustrated with the process so far.
“I am thoroughly disillusioned with the city of Tukwila,” he said. “The fact that they can state that they are not paying relocation costs, despite the fact that it’s the right thing to do and despite other city councils in the King County area that have done so.”
Additional reporting by Venice Buhain.