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Proposed facility in old K2 Vashon Island plant could be national model for towns

Richard Sontgerath is hoping to parlay his years as a developer specializing in older and historic buildings into a sprawling non-profit health and wellness facility on Vashon Island that he thinks could become a national model for smaller communities. But first he needs $40 million. Sontgerath has the background, enthusiasm and the vision to bring about K2COMMONS, which he touts as a multi-faceted community center that would occupy the 160,000-square-foot facility that was once the K2 ski-manufacturing plant. What he needs is "a $1 million baby" to provide the rest of the $2 million necessary to fund the two-year runway he figures will be required to raise the total of $40 million to make the project a reality. The "reality" of Sontgerath's dream would be "a Wellness Center, including many of the activities that increase wellness in a community," in the old facility that the ski manufacturer abandoned five years ago to move its operations off the island. Sontgerath, 62, and his then-partner Truman O'Brien (now a member of the 501C3 board) originally had a purchase-and-sale agreement with the K2 owners when they began putting their K2COMMONS plan together about five years ago as a for-profit entity. But that agreement expired almost four years ago and they've operated in the facility since then without an agreement. Songerath is hopeful he can convince the firm to donate the building and its18-acre site, which K2 has been unable to sell or lease, to what has become a non-profit ownership that will operate in much the manner of a public development authority. Who will want to put money into the project? Sontgerath is convinced that "social investors" will be attracted and suggests "if you look at the list of foundations, as in the PSBJ Book of Lists, there may be only one or two of the top 25 who would not be candidates for a pitch." "K2COMMONS will raise the quality of life for an entire community and the list of foundation descriptions, you see health, wellness, community building, at-risk youth, families, nonprofits, arts and environment over and over," he adds. Two of Sontgerath's board members have put up part of the initial $1 million. At first, the plan drew a mix of support and opposition from residents of Vashon, an island about the size of Manhattan that's reachable only by boat, a 22-minute ferry ride from Seattle. Some of the island's 10,000 residents viewed Sontgerath's dream as a benefit in terms of possible job creation while others feared it would take jobs away from Vashon's business district. But converting the ownership from private to non-profit reduced many of the community concerns, Sontgerath says. Plus K2 had the property rezoned from manufacturing to community business. Sontgerath believes that K2COMMONS can be a national model for community centers in many towns around the country where manufacturing buildings have been left abandoned as jobs and companies disappeared. And because of the considerations about a "model" that could be implemented elsewhere, Sontgerath says the project will utilize state-of-the-art energy and water systems to achieve a 'zero impact' community center. Sontgerath, president of Heritage Group Ltd., a real estate development firm which specializes in older- and historic-property restorations and urban revitalization and affordable housing projects, has the right background for the project. Since 1980, his firm has guided three major Seattle renovation projects in the Pioneer Square area, as well as doing conversion of historic buildings in Omaha, NE, and Des Moines, IA, into affordable housing As Sontgerath leans over the drawings where details of the vision take shape, he points to a possible 20-room boutique hotel (called oHTEL), a k2 museum, a suite of one-person offices, bowling center and café, a winery, business incubator, daycare center staffed by senior volunteers, tennis courts, conference center and a healthcare facility. Opting for the conservative side, he projects that the center would provide "at least 70 good-paying jobs" on the island, for which the loss of K2 and the loss of Seattle's Best Coffee roasting operations, closed after SBC's purchase by Starbucks, have been economic blows in recent years. He figures another 70 jobs would be created over the two years of construction and build-out. Other than the retail businesses in Vashon's town center, the island is home to more than a dozen small family farms, praised in a New York Times article earlier this year as "the kind that in most places were swallowed up by big agribusiness decades ago." The Times article called Vashon "a rural throwback," just fine to the many prominent residents, particularly artists, who make their homes there. But most residents need jobs. Sontgerath says design architect for K2COMMONS will be Bohlin Cywinski Jackson at the direction of Peter Bohlin, 2010 AIA Gold Medalist. He describes it as "a collaboration really of the original Architect, along with Peter Bohlin, and students from the UW School of the Built Environment." The detailed financials that Sontgerath has put together would create a modest enough square-foot cost that he says "we can create a rent-revenue ratio that basically guarantees success for any tenant." Meanwhile, K2COMMONS would provide "between $500,000 to $1,000,000 per year to be reinvested back into the community."
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