Two proposals for the Old Chamber of Commerce building “couldn’t be more different.” One will cost up to $20 million and one for an estimated $450,000.
City council was offered two proposals Wednesday night, May 15, for the Old Chamber of Commerce building at 300 Rainier Ave. N.
One proposal, The Aviator, from Raven Real Estate group calls for demolition of the building and creation of a four story “gateway to the city” plaza that could include a restaurant, rooftop solar panels, retail or commercial space and underground parking lot. The project is estimated by the proponents at $20 million.
Alexandra Raven told council as Renton residents, her and Radley Raven have seen the lack of gathering spaces and want to be a part of the city’s recent developments to increase that.
“We realized the neighborhood is really primed for a larger-scale project,” Radley Raven said.
The other, Yene Boona Café and Roaster House, wants to keep the building and remodel it as an Ethiopian coffee shop and roaster. The owner, Mimi Girma, told council she was born and raised in Ethiopia before moving to Washington, and was encouraged in 2017 to start her coffee business. This project is estimated by the proponents at $450,000.
Girma’s husband Yonathan Kahssai referenced Mayor Denis Law’s State of the City address, and the city’s focus on inclusivity.
“It’s one thing to say you’re minority-majority, but it’s another to say (there’s) equity,” Kahssai said. “I believe the equity is not minority-majority. So for that reason we’re asking you to consider our proposal.”
The Aviator proponents said there will be an extensive overhaul required to keep the building, which is why they propose demolition. Yene Boona proponents said the building doesn’t need to be demolished, but instead just needs a “community feel.”
During a briefing at a Renton Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday, May 13, each proponent had 15 minutes to get through their proposal for the site.
The building currently rides the line between airport and city property. This is a concern for councilmembers, who will have a discussion at the next committee of the whole meeting on Monday, May 20, to find out whether the building falls under the strict leasing guidelines around the airport.
At the May 13 meeting, Council President Don Persson said he was concerned the proposing parties were aware of the short lease policy at the airport, where 35 years is standard.
“Gregg (Zimmerman) and I’ve been through this before, so I want to be very upfront,” he said.
The Aviator would move the property just to the airport side, and Yene Boona proponents said it would only use the city-owned side of the building.
One issue not discussed at the committee of the whole meeting was the current tenants, which are primarily an emergency weather shelter and Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches (REACH) services.
Renton’s Human Services Manager Guy Williams said although nothing has been decided yet, the city is exploring possible options for alternative emergency weather shelters in the event the old chamber building is sold. Williams also said they will be engaged with REACH and making sure they use the facility as long as they can. Williams said they might get portables if needed to accommodate for REACH.
According to airport leasing policies, administration will review each application, analyze their financial capacity, draft a lease, obtain a legal review and then formally submit the proposals in an agenda bill to city council to make the decision.
The Reporter has contacted REACH and will update the article as more information is available.