Sale of M.L.K. school building is done deal

The Seattle School District confirmed in February that the sale of the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School site in Madison Valley had been finalized and ownership was transferred to the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME), as approved by the Seattle School Board in a controversial decision late last year.

FAME was the lowest bidder for the site, and the district walked away from the millions of additional dollars it would have received had it sold the property to neighboring Bush School.

Scandal connection?
There had been speculation by some opponents of the sale that the FAME purchase could be overturned. According to several media outlets, the basis for the hope of reopening the M.L.K. school-sale decision is the fact that then-district official Fred Stephens was heavily involved in FAME at the time the district agreed to sell the M.L.K. building to the church.

According to the Seattle Weekly, Stephens’ father was a one-time pastor at FAME, and Stephens himself was active in the church. This connection has led some to speculate that Stephens had an unfair role in getting the school district to accept a lower offer from FAME for the M.L.K. property.

The School District, however, rejects these claims of possible conspiracy or, at minimum, conflict of interest in the M.L.K. sale. School-board member Michael DeBell was interviewed on KING-TV stating that Stephens had nothing to do with the district’s decision-making process.

However, Adrienne Bailey, leader of the Madison Valley residents who wanted to create a community center at M.L.K., was also interviewed, stating that she has evidence in the form of e-mails that show Stephens was, in fact, involved in the district’s process.

Short of proving the sale of M.L.K. was a fraudulent transaction, however, it is difficult to see how the district could be forced to try to recover the elementary-school property now that the deed has been transferred. There’s been no comment from FAME on the supposed Stephens connection to the property sale.

Restrictive uses
Meanwhile, there have been questions as to whether FAME has the right to dispose of the M.L.K. site and keep any profits the church might realize from the sale.

According to the M.L.K. purchase and sale agreement and the related restrictive covenant agreement, it appears that FAME is not prohibited from selling the property so long as certain community-use conditions continue to be met. The executed documents are not available on-line, but the school district confirmed that “the draft was not significantly different from the final” documents.

As a practical matter, however, it seems unlikely that anyone would want to buy the property from FAME with the restrictive covenant in place. If community use of the site does not continue at the level contemplated by the agreement, rent will need to be paid to the school district for the conversion to non-public purposes.

For example, $6,000 would be due as an annual penalty for each classroom redeveloped for non-public use, and $20 per hour would be charged for each hour of contemplated public use of the gym space that does not, in fact, occur.

These rents, or “value-sharing payments” would continue for the 40-year life of the restrictive covenant. After that point, the school district would no longer have any control over the property’s use.

is a Madison Park resident who also writes the Madison Park blog (, from which this column was excerpted.[[In-content Ad]]