Manitou Community Center is still on the market.
That is cause for jubilation among the people who live in the modest South Tacoma neighborhood that surrounds the center.
It should be cause for reassessment among Metro Parks Tacoma managers.
In a vote Monday night that needed to be unanimous to pass, two out of five park board members nixed a recommendation from their advisory board that the park district sell the Manitou center to a church across the street.
The church is House of Prayer Enrichment Haven Community Center, also known as H.O.P.E. Haven. Pastor Bobby Lemmon and his wife, Carolyn, say they have about 100 members, of whom about 20 are active. Of them, seven, including three married couples, serve on H.O.P.E. Haven’s board.
This small congregation offered three purchase plans, with prices ranging from $250,000 to $400,000 for the Manitou center, which is valued at about $425,000. They planned to run a food bank, a clothing bank and, eventually, to serve meals to homeless people.
They declined to say where they would get the money to buy or operate the building.
The only other bid came from Tacoma’s West End Neighborhood Council, which has $11,420.71 to offer. It would pay the district $1, spend the rest on repairs and insurance, and, once it secured title, apply for grants to complete repairs. It would continue earning maintenance money from the center’s seven tenants.
The advisory group recommended selling to the Lemmons’ church.
Two members who spoke at the meeting, as well as Shon Sylvia, Metro Parks director of recreation and community services, said the committee had considered only the “highest and best offer” and benefit to the community.
H.O.P.E. Haven offered the most money. Committee members assumed the neighborhood would benefit from another food and clothing bank, though residents said they have good ones already and don’t need more.
But there was additional information that park officials, and the committee, did not consider.
In March 2009, City of Tacoma code enforcement officers red-tagged a building the Lemmons own at 1201 S. 37th St. After a fire at the house, inspectors found dangerous wiring, illegal remodels that created 12 bedrooms, some without required fire exits.
Sixteen unrelated people were paying rent to live in the Lemmons’ house, 10 more than zoning codes allow. The Lemmons did not correct the violations in the time given, nor did they alert the residents to the problem.
At the end of March, all the residents were locked out, and the city (and its taxpayers) paid to house most of them in motels.
Metro Parks leadership knew about this. I wrote about it originally, and, when I learned of the Lemmons’ bid for Manitou center, I emailed that column to public information officer Nancy Johnson.
I wrongly assumed that any agency considering selling a public building to a group with this on their “community benefit” record would want to know about it.
Two members of the advisory committee said Metro Parks did not share it with them, and they would not have discussed it anyway. Sylvia confirmed it was not considered. Metro Parks had crafted “areas of consideration” that excluded investigating, or even informing decision makers about past transgressions.
Considering the respect and innovation Metro Parks has shown with the old Manitou Community Center, that’s disappointing.
The first time Metro Parks tried to shutter the building, in 2005, users rebelled and won the right to manage it for the community’s benefit. They have done that, all of them: artists, musicians, gardeners, martial artists, sewing teachers, scout leaders and child-care professionals.
The old center may be unlovely, but it is loved, and in constant use. Metro Parks invested wisely in people who had earned its trust.
The people of Manitou have learned the hazards of too much trust. Tacomans demand more than a cursory look at someone who wants to buy a school or a community center. They know their neighborhood could go to ruin if such central properties fall into the hands of poor stewards.
Manitou residents expected Metro Parks to consult with them on proposed uses for the community center. Metro Parks did that part well. But it was only Step 1.
Examining the financing, and the stewardship record, of potential buyers should have been Step 2.
Manitou is still on the market. Metro Parks can step up and sell it email@example.com