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Seattle plans to give City Hall Park to King County in land swap after safety issues

The transaction agreement now moves to Seattle City Council and King County Council for final approval.

The city of Seattle and King County have reached a land swap agreement to transfer ownership of City Hall Park to the county in exchange for 13 properties.

On Friday, King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office announced the agreement with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in a release.

The swap will give King County the half-acre park, allowing it to “complete its downtown Civic Campus,” in exchange for a total of 1.35 acres of land across the Seattle area.

The release states that the 13 properties the city will acquire will help it reach its “goal to expand and protect green space and public parkland,” particularly in the South Park area.

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The agreement follows years of safety concerns surrounding City Hall Park, which is adjacent to the King County Superior Courthouse. Concerns reached a fever pitch last summer after a woman was allegedly sexually assaulted inside a courthouse bathroom and a homeless encampment at the park continued to have issues.

The assault and continued complaints from courthouse staff led to workers holding a rally and pleading with county and city leaders to up security and do something about the park.

Following a deadly stabbing in June, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn proposed condemning the park. Then in August, following July’s assault and rally, Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced legislation for the county to take over the park as the encampment was cleared by the city.

"We could have purchased the park, but it seemed like a land swap would be the best arrangement," Kohl-Welles said in an interview with KING 5.

As for why the county would provide better safety than if the park was under city jurisdiction, councilmembers alluded to more control over security considering the park's proximity to the King County Courthouse, as well as a better-staffed sheriff's office.

In an interview with KING 5, Dunn said the King County Sheriff's Office would have jurisdiction over the park once the county takes over and in comparison to the Seattle Police Department, would be better equipped to aid in public safety.

"Seattle Police Department, who have now lost 325 police officers in the city of Seattle, with a huge increase in crime as a result of that, just aren't in a position, unwilling or able, whatever it is, to do the enforcement necessary to keep it safe," Dunn said.

Among other properties, Seattle will receive a 0.4-acre lot next to the South Park Bridge and Cesar Chavez Park.

“King County and members of the King County Council have committed to ensuring the safety and vibrancy of City Hall Park for years to come, so the City of Seattle is eager to support the county’s investments and vision towards the park and campus,” Durkan said in a statement.

Seattle hopes to use the land to further its Duwamish Valley action plan and add to the future of the South Park Plaza to create additional community access and green space, according to the release.

The city also said the 13 properties will be used as gathering spaces, expand waterfront access, offer recreational programming and add to the Burke Gilman greenway in the Chelsea neighborhood.

The transaction agreement was transmitted to the King County Council and Seattle City Council for approval.

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