The lot at 5244 Leary Avenue Northwest doesn’t look like it’s worth $2.4 million.
It’s a toxic site, for one. It used to be a gas station, and there are six leaking gas tanks underground. And it’s small, roughly 8,800 square feet.
No matter. The Olympic Athletic Club across the street in Ballard wants to pay top dollar to clean it up and build a parking garage. (This is the tonier of the Ballard gyms, by the way. It’s in an old hotel, and there’s a whirlpool and a sauna and child care. Deluxe.)
But the owners of this tiny toxic site aren’t so sure. They’re the Salmon Bay Eagles Aerie #2141. The decision will go to a vote by the entire membership. So the owner of the athletic club came up with a scheme: He would suggest that gym members become Eagles members to stack the vote in his favor.
“I'm trying to influence the entire membership because this is a good deal,” Riggle said.
Riggle founded the athletic club in 1979; he’s also been a member of the Eagles for eight years.
James Forgette, the president of the Salmon Bay Eagles, doesn’t like this one bit.
"They're simply asking their members to come over and join our club for the purposes of voting on the sale of this property,” he said. “And many of us take exception to that and don’t believe that’s why people should be joining the Eagles.”
Forgette said it’s gotten so busy at the Eagles that some of the old-timers don’t come in anymore.
He continued “You know, there's a flyer from Olympic Athletic Club that they have been giving out to their members that simply states, in so many words, 'We want you to join the Eagles across the street and help us vote for the sale of this property so we can build this parking garage, and then everyone can have parking.’”
Not that Forgette opposes the deal. In fact, five of the six trustees on the board voted to support the deal. But Forgette says there are financials to sort out.
“What are our options if we don't sell? And do we need to sell? And where are our finances at the club right now? What position is the club in financially in terms of should we sell, should we hold onto it? If we do sell, what do we do with that money? It's $2.4 million. That's a lot of money.”
The Eagles have also been mounting their own membership campaign in the neighborhood, rallying Ballard residents to join the Eagles.
“There's been a genuine grassroots upswell in the neighborhood,” Forgette said. “People hearing about this looked at it from the outside looking in and go, ‘That's not right.’”
Whatever happens is good for the Eagles.
“I was just told we have more members than we've had since the early 70s,” Forgette said. “One of the concerns is we don't want people joining the Eagles just so they can vote on this sale. We want people joining the Eagles because they want to be part of the Eagles.”
But Riggle says the new members have made it more fun.
“Since this is happening, it’s gotten a lot busier,” he said. “And it's a kick. It's fun. We're improving the Eagles. I mean this is going to be a better club after this, no matter what.”