red lion hotel
Fix Homelessness How to rebuild human lives

Seattle’s King County buys meth-contaminated Red Lion motel for $9 million to house homeless

Originally published at The Post Millennial

The King County Regional Homeless Authority and Catholic Community Services are now trying to convert the nearby Stevenson Motel into a temporary shelter until the meth is cleaned up at the former Red Lion.

A former Red Lion hotel in Federal Way, Washington that King County bought for almost $9 million to house the homeless is still not ready for occupancy after nearly two years of construction delays including remediation of high levels of methamphetamine. 

City officials told The Post Millennial they were kept in the dark about the reasons behind the delays.

The Post Millennial obtained an internal email chain showing that the opening of the homeless hotel was delayed because the rooms are contaminated with “high levels of methamphetamine.” It is unclear how much of the toxic drug was found in the building or how it got there. 

The levels were dangerous enough to trigger a warning from King County building officials instructing firefighters to proceed with caution if they had to enter the premises. The Post Millennial has learned that a complaint regarding the property has been filed with the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell told Jonathan Choe, Senior Fellow and journalist at Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth and Poverty, that he did not know “if remediation can solve the problem or if the building is a complete loss.”

“The first I ever heard of that notification to south county fire is from you. So it would have been nice to have received that information. I did not receive that.” He added, “We were really hoping that it would get online, especially as it got cold.” 

The King County Regional Homeless Authority and Catholic Community Services are now trying to convert the nearby Stevenson Motel into a temporary shelter until the meth is cleaned up at the former Red Lion. 

However, almost every business in a strip mall next door to the Stevenson is opposed to the plan with some saying that at the very least they should have known about it earlier.

Sandy Shim who works for the strip mall’s landlord told Choe that they were not informed and that most of the shops and restaurants are owned by Korean immigrants adding, “I know you can’t do drugs in the shelter so they’ll be coming to the next door neighbors and doing it.” She has had to translate the bad news for her tenants because many do not speak English. 

Pastor Charles Mwangi of the African Church in the strip mall is concerned that the motel will attract drug use and crime if the homeless move in next door and wondered if King County considered the children in his Sunday school given the possibility that there might be sex offenders housed in the motel.

Mwangi and the business owners have signed a petition against the project and are planning to possibly protest.

King County spokesperson Chase Gallagher acknowledged the meth inside the former Red Lion and told The Post Millennial that the county spent over half a million dollars to clean up the mess but would not say when it will officially open.

“The former Red Lion property was purchased with money from the state, which came with stipulations that required an inspection for and remediation of any contamination associated with the manufacture of illegal drugs, specifically methamphetamine. In that mandatory testing, a small amount of contamination was found, and Abatement and Decontamination Specialists, LLC was contracted to perform the remediation for $664,688, which has been completed.” 

“As noted above, the illegal drug contamination inspection and remediation was a condition of using the state funds. The inspection and remediation, along with repairing damages from a pipe break during the cold weather last year, has contributed to the delay of the opening, which does not have a date set.”

However, Gallagher failed to mention that a legal dispute is also causing delays. The Post Millennial has learned that the contractor who was hired to do the meth remediation work at the Red Lion may have caused significant damage to the facility. As a result King County is currently in litigation with the contractor and the hotel is unuseable until “litigation is concluded,” thus necessitating use of the Stevenson.

According to a statement from Steve McNey, Intergovernmental & Public Affairs Officer for Federal Way, “The City of Federal Way conducted a search of all emails from King County email addresses and KCRHA email addresses to all City emails. This search included the word methamphetamine. No results were returned. The City stands by prior statements that the Mayor, Council, and senior staff did not receive a briefing regarding methamphetamine at the former Red Lion Hotel.”

City Council member Erica Norton said that King County is holding the city hostage because even if Federal Way rejected the permit application for the shelter it would lose funding. 

Norton told Choe, “South King County is basically the dumpster for Seattle,” adding, “I’m willing to say ‘no this isn’t ok.'” 

According to Washington State law, the county has the final say on turning properties into homeless hotels and is not required to ask communities for permission which is why King County Executive Dow Constantine has been on a motel buying spree across the region and has done this to other cities in the county.  

Mayor Ferrell said he plans on presenting all public input to the county and that if people are caught using drugs onsite the city can pull the license to operate.

Deputy Mayor Susan Honda said that this should be a wake-up call for Federal Way and other cities in the state. ” We should have more local control. We know what works best for our city better than someone in Olympia or someone in Seattle.”

Council members and the mayor were quick to note that the Red Lion may have to be demolished in the future as the Sound Transit light rail is supposed to go through the property.

During a presser on Monday, King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is also chair of Sound Transit appeared to be completely unaware that the building would be demolished for the light rail extension.

Jonathan Choe

Journalist and Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Jonathan Choe is a journalist and Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center on Wealth and Poverty, covering homelessness issues for its Fix Homelessness initiative. Prior to joining Discovery, Choe spent several years as one of the lead reporters at KOMO-TV, consistently the top rated television station in Seattle. His in depth stories on crime and deep dive investigations into the homeless crisis led to measurable results in the community, including changes in public policy. Choe has more than two decades of experience in television news behind the scenes and in front of the camera for ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and Tribune. He has also been nominated and honored with multiple industry awards including an Emmy. Choe spent several years teaching classes on emerging media and entrepreneurship to under privileged youth in inner city Chicago. As an independent journalist, Choe also contributes regularly to the Mill Creek View and Lynnwood Times and has reported on exclusive stories in the past year for Daily Wire and The Postmillennial.