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Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Morrison Hotel to house homeless center

Seattle Times staff reporter

A new city hygiene and service center for the homeless will go into the Morrison Hotel in Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood rather than onto a city-owned site in the Chinatown International District as urged by Mayor Greg Nickels.

The City Council voted 8-1 yesterday for the Morrison Hotel, ending a three-month study of alternatives to the mayor's proposal, which had irked community leaders in the Chinatown International District.

Council members said the Morrison site at Third Avenue and Yesler Way would serve more clients sooner and better and would be more cost-effective than the mayor's preferred site.

"This really is the best deal," said Councilman Tom Rasmussen, who led the search for sites.

The Morrison site would be larger, open a year sooner and cost $1.1 million less to build than the mayor's proposal.

The $3.2 million service center would be used mainly by homeless adult men. The Morrison is owned and operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center. Council members stressed the experience and range of counseling offered by that organization in explaining their preference for the site.

The Downtown Emergency Service Center has 190 apartments at the old hotel, a shelter that has served up to 500 people a day, and mental-health and chemical-dependency counselors. The building is undergoing a $28 million renovation scheduled for completion this year.

The new hygiene and service center would offer showers, toilets, washers and dryers, a day-and-night shelter, indoor meals and counseling services.

In a prepared statement, Nickels said the council's vote was a key step toward his goal of ending homelessness in 10 years. The mayor said he wants to make sure the project benefits the Pioneer Square neighborhood as well as homeless people.

The Pioneer Square Community Association had vowed to fight a new hygiene center. A zoning change for the Morrison site requires council approval because the city restricts how much street-level space on a block can be dedicated to social services. Using the Morrison site would exceed that limit.

Council President Jan Drago, a Pioneer Square resident, cast the only dissenting vote. Drago said the council's decision breached a 1989 agreement between city and neighborhood leaders that called for a ban on additional social services and low-income housing in Pioneer Square.

Councilman Peter Steinbrueck said building a downtown hygiene center reflects the compassion of Seattleites: "I doubt there's another city in the U.S. that demonstrates a stronger commitment to the dire needs and dignity of homeless people."

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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