Isthmus park ballot issue dropped

Olympia: Economy among reasons, Mah says

July 2, 2009 

State, city represented at isthmus forum today

View of the isthmus in downtown Olympia from the Capitol Campus. (The Olympian file)


OLYMPIA – Mayor Doug Mah said Wednesday that he is dropping his proposal for a November ballot measure asking voters to approve up to $33 million in taxes to buy an isthmus park and rebuild Percival Landing.

In an interview, Mah said there are three reasons: too much uncertainty in the economy, unanswered questions about partnerships that could bring more money for the work, and lack of support from advocates for an isthmus park.

“I think it was the right property, the right vision, the right compromise for the area, but occurring at the wrong time,” he said.

Mah said he plans to announce his decision at Tuesday’s Olympia City Council meeting. Council members would not have to take action.

His proposal would have raised property taxes for 20 years, costing taxpayers up to $33 million. It would cost the owner of a $250,000 home about $105 per year by his calculations.

Here’s how the money would have been spent:

 • $16.5 million would have been spent to acquire the nine-story Capitol Center and adjacent property, demolish them and place an isthmus park there. The building is now marketed as Viewpoint Tower, and an owner says he intends to renovate it into office space if the city doesn’t buy it. Mah argued that now is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy it.

 • $13.5 million would go to rebuild Percival Landing, the boardwalk and the surrounding area that is decaying.

 • $3 million would be spent to acquire the rest of the block around the Heritage Park Fountain, demolish buildings and complete the park as planned – including the full city block.

But Mah wasn’t able to get consensus from a committee he appointed to study the issue, or from his constituents. The big sticking point with some advocates for an isthmus park is that it doesn’t include the two parcels owned by Triway Enterprises, where the developer has plans for five- and seven-story mixed use buildings with 141 condominiums.

They object to height of those buildings, saying they’ll block views of the state Capitol Dome and Budd Inlet.

Another high-profile advocate for a park, Gerald Reilly of the Olympia Isthmus Park Foundation, favored the mayor’s plan but was concerned about the timing in November.

He thought that residents should be polled, and he was concerned about taxpayers not being willing to fork over more tax money in a tough economy.

Meanwhile, Olympia 2012, a group that favored Triway’s plans because they would bring downtown housing, favored the mayor’s ballot measure.

“I would have to say that Oly 2012 would be disappointed that we don’t have an opportunity to expand the view corridor and bring the ... (Capitol Center) down and decide how we want to use that for public purpose in the future,” Jackie Barrett Sharar of Olympia 2012 said.

Mah said most of the people at the meeting agreed that the Capitol Center building should be torn down.

However, people have disagreed on the price.

Mah concluded that he would drop the proposal after holding a town-hall meeting Monday in Council Chambers. He asked about 60 participants at the town hall which they would rather support.

Option one was a ballot measure to fix Percival Landing and acquire and demolish the Capitol Center building. Option two was to only acquire and demolish the Capitol Center. Option three was none of the above.

He said 80 percent of the audience picked option three, and the rest picked option one or two.

Reilly, of the Olympia Isthmus Park Association, said the death of the mayor’s proposal is “the end of one chapter but the start of the next chapter.”

His group’s sister organization, the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, is attempting to find other funding sources – state, federal and private – for an isthmus park.

“We’ve embarked on that process now,” he said.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869

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