City considers isthmus offer

City council: Owner offers Olympia first shot at Viewpoint Tower

July 15, 2010 

OLYMPIA - The city has been invited to make an offer for Viewpoint Tower, a vacant, nine-story building on the downtown isthmus that some city residents want to demolish.

In a July 6 letter to Mayor Doug Mah, Pacific Real Estate Partners offered the city the chance to “pre-emptively purchase” the isthmus property before it goes for public bid July 23. The building, at 410 Fifth Ave. W., was formerly known as the Capitol Center building and is on one of several isthmus properties that a citizens group wants to turn into a park.

“I would like the city to take a serious look at it,” said Gerald Reilly, chairman of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation. “This is an opportunity that may not come again. … If somebody decided to invest in that building significantly, we’re going to have to live with it for another 50 years.”

Troy Dana, a broker at Pacific Real Estate Partners, said there is no minimum amount the city needs to offer. He declined to comment further. It is not clear how the city would pay for the building.

He had said last week that the owners of the building reached out to three parties that previously showed interest in the building. He declined to name them, but Mah said in an interview that the city was one of them.

Mah raised the issue of buying the isthmus property late Tuesday night at the end of the Olympia City Council meeting. He referred the matter to the council’s finance committee, which will meet at 6:30 a.m. Friday, said Councilman Steve Langer, a committee member. The committee is expected to give a report to the council at next Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think that we should consider buying, but I also think that we need to make sure that we have something that we get good value for our money,” Langer said in an interview.

At the council meeting, Councilman Craig Ottavelli called the purchase an extraordinary opportunity.

The building was erected in the mid-1960s and has been vacant since the state Department of Corrections left in 2005. It is owned by Views on Fifth Ave. Ltd., an ownership group that includes Jim Potter of Snohomish, and last sold for $11.9 million. Real estate prices have since declined dramatically.

The owners have repeatedly tried to lease or sell the building – including marketing it for condominiums and considering transforming it into a “business center” for the city.

This isn’t the first time the city has considered buying the tower. Last year, the owners offered to sell the property to the city for $16.5 million, plus a $1.1 million set-aside for environmental cleanup.

Mah proposed the city buy and demolish the building by asking voters to raise their property taxes to come up with $33 million. He proposed using $16.5 million to buy the Capital Center property, demolish structures and put a park there. An additional $13.5 million would have gone to rebuild Percival Landing, and $3 million would have gone to completing acquisition of a full-block park around the Heritage Park Fountain block.

But Mah’s proposal did not get enough support and wasn’t added to the ballot. It did not include acquiring the parcels owned by Triway Enterprises, a local developer whose proposal for condominiums on the site sparked controversy.

Mah now says the city has three options: submit a proposal for buying the building, wait until the formal bid process starts or do nothing.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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