City won't bid for building on isthmus

Viewpoint Tower: Council members reject offer, citing cost, lack of time to make decision

July 22, 2010 

OLYMPIA - The city won't bid on the Viewpoint Tower because of concerns among City Council members about the cost and the lack of time to make a purchase decision.

In a July 6 letter, Pacific Real Estate Partners offered the city a chance to “pre-emptively purchase” the vacant, nine-story building, formerly known as Capitol Center, at 410 Fifth Ave. W. The real estate company gave the city – and two other undisclosed parties – until today to make an offer. Starting Friday, the building will be offered for public bid.

The city didn’t have enough time to evaluate the offer, Councilman Stephen Buxbaum said during Tuesday night’s council meeting. He is the chairman of the council’s finance committee, which met with the real estate company Friday.

There were other drawbacks, he said: The short timeline doesn’t allow a chance for public input or to address potential liabilities of the site, and purchasing it would redirect money from other planned parks projects.

Buxbaum also said it would be difficult to make a credible offer when bidding against two confidential parties.

The tower was built 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. Some residents have lobbied to tear down the building, which they consider an eyesore in its spot overlooking Capitol Lake and the Capitol Campus, and turn the land into a park.

Buxbaum said the city should go ahead with its current parks plan, which states the city’s interest in forming a “public-private partnership” in acquiring isthmus property for a park but doesn’t set a timeline.

Council members Karen Rogers and Steve Langer, also on the finance committee, agreed with Buxbaum’s assessment. Rogers said she was concerned about the cost of demolishing, disposing of and cleaning up the property, in addition to its fluctuating assessed value.

But Councilman Craig Ottavelli and Mayor Doug Mah expressed continued interest in the property, saying that buying it is a limited opportunity.

Mah said it’s a chance to gain control of the site with a willing seller and a supportive public. He called the offer a “meaningful gesture.”

Ottavelli suggested the city could ask to expand the timeline, saying the isthmus will never be available to acquire in one fell swoop.

“Acquisition must be incremental, I believe,” he said. “I do think there is an opportunity here.”

Councilwoman Jeannine Roe interjected, “Maybe I’m missing something here, but where will we get the money?”

The building last sold for $11.9 million, and it’s unclear what its market value is now, during the depressed real estate market.

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

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