Olympia’s Fourth Avenue eyesores need to be cleared away

THE OLYMPIANDecember 28, 2011 

Olympia officials are in the process of condemning the old county Department of Health Building at the base of the Fourth Avenue bridge.

Good for them.

Here’s an idea. How about they explode the multi-story Capitol Center Building – also known as the “mistake by the lake” – and topple it onto the former Housing Authority Building and the old Health Department? The city could take out three eyesores in one fell swoop. That would be civic improvement at its very best.

The former Health Department Building at 529 Fourth Ave. W., is in deplorable condition. Parts of it are boarded up. The building has been a repeat target of hooligans and graffiti vandals. Many longtime South Sound residents are sad to see the vacant building in such a state of disrepair.

Many old-timers have fond memories of the building when it was the first home of the Memorial Clinic and later, the Health Department. Many children in this community grew up seeing doctors and nurses in that building, and adults visited the property for their own health care, in search of birth records or to receive permits.

In its heyday, the building was a focal point in downtown Olympia. It was a challenge to find a parking spot anywhere near the health center – it was that heavily used.

But that was then, and this is now.

Most recently, the building has been the source of a community controversy. Developer Tri Vo planned to raze the buildings along the isthmus and erect multi-story, mixed use towers to provide condo owners with spectacular views of Capitol Lake and the Capitol Campus to the south and Budd Inlet and the Olympic Mountains in the distance to the north.

Vo’s plans sharply divided this community when the Olympia City Council agreed to raise building-height limits to accommodate the development. Naysayers challenged the decision saying it would destroy views and wall off the waterfront. Council members were ousted over their votes and critics succeeded in getting the building heights reduced. They have put forth a plan to turn much of the isthmus between the lake and inlet into a park and public use space.

Vo got caught in the economic recession and his development plans have been turned into bankruptcy proceedings instead.

Today the old Health Department building is filled with used syringes, feces and spoiling food left behind by people who have broken into or otherwise trespassed on the property.

Olympia building official Tom Hill said, “Under the local city ordinances, this building clearly meets the definition of being a public nuisance, meets the definition of being an unsafe structure and meets the definition of a structure (that is) unfit for human occupancy.”

Thus the city’s move to declare the structure a nuisance.

Hill has drafted a letter ordering the building be demolished, but he said he’s waiting to send it until he can determine who holds title to the building on the downtown isthmus.

The Thurston County assessor lists the owner as Capital Shores Investments LLC, which bought the building from Capital Center LLC for $1.285 million in 2003.

Capital Shores also has been the owner of record of the adjoining Housing Authority building.

But it’s unclear whether Capital Shores is the legal owner. First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co. moved in December 2010 to foreclose on the two properties, saying Capital Shores owed the bank more than $2.48 million. Capital Shores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, postponing a foreclosure auction.

Capital Shores Investments LLC includes Vo and his company, Triway Enterprises.

So clearing up the title issue may be more complicated than it seems. But once the owner is identified, city officials plan to move forward with public nuisance and, if necessary, condemnation proceedings. It’s a long, long process.

Eventually, the city could even pay to raze the building, then put a lien on the property.

While they’re at it, Olympia officials also should consider the future of the vacant Housing Authority structure and the equally empty Capitol Center Building, which most recently has proposed as the site of a hotel.

We have one suggestion for city officials: Don’t stop at the Health Department Building, keep moving right up the block.

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