A questionable deal for ‘mistake’ comes at a bad time

July 6, 2012 

The “mistake by the lake” has raised its ugly head, again.

The owners of the Capitol Center Building, which sits empty at the north end of Capitol Lake, creating a visual eyesore in a most scenic part of our community, have offered to sell the property for $9.995 million.

The building’s owners have signed an option agreement with an out-of-state nonprofit, The Trust for Public Land, who is, in turn, offering that option to purchase to the City of Olympia. The offer is contingent on a city commitment to tear down the building and turn the property into a park.

At first blush, the price looks like a good deal. The owners have reduced their price by $6.5 million from the $16.5 million price tag they put on the property in 2009. It seems like a bargain, but, is it, really?

Six million dollars is a lot of money, to be sure. It represents a 39 percent price drop. But the value of most properties in the South Sound have gone down by that much, more or less, and one could easily argue that a vacant office building nobody wants and would cost a fortune to renovate should have depreciated more than most.

That’s not to say the city shouldn’t carefully consider the opportunity, but this doesn’t look like a good deal for the city.

The council has not identified the Capitol Center property in its future park plans; only the former Tri Vo properties adjacent to the west are included. Although it is true that minimizing development to less than 35 feet tall on the isthmus has been a driving force in city politics for several years.

If asked, a majority of city voters would probably prefer to see the Capitol Center Building torn down, whether or not they wanted a park on the entire isthmus.

But, given the city’s financial position – a budget gap it may fill by asking citizens to pay more sales tax – and its commitment to repairing the Washington Center building, this opportunity presents itself at an inopportune time.

By telling the city this may be its last chance to scoop up an eyesore at a “reduced price,” the building’s owners are attempting to create an urgency that doesn’t exist. We doubt there are any other interested buyers, and it’s unlikely the owners will spend the enormous sums it would take to restore the building into a usable condition.

Still, as several council members have said, the city must consider the opportunity fully, which council has not yet had the time to do. There just doesn’t appear to be enough time for a serious analysis by the early August deadline to qualify for the November ballot.

Let’s just not characterize the new price as some super bargain. It’s the same price as 2009, just devalued to represent current market conditions.

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