Major office building project downtown a long time coming

The Cedars will house agency implementing national Affordable Care Act

mbatcheldor@theolympian.comMarch 16, 2013 

A large crane hangs over the steel shell of a four-story building rising at Jefferson Street and Eighth Avenue in Olympia that will be home to an agency implementing the national health care reform law.

Ali Raad of Raad Properties is developing the building at 810 Jefferson St. SE, next to the downtown post office. It will have more than 30,000 square feet of offices on three floors, another 20,000 square feet of parking

on the first floor and an additional basement level.

Raad plans to wrap up construction by July, when the Washington State Healthcare Exchange will move about 100 employees into the new structure.

Raad, a native of Lebanon, calls the building The Cedars. He stresses that it won’t be just a box, a criticism he has for other office buildings in Olympia. The building is stepped up, or terraced, with a variety of outdoor balconies. The facade will be brick, and the upper levels covered in glass.

“When you build a building, you should have some sort of distinguishing architectural detail, not just a box,” he said. “We need to leave something for the next generation.”

The building is a long time coming. Raad applied to the City of Olympia for development approval in 2004, and it was granted in 2007. He said he had lined up the state Department of Corrections as a tenant.

But then the economic downturn began and Raad lost his tenant. By that time, the foundation was in place but there was little activity at the site until last year, when construction got under way in earnest.

It is one of the only major office building projects in Olympia, which has a glut of vacant office space after state budget cuts and the construction of the mammoth, 480,000-square-foot state data center complex in 2010 along 14th Avenue.

Raad’s tenant will be the Washington State Healthcare Exchange, a quasi-government agency set up to implement the national Affordable Care Act.

The agency will move from its temporary quarters at 521 Capitol Way S.

Michael Marchand, spokesman for the exchange, said The Cedars will be the administrative headquarters for the agency, and about 100 people would be stationed there. Customer service would be provided by a call center in Spokane and via a system of local assistance locations that hasn’t been established.

Marchand calls his agency a public-private partnership. The agency is private, but federal grants will fund the agency through December 2014. Afterward, funding will come from tax receipts from health care plans. Marchand said it hasn’t been determined whether the agency will be a nonprofit organization.

Marchand said the agency is developing an online marketplace where people can compare private health care plans for purchase if they don’t qualify for government plans such as Medicare.

The site, under development, is at wahbexchange.org.

The exchange also is the place for individuals and business owners to see whether they qualify for tax credits to reduce the price of health care.

All Americans will be mandated to carry health care or pay a tax penalty under the law, which sets minimum requirements for health coverage.

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

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