The Olympia City Council could approve spending up to $105,000 Tuesday on a consultant to identify blighted areas and create a state designation that would allow the city to acquire and sell those properties to private developers for redevelopment.
A council committee that has met for the better part of two years is recommending that the full council hire ECONorthwest of Portland to do the work, with an aim toward creating a full plan by January.
Mayor Stephen Buxbaum has been the main advocate for the designation and chairs the ad-hoc committee.
“I feel we have tremendous opportunity to develop our downtown into something that is exceptionally special,” he said, “and I think CRA (Community Renewal Area) is a good tool for us to galvanize our vision for a vibrant downtown.”
Olympia has budgeted $80,000 for the Community Renewal Area issue and has won a state grant worth $25,000 more if downtown is included in the renewal area, which is almost certain. Keith Stahley, director of Community Planning and Development, said the city was awarded the grant but needs to finalize a contract on it.
If hired, ECONorthwest would have two tasks. One would be to identify opportunities for redevelopment and ways to make it happen. A draft report on that would be expected by August. The second aim would be to identify a Community Renewal area or areas by analyzing the market and holding meetings with property owners and the public.
Buxbaum said the market analysis would include information about real estate vacancy rates and prices.
No formal area has been identified for renewal, but Buxbaum has suggested several areas: downtown, the isthmus, the burned-out Griswold’s building on Fourth Avenue, the area of Harrison Avenue and Division Street, Martin Way and the old city dump, next to Top Foods off Cooper Point Drive.
“We could have west side, east side and downtown renewal areas,” Stahley said. “We could have the entirety of our community I guess be a renewal area,” but he said that would be unlikely because blight must be found in an area.
The definition of blight is subjective under the state community-renewal law. An area that “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the municipality” or limits “the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability, and/or is detrimental or constitutes a menace, to the public health, safety, welfare and morals in its present condition and use.”
The Community Renewal Area discussion has gone on over the last couple of years, but has been largely on the back burner as the city focused on major planning efforts such as updates to its Shoreline Management Program and Comprehensive Plan.
City Manager Steve Hall recommended last year that the city pick the National Development Corporation of New York as its consultant. But Buxbaum indicated in August that he wasn’t ready for that step. Rather, he wanted to engage with the Thurston County Economic Development Council, the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor & Convention Bureau and the Thurston Regional Planning Council.
The committee since met with Michael Cade, executive director of the Thurston Economic Development Council and George Sharp, executive director of the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor & Convention Bureau.
Buxbaum said his committee is recommending EcoNorthwest “because they represent a team of people that we feel have a great breadth of experience in the arena of community development and citizen participation.”