Lacey focusing on future of empty offices

Nearly 20 percent of space in Woodland District has been unoccupied for years

ckrotzer@theolympian.comMay 6, 2013 

The city of Lacey is looking for long-term solutions to filling the nearly 240,000 square feet of empty office space within the Woodland District.

The Woodland District includes businesses that span from Interstate 5 to the Olympia Woodland Trail and from the Chehalis Western Trail to College Street, and equals about 1.2 million square feet of office space, according to Ryan Andrews, the city’s associate planner.

Spaces emptied after the 2008 recession as state government downsized, moving employees and eliminating positions. Many of the employees working from offices within the Woodland District moved back to the Capitol Campus, Andrews said.

Nearly 20 percent of the office space remains vacant.

The city has held several public meetings that have attracted about 60 people to determine the future of the empty spaces.

“We are looking at everything,” Andrews said. “We had an economic analysis done of the area using some of the buildings as what if’s — what if some of the buildings vacated by the state are completely taken down and redeveloped as something else?”

A draft plan for the area was released to the public April 29. A third and final public hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the City Hall Council Chambers, 420 College St. SE, for those still interested in commenting on the work.

Options for redeveloped areas could include condos, other residential or re-purposed office space.

The economic study indicated the buildings still are economically viable as office spaces, Andrews said.

“They are hard to convert to residential … to any other type of office because they have been basically built for state offices,” Andrews said. “They don’t have a lot of windows and are set up to handle a lot of cubicles.”

Andrews said the city has looked into using the space for medical offices and off-base support services for Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

South Puget Sound Community College purchased one building off Jefferson Street to house the college’s Hawks Prairie campus in 2015.

“That is very much a positive thing,” Andrews said. “We will have this influx of people that aren’t there now that will help support some potentially additional retail and restaurants right around in that area.”

The ground floor of a four-story brick building built in 2008 near Sixth Avenue Southeast is being renovated to make room for medical support staff. The fourth floor has been used by a credit card-processing company since the building was constructed.

Chris and Gina Reimertz opened Dancing Goats Coffee Bar off Sixth Avenue Southeast in fall 2011. A restaurant had filled the space for three months after the building was constructed in 2008.

Getting the shop up and going wasn’t easy, but the challenge was expected, Chris Reimertz said.

“We knew it was going to be a little bit of a challenge to get people in there,” Reimertz said. “We definitely took a little bit of a chance, and it’s been working out OK.”

Reimertz became a part of the Woodland District project to learn more about the area and offer up ideas to the city.

“The only way it is going to be successful is if you can get a mixed-use, higher-population density,” Reimertz said.

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 @chelseakrotzer

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