Olympia closes on 2 parcels on isthmus

There’s no money to demolish derelict buildings yet, but if the state comes through, work could begin later this year; a park is the vision

mbatcheldor@theolympian.comJune 18, 2013 

Two derelict properties on the downtown isthmus now belong to the city of Olympia, which plans to turn them into a park.

The city paid Capital Shores Investments LLC, the group that had planned to build controversial condominium towers there, nearly $3.3 million for the parcels at 505 and 529 Fourth Ave. W. The deal closed Friday, said Jay Burney, assistant city manager.

Jerry Reilly, chairman of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, hailed the deal as one step closer to putting a park on the isthmus . His group has been working for more than four years toward that goal.

“I say to people all along in this process, every day we’re closer along than ever to the goal, and this is the closest we’ve ever been,” he said.

The city paid Capital Shores $3.1 million, plus the assumption of back taxes, bringing the total close to $3.3 million, Burney said. Of that, $600,000 came from Conservation Futures funding from Thurston County.

But the city proceeded with the purchase without the $1 million in state aid that it had originally made a requirement of the purchase. Instead, the city had to dip into money set aside for several parks projects. They are:

 • Ward Lake Master Plan and Phase One, $500,000. Olympia acquired 10 acres on Ward Lake in 2007 with the hopes of putting a park and swim beach there.

 • West Bay Park cleanup, $264,000. That leaves $166,000 in the cleanup fund, not enough for a cleanup.

 • Priest Point Park rose garden shelter, $180,000.

 • West Bay Master Plan, $113,000.

Two vacant buildings sit on the isthmus properties: the former Thurston County Department of Health building and the Thurston County Housing Authority building. Burney said there are no immediate plans for the site, because the city lacks funds to demolish the two buildings. But demolition could start this year if it receives $1 million in state funding, money that it previously sought to acquire the properties.

That’s not a sure thing. The Legislature is heading into a second special session and has yet to adopt a budget. The House budget had $386,000 for the isthmus; the Senate budget had none.

“I think help from the state Legislature is essential, and without their help I think it would be very difficult to accomplish it (demolition) this year,” said Mayor Stephen Buxbaum.

Reilly said his group planned to raise $400,000 for the isthmus project, but he had no deadline for raising the money. His group is also setting its sights on acquiring and tearing down the adjacent and vacant Capitol Center building, which park proponents also want.

City ownership of the parcels is a wild twist from 2008, when an earlier City Council paved the way for a developer to build condominiums on the site.

Triway Enterprises, a developer affiliated with Capital Shores, had applied to the city in November 2007 to raise building height limits on the isthmus to allow structures as high as 90 feet.

The developer needed the new height limit to allow its proposal for Larida Passage, two buildings with 141 condominiums, offices, retail and parking. Supporters said the development would spur economic development downtown and provide badly-needed market-rate housing. Opponents said the towers would steal precious views of the scenic surroundings.

The City Council approved raising the height limit in 2008, only to have a council with new members overturn the decision in 2010 and set height limits at 35 feet.

The new council then set out to purchase the property, which had fallen into bankruptcy and foreclosure proceedings during the economic downturn. Now Buxbaum is eagerly anticipating demolishing the buildings .

“You know, I’m looking forward to putting this chapter of the isthmus behind us,” Buxbaum said.

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

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