Council sees Community Renewal Area as tool to fix blight in Olympia

OlympianJanuary 14, 2014 

The Olympia City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday to take the next step in establishing a Community Renewal Area (CRA) that will address blighted properties downtown.

The CRA is an economic development tool that expands a city’s ability to work with private property owners. With a CRA, cities can initiate and direct renewal projects in a public-private partnership.

The targeted area comprises downtown Olympia, including the isthmus, and is bordered on the west by West Bay Road.

The CRA is still in the early stages. Before the city can adopt an ordinance to create a CRA, the council must first hold workshops with private property owners in the blighted areas, then schedule public hearings to further hash out a development plan. No plans have been finalized.

Olympia has identified a handful of priority sites within the proposed area – properties marred by graffiti, rodent infestation and soil contamination. Privately-owned properties include the Reliable Steel site on West Bay Drive and the Capitol Center Properties on the isthmus. Two city-owned buildings on the isthmus are slated for demolition this spring.

The effort to establish a CRA was born in 2011 as part of an ongoing effort to boost safety and economic development in downtown Olympia.

Other cities in Washington that have adopted a CRA include Everett, Shoreline, Vancouver, Anacortes and Bremerton.

The Shoreline City Council approved a CRA in 2012 to address blight in the 70-acre Aurora Square commercial sector. According to city documents, the CRA has allowed Shoreline to work with the site’s 10 property owners and tailor solutions based on their needs. The partnership will address concerns such as traffic, parking, signage, street layout, vacant buildings, pedestrian access and other infrastructure with the goal of helping the area reach its economic potential.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 or ahobbs@theolympian.com

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