A long-awaited hall for the longshore workers who serve the Port of Olympia is under construction, a building that is expected to open in March and replace an aging structure that some say has outlived its usefulness.
The new, 1,800-square-foot building, which will feature an office, conference room, break room and large hall, is rising on a triangular-shaped piece of marine terminal property behind coffee roasters Batdorf and Bronson.
The new location for the hall means that the site, which is part of the marine terminal, will no longer be available for public parking.
It previously was used as additional parking for tenants of the nearby Rants Building during the week, and then was open to anyone, including visitors to the Olympia Farmers Market, on weekends.
The building is a welcome development for longshore workers, who, since 1997, have worked out of a small, modular building on the marine terminal, business agent Robert Rose said during Monday evening’s Port Commission meeting.
“It is falling apart,” he said about their existing structure. He said he expects that it will be scrapped once they move into their new home.
Rose also said their existing building is too small, although sometimes they “crammed as many as 50 to 60 people in it at one time.”
Marine Terminal director Jim Knight echoed Rose’s comments, saying longshore workers desperately needed a new longshore hall and that their current building is in “extremely poor shape.”
The port is spending $321,000 to build the new hall, but will be repaid at interest over the life of a 20-year lease signed between the port and ILWU Local 47.
The port expects a 6 percent internal rate of return on the transaction, port finance director Jeff Smith said Tuesday.
The parking situation flared briefly into a campaign issue during Sue Gunn’s run to unseat incumbent and former commissioner Jeff Davis. Gunn eventually won.
During the campaign, Gunn supporters seized on comments made by Davis last year that appeared to show that the port might take back property from the farmers market.
In a letter to The Olympian in October, farmers market vendor Steve Wilcox wrote that the new longshore hall was an example of farmers market tenant concerns about the port.
“The market’s well-being should not be sacrificed to serve this pet project, while viable alternative locations exist for the union hall,” Wilcox wrote.
But Port Commissioner Bill McGregor countered in his own letter that the union hall site was never part of the farmers market lease.
“While it was being used for parking for the market, it is not — as I stated — part of their lease,” McGregor wrote.
He also pointed out that the port has purchased former state Department of Fish and Wildlife property nearby for public parking.
The port paid $319,800 for the 0.72-acre lot at Washington Street and B Avenue last year.
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 firstname.lastname@example.org