A plan to re-purpose long-empty Capitol Center Building — known to many Olympians as the “Mistake on the Lake” — has been met with mixed feelings.
Many Olympia residents see the project, which includes renovating the existing tower to create apartments and commercial space, as a boon to the area and a way to draw more people downtown.
Others believe that any change to the building would be an improvement.
But there are still people who would like to see the building gone.
About 70 people sent written comments to city officials articulating their views. And interested parties got a chance last week to hear from building owner and developer Ken Brogan and architect Ron Thomas regarding their plans for the project they’re calling “Views on Fifth.”
Thomas said the goal is to begin construction by the end of the year, and finish the project a year from then.
He’s adamant that they want to create an “Olympia building” that draws inspiration from historic downtown, the nearby marina, the water and local tribes. He said he’s excited about creating an urban green space in the form of a planted wall.
“If this project is going forward, I think we can do it better than anyone else,” Thomas said.
“We’re doing our very best to make an Olympia building, something that ties in well to the blocks beyond it.”
The finished product would include three buildings.
The nine-story tower would be renovated to include commercial space and restaurants on the bottom floor, and apartments on the upper floors.
A second building, located in the northwest corner of the lot, would contain a “parking machine” in the center and apartments wrapped around the outside.
A smaller building on the southwest corner of the lot would contain more apartments.
The two new buildings would stand three stories high, staying within the city’s 35-foot limit. The existing tower was built before that regulation was put into place, and city code allows it to remain as long as it’s not made any taller.
What the public thinks
The proposal is met with enthusiasm from some residents, including Alan Roddy, who sent a written comment to the city. All of the written comments received so far can be viewed on the Views on Fifth website.
“Anything, I repeat, ANYTHING will be better than what has existed on this site forever,” Roddy wrote. “I am a lifelong resident of the area and am thrilled to see the changes that are finally coming to town. Bring it on!”
Jim Kainber of Olympia wrote that he’s encouraged that the developers will save resources by using the existing structure.
Casey Bruce, co-owner of Danger Room Comics, wrote that he’s excited to see a plan for the building and the area surrounding it. But he asked the city to think about what kind of development they have allowed, and said he hopes the apartments and retail spaces are affordable.
“We do not need another 123 Fourth, with apartments that end up going to lobbyists and retail space that remains empty, but for one restaurant in a year and a half,” Bruce wrote.
Olympia resident Susan Davenport expressed concerns about affects on traffic and nearby roads. It’s already difficult for people to get from east to west Olympia during peak traffic times, she wrote.
“We already have an untenable situation with east-west traffic during peak commuter hours,” Davenport wrote. “The bike lanes are already marginal for safety on the bridge, and (in the) zones before and after.”
City staff said during a meeting Wednesday that they’re studying the traffic impacts, and traffic mitigation could be required. Thomas said drivers wouldn’t be accessing the parking area from Fourth and Fifth avenues. They would turn from either Simmons Street or Sylvester Street into an alley that runs through the block.
Some commenters wrote that they’re still hopeful that the Capitol Center Building, along with other buildings on the isthmus, will be torn down to make way for a park.
“Curtailment of the park development would be a big loss, especially as Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater experience their expected growth,” Frederick Adair wrote. “Residents would lose out on something beautiful.”
Some people, such as David Edwards, were adamant that the Capitol Center Building just needs to be torn down.
“That eyesore has to go!” he wrote. “It is a disgrace that our state Capitol should have such an ugly, useless building blocking a potentially magnificent setting and view. All Washingtonians have a stake in presenting an enobling presence to the rest of the state and to visitors from the world. TEAR IT DOWN!”
What’s been proposed
The building’s bad reputation makes the project more challenging, Thomas said. He hopes that changing the building’s appearance — by changing the shape of the lower floors, completely re-glazing it and removing the mechanical penthouse on top — will help to “change the psychology.” He said they’ve already set aside money for the planted wall, and he hopes to work with one of the local tribes on exterior decoration.
The parking area, which will have room for 144 vehicles, won’t be a typical parking garage. Thomas described it as a “parking machine.” People will drive their cars into a slot, then take a ticket. The machine will move the car to a storage area. Several of the spaces will be designated for visitors to the commercial areas, while the rest will be used for building residents.
Because of the location of the building, they’ll have to pay attention to the potential for earthquakes and floods, Thomas said.
The two new buildings will be built above flood level, and a flood barrier will be put in place for the tower, he said.
Have your own thoughts about the Views on Fifth project?
Olympia residents haven’t missed the opportunity to comment on the project. Keith Stahley, director of the city’s Urban Planning and Development department, said the project will eventually go before the city’s hearing examiner, and the hearing will include a public comment period.
But the hearing hasn’t yet been scheduled. A State Environmental Policy Act review of the project will take place prior to the hearing.
The city’s Design Review Board will consider the proposal at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 10. The meeting will take place in room 207 of Olympia City Hall. While the meeting is open to the public, no testimony will be taken at that time.
Written comments may be sent to Nicole Floyd, a city planner, at firstname.lastname@example.org.