Olympia has hired a private contractor to transform a section of Water Street into a downtown destination.
Local developer Walker John’s partnership, Urban Olympia, will create a plan for the Water Street Redevelopment Area. The 1.09-acre site is located between Fourth and Fifth avenues next to the Heritage Park Fountain.
The city’s basic goals for the area include a mix of housing, businesses and parking. In the coming months, the city will work with the developer on a contract and a schedule for public participation. The goal is expected to adopt a final agreement along with any land purchase by Dec. 13.
The area was chosen because of its proximity to the waterfront, Percival Landing and annual downtown attractions such as Lakefair and the Olympia Wooden Boat Fair, city officials say.
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At this time, the project’s scope is a blank slate. The final project could span the entire block or just the corner of Water and Fourth where the city owns two properties, said Keith Stahley, director of planning and community development. In December, WM Dickson Company demolished buildings on those two city properties: The former GHB Insurance building at 407 Water St. SW and the former Little Da Nang restaurant at 301 Fourth Ave. W.
“This is a significant corridor for community events and community activities,” Stahley told the Olympia City Council at Tuesday’s meeting where the contractor was approved unanimously. “We feel that Urban Olympia would be an extremely strong development partner for this area. We feel they have the talent, skills and understanding of our community.”
Local architect Ron Thomas will lead the planning effort. Thomas has been involved with a number of Urban Olympia projects including the Thurston First Bank Building and the adjacent 321 Lofts at Franklin Street and Legion Way.
The Water Street Redevelopment Area is one of several sites identified by the Community Renewal Area (CRA) process. The CRA is an economic development tool that expands Olympia’s power to revitalize downtown properties that are in poor condition by making deals with private property owners and developers.
Some cities including Vancouver and Bremerton have used a CRA — and the eminent domain powers that come with it — to redevelop blighted properties. Stahley noted that Olympia’s CRA will be formally finalized once a plan is adopted for Water Street.
In addition, the Water Street project will need to address potential traffic problems, rising sea levels and the removal of contaminated soil.
Mayor Pro-Tem Nathaniel Jones likened the project to a “hinge pin” between downtown Olympia and the isthmus.
“This is an opportunity to bring forward development that enhances that block and fountain and park,” he said Tuesday.
The city will contribute $35,000 in “predevelopment funds” to offset Urban Olympia’s cost for the scoping process.