A proposed six-story building is moving closer to fruition on a vacant lot in downtown Olympia.
The project, known as Columbia Place, is at 503 Capitol Way N., on an entire city block surrounded by a wooden fence. Neighboring structures include the Doubletree Hotel, Percival Plaza and Boardwalk Apartments.
Plans call for a 302,432-square-foot building with office, retail and residential units plus a parking garage.
Columbia Place went before the city’s hearing examiner Monday for land use approval of the site plan as well as a shoreline substantial development permit. The latter is required because of the project’s proximity to Budd Inlet.
Monday’s hearing marked the third time Columbia Place’s site plan has been reviewed by a hearing examiner. Although his official decision will be released in the coming weeks, hearing examiner Mark Scheibmeir said he felt bound to the past two decisions to approve the project.
“The permit will be granted,” he said Monday.
No timeline has been set for construction. However, project architect Glenn Wells is optimistic that shovels will start hitting the dirt in “the next couple of years.”
Wells also confirmed that property owner Vine Street Investors is courting private tenants.
“There’s a lot of momentum building up in downtown Olympia,” Wells said, pointing to recent game-changing developments such as the Hands On Children’s Museum and the soon-to-open 123 Fourth Avenue apartments. “We’re very optimistic.”
The project has languished for more than 10 years. Columbia Place was first proposed in 2005 and was approved by a hearing examiner in 2007.
The Olympia City Council later reversed that hearing examiner’s decision based on opposition from a group called Citizens for Waterfront Views. The group argued that the project would block views of Budd Inlet for nearby residents.
Following an appeal, the project was cleared by the state Shoreline Hearings Board in 2008. Construction began that summer, but ended after a foundation was poured and piles were driven. Wells said the recession and lagging economy essentially mothballed the project.
In 2012, a hearing examiner approved a revised set of plans for Columbia Place that included a sixth floor with residential units.
Construction permits were issued, but the shoreline permit expired before the project was built, according to the city. Vine Street Investors submitted another application for a building permit last May.
In 2014, the Columbia Place property was on a short list for the Community Renewal Area, which is an economic development tool that increases the city’s eminent domain and condemnation powers for downtown sites that are declared “blighted.” According to a city description, “this partially developed property creates a conspicuous hole along Capitol Way and is a continuous problem with trash and debris accumulation.”
Past tenants on the property include the Olympia Canning Co., the SeaMart shopping center and the Yardbirds store. An arson fire destroyed the site’s vacant building in 1999.