Olympia drops plan for garage

OLYMPIA - Olympia won't get its first city-owned parking garage anytime soon.

The Olympia City Council scrapped its selection process for a developer for a parking structure Tuesday night because of concerns about its cost in the bad economy, some council members said. Instead, the council voted 4-3 to direct City Manager Steve Hall to develop a plan to acquire 200 new surface parking stalls next year, and focus on surface and on-street parking.

Councilman Joe Hyer, a longtime advocate for a garage, moved Tuesday to focus on adding the new surface spaces.

“Given the economy and where we’re at, I don’t think we can finance” a garage, he said.

Hyer said a garage could cost the city $9 million without a private partner contributing, and he acknowledged that it would be difficult to combine the project with retail and housing, which has been city staff members’ goal. Private developers are struggling to get financing for projects.

Voting for Hyer’s motion were Hyer, Craig Ottavelli, Joan Machlis and Mayor Doug Mah. Voting against were Jeff Kingsbury, Karen Messmer and Rhenda Strub.

“I am very supportive of this very cautious initiative, especially in this market,” Machlis said.

Kingsbury said he would vote against the motion because he doesn’t want to saddle the incoming City Council, which will have three new members, with the requirement to locate 200 parking stalls. One likely site for new parking is the old Department of Transportation site, at 318 State Ave. N.E., next to the Olympia Transit Center. The city is making the lot – with about 70 spaces – available for holiday shoppers this year, Hyer said. But its future hasn’t been determined.

It was one of three sites the city was considering for a parking garage; the others are at 205 State Ave. N.E. and at State Avenue and Columbia Street.

The city could acquire and develop surface parking lots on sites in addition to the old Department of Transportation lot to get to 200 spaces, Hyer said. The sites could be used as surface parking until the market improves, Hyer said, then converted into mixed-use projects with structured parking.

Next year, the city plans to begin replacing the 90-minute free parking spaces in the city core with pay boxes. The boxes issue a receipt that is affixed on the car as proof of purchase – similar to those used in Seattle and Portland. That revenue could go toward acquiring surface parking.

The council has spent a great deal of time and money on the parking effort. City officials have talked about adding a garage for more than 30 years. In July, the council voted to pay up to $85,000 to a Seattle-based real-estate consultant, Heartland LLC, to manage the search for a parking garage developer and other downtown-revitalization efforts.

In August, the city put out a request for qualifications for possible developers of the garage and got interest from 10 companies. On Oct, 20, it narrowed the list to five:

 • Brookhurst Development, of Newport Beach, Calif.

 • Kolb Properties & Berschauer Phillips, of Olympia.

 • Lorig/Mithun, of Seattle.

 • Tarragon, of Seattle.

 • Wright Runstad & Co., of Seattle.

The City Council considered four options about moving forward on a parking garage Tuesday night: getting proposals from a short list of developers; picking one developer for exclusive negotiations; scrapping the garage and focusing on surface and on-street parking; and doing nothing.

At the end of last week’s meeting, Mayor Doug Mah proposed scrapping the request-for-proposal process – the process the council had decided on – and instead picking the “most qualified developer or developers” and negotiating exclusively with them. His comments last week were taken from a meeting video.

But Mah changed his mind and this week supported the surface-parking option. “At this time, the market and the financial market wouldn’t support a public-private partnership for our parking garage,” particularly the mixed-use project the city wanted, Mah said.

But he’s not giving up on a structure.

“I see the action taken by the council as an interim step toward structured parking,” he said.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869