Attorneys general office space hunt changes

The state shifted direction Wednesday in its search for office space for Tacoma’s attorneys general, cancelling the formal request-for-proposal process and deciding to do a "market search" instead.

Jim Erskine, spokesman for the General Administration department – which acts as the real estate broker for the state – said Wednesday that a market search is a quicker way to find space for the 100-person office. Its current lease in the Washington Building, at 1019 Pacific Ave., expires in June.

The state had named the apparent successful bidder for 36,000 square feet of office space almost two weeks ago, but that company withdrew from the process Friday. The state then said it would either choose another proposal from among the original bidders, re-advertise or end the search altogether.

Ordinarily, when the state is looking for office space of more than 10,000 square feet, it conducts an RFP. That’s a rigorous process that outlines in detail the state’s requirements and the timeline for decisions, and it allows for a protest period for unsuccessful bidders.

Conducting a market search is a break from that standard practice. The market search will involve placing advertisements and notices in public forums about what the state needs and then fielding offers, including from brokers representing building owners.

“We felt that (the search) was dragging on too long,” Erskine said, adding that the attorneys general need time to negotiate a new lease, make standard improvements at the new location and then move.

“When you’re trying to find real estate space it’s not like you’re doing contracting for widgets,” he said. “You want to bring the transparency of the RFP process to the real estate process if you can. That’s a challenging thing to do in the real estate process because things are very fluid.”

Erskine said the agency expects that within a week or two it will have identified new spaces to consider, putting the decision closer to its original time frame.

The state put out the RFP in July, 11 months before the lease expired. According to the RFP, that process was to have concluded by Monday. In early September, Russell Investments announced it was moving to Seattle. The state suspended the search for about a week, saying it wanted to see how the Russell move might affect the downtown office space market.

On Sept. 25, Kirkland development company MJR was identified as the successful bidder, offering space in a building in Tacoma’s Brewery District that’s owned by Dale Chihuly. Officials at the University of Washington Tacoma then said they were surprised to learn that a building so close to their campus might become office space. Friday, MJR withdrew its bid.

Erskine said Wednesday that the state’s current landlord, The Stratford Co., was the runner-up in the RFP process despite saying earlier that Stratford had been eliminated on technical grounds. On Wednesday, Erskine said the disqualification was reconsidered because the problems were a few missing signatures, not a failure to meet the intent and requirements of the bid.

Despite Stratford’s proposal, Erskine said, the attorneys general aren’t satisfied with their current location.

Dan Syteman, a spokesman for the attorneys general, has said that the move would offer employees a consolidated workplace that would be more efficient than the current six floors of the Washington Building.

“The RFP process weighed cost extremely heavily,” Erskine said.

People buying a house consider price, but they also consider the location and other things that add value.

“You want the best value, and the best value isn’t just the lowest cost,” he said.

Kathleen Cooper: 253-597-8546