In a divided vote, the Olympia City Council decided Tuesday to seek more money from the state in order to deal with a vacant nine-story tower in downtown Olympia.
The council had been set to approve a request to include three "time sensitive" city projects in the state capital budget. However, some council members wanted to ask for more money to also address the Capital Center Building, an eyesore that is often referred to by critics as "the mistake by the lake."
The original request sought $2.7 million for new bulkheads (protective waterfront barriers) at Percival Landing, $2 million for soil cleanup on two downtown isthmus properties and $750,000 to repair a trail along Olympia Avenue and Marine Drive. The tower is also located on the isthmus between West Bay and Capitol Lake.
With a 4-3 vote, the council asked city staff to modify the requests and bring them back to next week’s council meeting for approval. City staff will create a "more general and less property specific" funding request for the isthmus properties in the range of $5 million to $7 million, according to the motion proposed by Councilman Jim Cooper.
Mayor Stephen Buxbaum asked the council to approve the current list as-is, and voted no on delaying the funding request because he said it was already late. Councilman Steve Langer and Councilwoman Julie Hankins also voted no.
Buxbaum warned council members that the city officials would be "painting ourselves into a corner" by asking for additional money to buy the Capital Center Building, which is privately owned and not for sale. The original funding request had referred to cleanup efforts for the two parcels the city already owns on the isthmus at 505 and 529 Fourth Ave. W.
"We’re seeking a true partnership with the Legislature to finish what we started and handle the properties that we own," Buxbaum said. "I don’t think there’s a clear vision on what to do with Capital Center Building."
Councilwoman Jeannine Roe initially brought up the idea of delaying the decision and having a discussion with 22nd Legislative District lawmakers.
"I see no sense whatsoever in turning down an opportunity to seek more funding," Roe said.
In supporting the additional funding request, Mayor Pro-Tem Nathaniel Jones suggested that money from the Legislature could help with a potential public-private partnership. He agreed with the mayor that such a partnership would fit the proposed Community Renewal Area, which would grant the city powers to address dilapidated properties in downtown Olympia.
"I believe action is important and we have the opportunity to send a strong message," Jones said.
Langer said that "$5 million isn’t close to taking care of it" when dealing with the Capital Center Building. He also said it’s unlikely the city will get all three of the original funding requests this year.
"We should deal with the Capital Center Building, but this is not the way to do it," Langer said. "Perhaps next year we can make a request that is part and parcel of a larger plan."
Located at 410 Fourth Ave. W., the Capital Center Building is owned by Views on Fifth Ltd., which has expressed interest in turning the property into a hotel. The building has sat vacant since 2006 and has long suffered from graffiti and vandalism.