Contractor tears down vacant building on isthmus in downtown Olympia

Demolition began this week on a vacant city-owned building in downtown Olympia, and another demolition in the area is coming later this summer.

Crews are tearing down the former Thurston County Housing Authority building at 505 Fourth Ave. W., located on the isthmus between Capitol Lake and West Bay. Part of the sidewalk along Simmons Street and Fourth Avenue is closed.

Dickson Company was awarded the project with a bid of $51,680, which was the lowest of nine bids received, according to the city. The demolition started Monday and is set to be finished by April 17. The city initially estimated the cost between $75,000 and $125,000.

A city-owned building next door at 529 Fourth Ave. W. — the former county health department building — is slated for demolition this summer.

In May, the city will seek bids from private contractors to remove that building’s asbestos and lead paint, then seek bids for demolition in June. The goal is to have all of that work completed between July and September at a cost of about $970,000, said Rich Hoey, public works director.

Last December, a brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord had conducted interior demolition on the Housing Authority building as part of a training exercise at no cost to the city. However, the brigade ended the training when labor unions complained that the project should have gone out to bid. To continue the work, the brigade would have needed a waiver from local labor unions, according to Army regulations.

The most notable vacant building on the isthmus is the Capital Center Building. The nine-story tower has been an ongoing source of controversy, with many saying it should be torn down to make room for a new park on the isthmus.

In January, the Olympia City Council approved a $5 million request to the state Legislature, part of which would be used to help the city buy the tower, which is privately owned and not on the market. The tower has been valued at as much as $18 million.

City Manager Steve Hall said the city is awaiting word on whether funding will be available. Even if the city got its full request from the state, more than half of the $5 million would go toward critical repairs at Percival Landing and a trail along East Bay.

Mayor Pro-Tem Nathaniel Jones said in January that the private sector has been unable to move forward with redeveloping or demolishing the Capital Center Building, which has been vacant since 2006. He suggested that money from the Legislature could help foster a potential public-private partnership. Building owner Views on Fifth Ltd. has previously expressed interest in turning the tower into a hotel.

“That building is a drag on our economy and our community’s ability to move forward,” Jones said at the Jan. 27 council meeting.

In the meantime, the current demolition projects mark a milestone in a process that dates back several years. The sites of the two buildings had originally been proposed for high-end condominiums before the property went into foreclosure in 2011. In 2013, the city bought both derelict properties for about $3.3 million.

The future of the isthmus is still uncertain. Community groups like the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation have been lobbying the city for years to build a park on the isthmus.

At the same time, Olympia is moving forward this year with a Community Renewal Area, an economic development tool that would expand the city’s eminent domain powers over downtown properties in poor condition. The city is seeking partnerships with private property owners downtown, and proposed partnerships will go before the council for final approval in November or December.