An influential state committee gave its first blessing last week to moving the proposed state Heritage Center project to the former state visitor center site on the Capitol Campus.
But it might be too little, too late to save the project this year.
The State Capitol Committee, which represents four statewide office holders including a representative of the governor, voted unanimously Thursday to endorse the new site. Secretary of State Sam Reed contends that the new site is needed to allow a $119 million project, less expensive than what originally was envisioned along the Capitol Campus bluff overlooking Puget Sound.
The new site is at the former state visitor center, at Capitol Way and 14th Avenue/Sid Snyder Way. It abuts the historic South Capitol neighborhood, whose association is on record as opposing the move.
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At issue for neighbors is the ongoing encroachment of state government on the residential district, including noise, traffic and parking needs that additional office projects would bring. The South Capitol Neighborhood Association has not withdrawn its letter of opposition sent earlier in the fall, said Democratic Sen. Karen Fraser of Thurston County, who also favors another site.
Fraser has supported the heritage project from the beginning and won financing for it in the Legislature two years ago. She favors the current site of the Hands On Children’s Museum, which is set to relocate, saying it is closer to the downtown business district and would benefit the local economy.
Reed’s staff members contend that Fraser’s site is too expensive because it requires demolition of a parking garage that is needed.
Three local business and tourism groups endorse Reed’s position. Letters of support were filed Thursday with the State Capitol Committee from the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater visitor-convention agency, the Thurston Chamber and the Olympia Downtown Association.
All three expressed worry that project delays caused by the state budget crisis could kill the project.
But Fraser and another key local lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia, have reservations about the new site. Hunt said he is not convinced that the project needs to move ahead at the new site.
Hunt predicted a tough fight for Reed if he wants to secure a new legislative authorization for financing the project using fees collected on document filings at county auditor offices.
Marty Brown, the legislative director for Gov. Chris Gregoire, blocked Reed’s effort to have the committee formally approve the visitor center site Thursday.
He did vote with Reed, Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark and Lt. Gov. Brad Owen to recommend the new site to lawmakers.
But Brown said he doesn’t think the governor is putting a new financing authority for the project into her budget, which is due for release next week.
Reed spokesman David Ammons said that time is the primary enemy of the project, and his agency fears that costs will rise and make the $119 million budget unattainable unless authority is granted this winter. Architects reviewing site options have suggested the visitor site as the most economical and also cite its features as a gateway to the Capitol for visitors coming off the freeway.
“If you have to keep chopping the features of it, at some point it loses the vision and it just becomes a library on campus,” Ammons said. “We’re at a barebones of the original vision right now.”
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688