East Bay development has a lot of potential

The Port of Olympia is on the threshold of an exciting expansion project – one that will rehabilitate a portion of the port’s peninsula that desperately needs it.

Port commissioners George Barner, Bill McGregor and Paul Telford took a significant step forward last week when they chose Tarragon of Seattle to develop a pivotal 6.3-acre parcel off East Bay.

The development will be adjacent to an $18 million, three-story, Hands on Children’s Museum which is set for completion by the fall of 2011. A four-story, $18.25 million LOTT Headquarters/Education Center is under construction near the museum site and will be completed next year.

Sandwiched between the museum and the water education center will be a 30,000-square-foot public plaza on port-donated property. The plaza is scheduled to open at the same time as the museum and will be developed through an interlocal agreement among the Port of Olympia, the City of Olympia and the LOTT Alliance, the wastewater treatment cooperative of Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and Thurston County.

The plaza will be a public gathering place – a place to stage the museum’s annual Sand in the City celebration along with other community festivals and events. The plaza will be a green space, with a reclaimed-water stream flowing from the nearby LOTT center toward the east bay of Budd Inlet. It will be a place for kids to play in shallow water and run around before a trip to the museum.

The huge investment of public and private funds will turn that blighted area off State Avenue into a thriving community attraction that will draw thousands of people into the downtown business district.

The City of Olympia once planned to build its $38 million City Hall adjacent to the museum and LOTT headquarters, but moved the project two blocks to the south off Fourth Avenue.


Port commissioners recognized the potential of the peninsula property years ago and put a plan in place to demolish the aging, largely unused warehouse to make room for development.

They called for proposals from developers willing to tackle the project and last week selected Tarragon with hopes of turning the East Bay property into residential, office, retail and convention space. It could take 10 to 20 years to fully develop the land.

More precise plans will be developed during exclusive negotiations between port and Tarragon officials. Those plans should be available to the public by year’s end, according to Kari Qvigstad, the port’s marketing and business development director.

She and other staff members at the port recommended Tarragon over two other top qualifiers – Lorig of Seattle and MJR Development of Kirkland. The fact that the port – and, therefore taxpayers – will shoulder less of the financial burden helped tip the staff recommendation in favor of Tarragon. The staff also liked that Tarragon proposed commercial, nonresidential uses to be closest to the port’s industrial activity.

Tarragon’s preliminary proposal includes new residential units on the block that includes the Shell station at State Avenue and Plum Street. The port bought the gasoline station in 2007, and the operator of the station and the convenience store has a five-year lease with the port.

The development plan put forth by Tarragon proposes putting office and retail space to the west of the residential units, and a restaurant could go on the lot to the northwest. A hotel is proposed north of the new site of the Hands-On Children’s Museum, and retail or convention space is proposed north of the hotel.

The port is spending $3.9 million to develop new streets, sewers, sidewalks and lights to access the development. Jefferson Street will be extended north three blocks from its end at State Avenue. And a new road will connect Thurston Avenue at Jefferson Street to Marine Drive. Qvigstad has said the new roads are scheduled to be done by the end of the year.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement over the port’s development plans. As the buildings take shape and precise plans for the 6.3 acres of port property come together, we expect community residents to embrace the vision.

The port has a good track record with the development of the farmers market area, Swantown Marina, the port plaza and its partnership with private business owners. There’s no reason to think that same success can’t be repeated at East Bay.