The dust-up at a recent meeting of the Port of Olympia Commission was unfortunate. It did not reflect well on commissioners or engender confidence by the public.
The three port commissioners — George Barner, Paul Telford and Bill McGregor — are at a pivotal point in shaping the future of the northernmost tip of the port peninsula that juts into lower Budd Inlet.
Commissioners and their staff — led by Executive Director Ed Galligan — have done a credible job of shaping the East Bay development, and it’s equally important to get it right on NorthPoint.
EAST BAY DEVELOPMENT
In June commissioners chose Tarragon of Seattle to develop a pivotal 6.3-acre parcel off East Bay. Tarragon submitted a proposal that includes new residential units, office and retail space, a restaurant, retail or convention space and a hotel. Those plans are just conceptual, and the port and market forces will determine what eventually is developed and when.
But we do know 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 already 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 that will serve as a public gathering place — a place for community festivals and events. Together the plaza, children’s museum, LOTT education center and the commercial development by Tarragon have the potential to turn an underutilized portion of port property into a thriving and inviting community asset.
Barner, who has a history of trying to preserve dilapidated buildings, wanted to keep a giant port warehouse on the site, but — thankfully — lost that fight. The planned East Bay development is a far better use of public property than an unused, aging warehouse.
Perhaps it was Barner’s defeat on the warehouse issue that sparked his outburst at last week’s commission meeting as he and his colleagues took up the issue of the future development of the north end of the peninsula.
Barner clearly lost his cool. His temper flared and his words were angry. He later apologized for his behavior.
While passion on heartfelt issues is a good thing, losing control is not an admirable quality in elected officials. Barner crossed the line, but acknowledged his mistake.
At issue is NorthPoint, a 2.4-acre parcel near Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill and KGY Radio at the very tip of the peninsula. The views of southern Puget Sound with the snow-capped Olympics in the distance, are nothing short of breathtaking. That makes NorthPoint one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in all of Thurston County. The fact that it’s in public ownership is a good thing for taxpayers because the property has monumental revenue potential.
The port and its partners have spent millions of dollars to clean up the old Cascade Pole log treatment site which was contaminated with toxins. The NorthPoint property is zoned urban waterfront, a zoning designation that allows restaurants, hotels, hospitality/tourism and public amenities, such as a public pier.
Under the NorthPoint development plan, approved by the commissioners on a 2-1 vote with Barner in the minority, it could cost $4.6 million to develop the property. One controversial aspect of the plan is to demolish the leased KGY studio and turn it into a public pier. The radio station and its general manager/announcer Dick Pust have been an important part of Olympia’s media history for decades.
The dispute between commissioners centered on the speed at which the port will proceed. Telford and McGregor believe the port has studied the issue long enough and say it’s time to move forward with a development plan.
Barner wanted a slower speed with more public input.
He was outvoted.
There is a political aspect to this debate, too. Telford is stepping down at the end of the year, and the next commissioner will be Jeff Davis or Dave Peeler; both of whom advanced to the general election having captured the most votes in the August primary.
They need to let the public know where they stand on this issue. With just three commissioners, it’s important that they share a vision for development of the NorthPoint property. Otherwise, every step along the development path could be subject to backstabbing and second guessing. A shared vision is critical to the successful development of the site.