Friday, February 5, 2010

Be the Change...and Tarragon Changes the Agenda

Above: The view of the Capitol Building is currently in sight of Marine Drive, along East Bay's portion of Budd Inlet. This is the location, near Jefferson and State Streets, considered by Tarragon to build a five story hotel.

by Janine Gates

"I was surprised that they were as far along in the conceptual design as they were," said Mike Reid, property development manager for the Port of Olympia.

Reid was commenting yesterday on Tarragon's pre-submission application to the City of Olympia to build a five story, 232,775 square feet hotel with underground parking for 179 vehicles on port property near State and Jefferson.

Earlier in the week on Tuesday morning, this reporter paid Reid a personal, unannounced visit at port offices to get a comment on Tarragon's pre-submission permit application to the city. Surprisingly, Reid did not know about the application, submitted to the city on January 29. Tarragon representatives had not told him.

"Thanks for the heads-up," said Reid.

So, I contacted Tarragon's development manager, Ryan Hitt, who confirmed the proposal and the meeting scheduled for February 10 at the city's community development and planning offices.

Tarragon representatives have since cancelled the meeting and have not returned phone call requests for information on Thursday or Friday. It is unclear why the meeting was cancelled or if it will be rescheduled.

Also on Tuesday, city permit inspection services manager, Tom Hill explained the application process and said that the public was welcome to come observe the meeting.

Hill said that such a meeting is the applicant's opportunity to ask staff questions about the feasibility of their application. "Then they go away. A lot of applicants don't come back after hearing about the requirements from city staff. But if they do come back, then, based on the information they submit, there's a formal intake meeting for their application. We log it in, create a file, and then the public can comment on it."

Commenting on the permit meeting agenda change, Reid said, "I don't think Tarragon realized how quickly the city could turn around its pre-application. Some jurisdictions aren't that quick...and it appeared on the city website....(But) the idea of a hotel at East Bay is not new. We've known about this since their open house. A hospitality component was clearly articulated."

Tarragon held a public open house in May 2009. "They are doing due diligence with the property. The port wouldn't want someone to tie up the land and not do anything with it. They had to start somewhere and they decided to start with a hotel," Reid said.

"It takes time for anyone to get permits, and that's a good thing," says Reid. "There's no rush other than we want to keep moving forward." The port entered into an exclusive negotiation agreement with Tarragon in June 2009 to develop two parcels equaling 6.83 acres on East Bay.

"We are still working out a master development agreement with Tarragon, and that should come first. We're still on target - March is our target date to finish the agreement for the six parcels," explained Reid.

Unclear, however, is the overall vision of the port and the waterfront along East Bay. The port is also entertaining MJR Development, the developer also interested in putting a hotel and restaurant the size of a football field and 40 feet high on port property at nearby Northpoint.

A group of citizens recently petitioned the port commissioners to reverse the November 23, 2009 decision to give exclusive redevelopment rights at Northpoint to MJR Development. The group also hopes the port will agree to reopen the public process and work directly with the citizens of Thurston County to develop a comprehensive vision for the shoreline.

"There's no doubt East Bay is further along in its plans for development than Northpoint," said Reid.

Above: The port's marketing sign "Energizing East Bay and beyond..." is not looking too helpful at the moment on port property at Jefferson and State Streets in downtown Olympia. The LOTT Alliance Education Center and Alpine Experience can be seen beyond the sign. For comparison, the nearby LOTT Alliance Education Center and business offices, still under construction, is four stories, and 54 feet tall.

The next meeting of the Port of Olympia commissioners is February 8th, 5:30 p.m., LOTT Boardroom, 111 Market Street NE, 2nd floor of the Market Centre building, across from the Olympia Farmer's Market. Contact the Port at (360) 528-8000 for more information.