Thursday, June 26, 2014

Part Three: Fast-Tracking a Vision for Downtown Olympia under a Community Renewal Area Plan

Above: Kris Goddard (standing), Olympia city councilmember Julie Hankins, and city consultant Scott Fregonese create their vision of downtown Olympia at an urban design workshop held on April 5. Their vision transformed the Capitol Center Building block into a park, deleted part of Water Street, and established an electric trolley around the perimeter of the area.
by Janine Unsoeld

An active visioning process for downtown Olympia is well underway and almost nobody knows about it. The results of this vision for downtown Olympia could seriously influence the built environment of downtown Olympia.

Another meeting of the city's Community and Economic Revitalization Committee (CERC) and its citizen advisory committee met tonight to discuss the financial assumptions of the scenarios they created in past workshops.

The consultants, on speaker phone, presented the information to the group via computer, making tiny spreadsheet numbers hard to see and the conversation hard to hear. Citing known and estimated rent and development costs, the numbers were admittedly rough - so rough that an open house previously discussed to possibly be held in July to involve the public in understanding these design scenarios will not occur.

“As we get into specific scenarios, there will be specific numbers...which will lead to a higher quality public process,” said Mayor Stephen Buxbaum.

Councilmembers Roe and Selby observed the meeting, along with several members of the public, but both left early. About 10 members of the 30 member advisory committee were in attendance.

Citizens are still not being invited to ask questions or comment on the information presented at the meetings.

Design Workshop Results

The city's consultants reviewed the results of the workshops to create three scenarios called the Base Case, the Central Park design, and the Green Connections design. They shared these results and scenario mock-ups with the city's Community and Economic Revitalization Committee (CERC) and their advisory committee on May 15.

At that meeting, John Fregonese said that the design workshop results showed that each table supported redevelopment of the Olympia Yacht Club parking lot, included a mix of uses on city-owned properties, and connected and extended Percival Landing.

The majority of table groups demolished the Capitol Center Building, better known as the nine story Mistake on the Lake, and redeveloped the ImageSource building, formerly known as the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.

There were notable differences in opinion on the location of park land, the mix of uses (i.e. turning the nine story Capitol Center Building into a hotel vs. a library or mixed use building), and adherence to current height limit restrictions.

Members of the citizen advisory group discussed needing more financial information attached to each scenario.

In response for tonight's meeting, the consultants chose to examine four parcels: the Olympia Yacht Club parking lot, the Capitol Center building parcel, the buildings east of Heritage Park, and the city owned properties and the building currently occupied by ImageSource.

Consultants estimated development costs associated with demolition, site preparation, surface and structured parking, park development, streetscape improvements, hard costs such as pilings, vacancy rates, and more.

Some citizen advisory committee members, like Mike Reid of the Port of Olympia, appeared eager to sink their teeth into real numbers, but that enthusiasm quickly dissipated as questions arose about the viability of the numbers and financial feasibility gaps presented in each design model area and approach.

In short, the numbers were soft, but consultant Loreli Juntunen said that it appeared that a remodeled area on the property east of Heritage Park is the “place to go for the greatest investment return.” This is the property currently occupied by Traditions Fair Trade and other businesses.   

Concern was expressed by citizen advisory committee member Jerry Reilly, representing the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, that a purely public option or scenario was missing.

“Is there the market demand to warrant investment? How long will it take to develop it if it's not there? I'm worried about the Capitol Center building being redeveloped. The height is a problem,” he said.

Thera Black, representing the Thurston Regional Planning Council, responded that community visions do not always pencil out and may have to be adjusted.

Mayor Buxbaum agreed. “There's no slack anymore to make reactionary isn't 2005, or 1986...we can't make mistakes. We need to make smart investments before we jump into a public process....”

Citizen advisory board member Rachel Newmann questioned whether or not the city should be investing in downtown. Can we afford it? Should we do it?

Since Olympia does not have a united community vision about downtown's appropriate level or area of growth and development, there were several long pauses in the conversation. Finally, Juntunen said that multi-family developments are occurring in Olympia primarily along the edges of its urban growth boundary. In contrast, many other cities, such as Portland and Dallas, are experiencing infilling.

“I bring that up to have to set the stage properly for that to happen. Portland started that in 1970 - you have to make intentional investments to make that happen....” She admitted those were councilmember decisions. Juntunen, a consultant with ECONorthwest, is based in Portland.

Reilly commented, “The option of doing nothing falls under its own weight rather quickly.”  Buxbaum said that the private sector is trying to plug the holes as best they can.

The next meeting of the city's Community and Economic Revitalization Committee is July 21. The next meeting of the committee and its advisory group is August 7.  

Nine Story "Views on Fifth Avenue" Building Confusion

Trying to plug a literally and figuratively leaking nine story, 75,000 square foot investment hole are the owners of the Views on Fifth Avenue at 410 Fifth Avenue.

Two recent, somewhat misleading articles in The Olympian dated June 13 and June 22 caused confusion about the building's status.

According to city staff, there is no actual permit for a hotel at this location, nor did the building's owners receive the current permit on May 27. Just because the developer's goal is to turn the former office building into a hotel does not make it so.

Former city building inspector Tom Hill signed off on the building owner's commercial tenant improvement permit application plans for a structural retrofit on December 3, 2013, which was good for six months. A representative for the owners came in and picked up the permit last month on May 27 because it was going to expire on June 3. Once the permit was picked up, the owners have six months to start work. This permit will stay valid for another six months if they do the work and get an inspection.

The permit on file with the city from October 2010, permit number 10-3309, is the one on record.

“Bottom line is that the permit they received only allows them to proceed with the structural modifications that would allow the building to be converted to a hotel or other residential occupancy at some point in the future. We have not received plans for that conversion yet,” Keith Stahley, director of the city’s Community, Planning and Development department clarified today for Little Hollywood.
Above: The nine story Capitol Center Building, left, and Traditions Fair Trade on the corner of Fifth and Water Street.
CERC/CAC Participant Perspectives

Councilmember Julie Hankins is a member of the city’s Community and Economic Revitalization Committee (CERC).
Asked last month for her perspective on the downtown visioning process and the design workshops held so far, Councilmember Hankins responded:

“I was extremely happy with the collaboration, cooperation, and compromise that we saw occurring….Since our intent with the workshop was to bring different viewpoints to the table and see if we could provide an opportunity for those differing viewpoints to converse and find areas of consensus, I would say our goal was met.
“The next steps, of course, are to review with the participants their experience and find where we can improve the format.  Like any pilot project, we must start small, carefully review, analyze, and make needed adjustments to our model and then, when we decide to move this forward, consider possible ways of introducing this model to the larger community. We have a ways to go on this journey, but it was so nice to see a real conversation between differing viewpoints occur in our community. These are the types of constructive, inclusive conversations that are going to move this community forward.

“Again, understanding that the real emphasis is on the process, not the end result, the important lessons to take away from our scenario are you must let go of preconceived ideas and wants, and think outside of the box. We were extremely successful in crafting a plan once we let go of our preconceived ideas of where things “had” to go or where we “wanted” them to be and stopped focusing on our individual wants and instead focused on the community’s needs.  Once we did this the sky became the limit for us and our ideas….Our group was great because we had such divergent viewpoints that were able and willing to listen and hear one another. ”

Kris Goddard, the lone “citizen at large” representative to the committee, was also asked to comment how she heard about the downtown visioning process and her interest in serving.
“In May 2013, I learned about the budding citizen advisory committee’s (CAC) formation from Rachel Newmann, who had been appointed to (it) as the Heritage Committee's representative.  I decided to contact Keith Stahley and ask if there might be a place for me in the group. I had gotten to know Keith when I served on a hiring committee for Community, Planning and Development in 2012. His response was yes, and my designation would be ‘citizen-at-large.’
“You might wonder why I requested the chance to serve: four women and I formed a grass-roots group which we named 2020 Vision Olympia in the summer of 2008. We were registered with the Secretary of State and had a website…until 2012.  It was the proposed isthmus rezone that fueled our activism. We were strongly opposed to the Tri Vo project. We felt adamant that the Capitol Campus views and Budd Bay/Olympics views needed to be protected.  But our larger mission was to persuade city leadership to engage an urban design team to conduct a community-wide visioning process to help citizens plan downtown Olympia – an urban design team that would then remain engaged for at least the early stages of the plan's economic implementation.

In subsequent years, most of us…and four others who joined our group in 2009…have worked to elect council members who we hoped could be persuaded to embrace this planning and design model for revitalizing the downtown. With little to show for our efforts, 2020 Vision Olympia just sort of faded away over a year ago.

“I have learned from and been heartened by my experience on the CAC thus far.  It's the first opportunity I have had to sit down with local developers, representatives from downtown businesses and representatives from entities such as the Port and the Economic Development Council to hear their visions for potentially revitalizing some of the isthmus properties. Even though we don't always agree, I respect them all because I have learned a lot about their skill-sets, perspectives and bodies of knowledge. I think I finally understand where most of them are coming from. It's also the first time in several years that I have felt hopeful that the blight at the west entrance to our downtown may eventually become part of a larger area that will make Olympia proud and – best case scenario – perhaps trigger a broader downtown transformation.”

For more information about downtown Olympia, the Community Renewal Area plan and process, and past and proposed plans for the isthmus, go to and type key words into the search button.

Above: Another table's design workshop vision on April 5 created a parking garage in front of the Olympia Yacht Club.
Editor's Correction: In the May 7, 2014 story, "Fast Tracking a Vision for Downtown Olympia under a Community Renewal Area Plan - Part One", it was Erica Cooper, downtown property manager, not Lori Drummond of Olympia Federal Savings, who presented her table's design at the April 5 design workshop.