Thursday, March 24, 2016

City May Purchase Blighted Griswold Building

Above: The City of Olympia has entered into an agreement to possibly purchase the former Griswold’s office supply store at 308 and 310 East Fourth Avenue in downtown Olympia for $300,000. Built in 1928, it also served, in its heyday, as the Avalon Theater.

By Janine Gates

Yep, it's a fixer-upper, but if it checks out, it's all ours.

The City of Olympia has entered into an agreement to possibly purchase the former Griswold’s office supply building at 308 and 310 East Fourth Avenue for $300,000. 

The agreement was on the city council consent calendar and was passed, without comment, along with other agenda items Tuesday night. 

The purchase is contingent on a structural evaluation, title report, an environmental review, and more. Based on those reports, the city has until May 25 to decide whether or not to go ahead with the purchase.

The building is located between Dumpster Values and an alley, and across the street from Jake’s on 4th. 

Built in 1928, it is noted in the city's historic inventory, but is not on any historic register. In its heyday, it was the site of the former Avalon Theater.

The current owners, Clifford and Sean Lee, bought the property in 2007. It was gutted in a fire in 2004 and lost its roof over the main section that backs to Dumpster Values and Old School Pizzeria on Franklin Street. The eastern portion still has a roof, however, it is deteriorated and not usable. 

The Lee's were unable to transform the 7,200 square foot space into something - anything - thus creating a section of blight on a main street of downtown Olympia.

A fa├žade featuring a rainbow mural reading, “Respect and Love Olympia,” currently fronts the space, and makes the street a bit brighter.

City manager Steve Hall said the papers were signed with Cliff Lee on Wednesday.

“If it all checks out, we hope to close by the end of June,” said Hall.

Financing for the possible purchase is from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money and General Fund year end savings, roughly $150,000 from each source.

“There are a number of different activities that are eligible for use of the federal governments CDBG funds including economic development, affordable housing and clearance of slum and blight. We are characterizing this project, at least at this time as removal of slum and blight. In the end it may end up being affordable housing or economic development depending on the nature of how the property is ultimately redeveloped,” said City of Olympia community planning and development director Keith Stahley.

According to county assessor information, the Lee’s bought the property from Billy Griswold in January of 2007 for $257,500. The 2016 assessed land value for the property is $344,950, plus $3,600 structure value, for a total assessed valuation of $348,550.

Under the purchase agreement, the city will pay the seller’s real property excise taxes on the property. Taxes for 2015 are delinquent. With interest and penalties, $5,025.20 is owed. The first half of the 2016 tax principal amount is $2,113.43. 

As to what happens if the city purchases the property, and then can't unload it in a timely manner to a private developer, is undetermined, Stahley said. 

Asked about the role the new Community Renewal Area (CRA), a planning tool used to eliminate blight and encourage economic development, played in potentially making this purchase, Stahley said the CRA may be valuable going forward when the city is ready to sell the property. 

While the city has established the downtown boundary for the CRA, it still needs to put in place a community renewal plan to put the powers of the CRA into effect. The city anticipates doing that between now and the end of the year. 

The plan focuses on specific parcels and projects, like the Water Street Redevelopment Area. An agreement for urban design and planning services for that area was also passed by council at Tuesday night's meeting.

Asked why the city opted to buy it instead of taking the property via eminent domain, Stahley agreed that eminent domain would have been another way of acquiring the property. 

“.…The city would have still paid fair market value. After several rounds of discussion and negotiations we were able to arrive at a mutually agreeable price between the assessed and appraised value,” said Stahley. 

The negotiations took several months.

For more information about the Community Renewal Area, the Downtown Strategy planning efforts, blight, and other issues about downtown Olympia, go to Little Hollywood,, and type key words into the search button.

Above: A close up of the former Griswold's office supply store on Fourth Avenue in downtown Olympia.