Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tumwater in Negotiations with Heidgerken to Obtain Old Brewhouse Tower

Above: The historic Old Brewhouse in Tumwater as viewed from the former keghouse in October 2014. The City of Tumwater is seeking public comment on a final environmental impact statement for a planned land use action for the 32 acre property owned by George Heidgerken. The city is also in negotiations with Heidgerken to obtain the 110 year old, six story tower. 

Planned Action Conversations Continue, Another Public Hearing to be Scheduled Soon

By Janine Gates

After a lengthy conversation at their Tuesday night work session, Tumwater city councilmembers agreed to hold another public hearing on the planned action land use ordinance for the historic Old Brewery area.

The hearing will be scheduled soon, and no decisions about the property will be made at their next council meeting.

City administrator John Doan also acknowledged that the city is indeed in negotiations with Old Brewhouse owner George Heidgerken about the historic, six story tower.

Doan said that it makes economic sense for Heidgerken to give up the tower because it is in the worst shape with the least amount of square footage of any building on the property.  

“If we acquired it somehow, how much would that cost? (For Heidgerken) to develop, it doesn’t have a lot of value. It’s in a tough spot…it’s an expensive building…with not a lot of return. There are certainly a lot of business reasons why he would want to turn that over to the city,” said Doan.

Doan suggested that the council create a developer’s agreement that would clarify the parameters of the arrangement. That agreement would most likely look like a deed to transfer ownership and some piece of land in the form of an easement so the property could be accessed.  

If obtained by the city, Doan said, the tower could be the impetus for obtaining state grants and future fundraising opportunities to restore the tower, independent of what Heidgerken does with the rest of the property. 

Doan later told Little Hollywood that he hopes to have an agreement with Heidgerken within a couple of months.

Councilmembers agreed to hold a public hearing about the city’s possible acquisition of the tower separate from a public hearing on the proposed planned action land use ordinance.

“It would be a big step for the city. The desire to acquire (the tower) is an opportunity again at long last. There would be a lot of good to have people comment on it,” said Councilmember Tom Oliva. Oliva is a co-founder of the Old Brewhouse Foundation, a local nonprofit formed in 2008 that seeks to acquire, restore and provide public use of the tower.

At a February 16 public hearing about the proposed planned action land use ordinance, Heidgerken dangled the possibility of donating the tower in front of the council, which gave the appearance that he was doing so in exchange for the council’s approval of his desired full build out land use scenario for the 32 acre property.

Public comments since the hearing have urged the city to secure a commitment from Heidgerken in writing first, then move forward with a land use decision, if what he was offering was a legitimate option.

Above: The 400 page Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed planned action land use ordinance for the Old Brewery property welcomed each councilmember at their work session meeting on Tuesday.

New Information about Planned Action

Staff also came prepared for Tuesday's work session with a new, draft 10 page supplement to the 400 page Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed planned action land use ordinance.

The document called Exhibit C clarifies the scope of what the planned action is approving and made the restoration and preservation of the existing historic structures along the Deschutes River as part of the plan. 

Councilmembers Joan Cathey and Nicole Hill in particular asked many questions about the implications of a planned action, and requested that a developer’s agreement be written that would ensure that some kind of phasing process would prioritize public amenities, should the developer bail on the project.

Councilmember Hill said she still had a hard time grasping the fact that the property owner could rearrange the proposed uses for the property within the footprint allowed. She suggested that parking be placed up near the RST Cellars Building.

Doan admitted that the proposed 1,000 vehicle parking garage where it is currently proposed in the hillside would obstruct views to and from the historic Schmidt House and that its environmental impact that has not yet been assessed.

Doan also said that it is always a possibility that a developer could bail mid-way through a project but expressed confidence in Heidgerken.

“I think if he gets started down there, that he’ll finish….”

Councilmember Cathey said she is uncomfortable approving the project up front without knowing the full description.

Councilmember Debbie Sullivan said she sensed fear and anxiety by fellow councilmembers that she couldn’t grasp.

“When we get into these processes, there are no absolutes. I think there’s checks and balances in the whole process...I don’t think it’s going to be an out of control project. Are we ever going to be able to control 100 percent of everything? I don’t think so,” said Sullivan.

She said the conversation would be different if councilmembers were talking about the modern brewery properties, which was how it was originally envisioned. Sullivan said she is looking at this project holistically as an opportunity for making Tumwater more economically attractive to investors.

Councilmember Hill responded that she didn’t think she was commenting out of fear, but was responding to all the public comment and trying to ask appropriate questions. 

Councilmember Cathey responded that she too didn’t feel fearful, but felt profoundly protective of the culturally and environmentally sensitive property.

Mayor Pete Kmet acknowledged it was a challenging project and said that to make the area work, a residential component is needed. Since the construction of a new building was nixed by staff as unfeasible, Kmet suggested that a part of the warehouse could be “torn off” to create condominiums.

“…We already know through the marketing analysis that this is a challenging project. To do anything down there will cost a lot of money and anything we can do to streamline that is going to increase the chances that something will actually happen to preserve it….If we end up being successful in acquiring the tower, having this (planned action) done allows us to move ahead with preservation. If we don’t, we’re back to square zero and doing this process again….” said Kmet.

For more photos and many past articles about the Old Brewery, George Heidgerken, the stop work order imposed upon Heidgerken for environmental violations at the site in October 2014, groundwater monitoring, the Old Brewhouse Foundation, historic preservation, and the planned action land use alternatives currently before the Tumwater city council, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words in the search button.

For more information about the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Exhibit C, Supplement to Tumwater Brewery Planned Action, or to provide public comment, contact Chris Carlson, Permit Manager, City of Tumwater, 555 Israel Road SW, Tumwater, (360) 754-4180,, or City of Tumwater councilmembers at