Olympia, Wash. to Relocate City Hall

Aug. 24--OLYMPIA -- Within a month, city officials hope to choose one of two locations near East Bay for what they hope will be a leaner, greener new City Hall.

The two locations being considered are two blocks from each other: The vacated Department of Transportation building on the corner of State Avenue and Adams Street and a portion of a 17-acre property owned by the Port of Olympia near the intersection of Olympia Avenue and Jefferson Street.

A new City Hall would consolidate many of the departments spread out over several city blocks on Plum Street, which is inefficient timewise for residents and moneywise for the city, and both proposed locations would bring 250 employees closer to the downtown core, Hall said.

A timely decision on the locatio n would keep the city on track for getting it built by 2009.

The City Hall on Plum Street comes as a distant third possibility, City Manager Steve Hall said.

City officials estimate the city would save very little money redeveloping the Plum Street site -- perhaps $1.5 million to $2 million off a $35 million project, he said.

"It doesn't have the added value of revitalizing the downtown," he said.

Both downtown sites raise "parking challenges," Hall said.

But the project is in a much better position today than last year, when a developer failed to reach an agreement with the Port of Olympia for a site for City Hall, Councilman Joe Hyer said.

"Having two viabl e locations downtown, that's what's so exciting," he said.

Moving City Hall downtown could prompt other changes that some downtown boosters have been asking for, such as a parking garage, Hyer said.

"Two things would bring pressure to build a parking garage downtown: We need a shortage of parking and a large employer," he said. "City Hall might just be that pressure."

Jeff Trinin of the Olympia Downtown Association said the group has been happy with the two selections, though they prefer the Department of Transportation site.

"This development will help spur other areas of development, (it will be) for the efficiency of city government and it will be real close to the Transit Center, which makes a lot of sense."

Team Olympia

Development group Team Olympia, led by the Rants Group, is analyzing the two locations on multiple fronts, including the cost of land, the availability of parking, the size of the properties and any development considerations sites might pose.

Four other downtown sites were ruled out when property owners were unwilling to sell, architect Pat Rants said.

Leaner and greener

City officials want to corral many departments under one roof, eradicate $425,000 a year in lease payments and provide better customer service by keeping most city services in one location.

Besides the circular City Hall building on Plum Street, the city owns the Smith Building across the street and leases space in nearby office buildings. Citizens sometimes have to walk several city blocks to find the department they want, Hall said.

City officials plan to reuse the existing City Hall for the city's criminal justice departments, including courts, probation and an expansion of the existing 28-bed jail, Hall said.

Building a new facility makes sense, Hall said. Estimated renovation costs of existing downtown buildings ran close to $39 million.

"This way, we can get what we want and have a building that reflects the city's values," Hall said. The council wants a "green building," with features such as solar heating, low-chemical carpets and low-flow toilets, he said.

The City Council probably will choose between the two sites without a formal public approval process, although if someone came to a meeting with comments, "we're happy to listen," Hyer said.

"The time for public input was for choosing the general area. Now, it's looking at all those factors and development costs that are analytical and identifiable."

It remains to be seen how the city will pay for the entire project.

The city has $25 million available for the project, Hall said, but he estimates the 88,000 square feet will cost at least $35 million.

The city could build the entire project at once or build as much as it can afford now and add on later, he said. That would cost more in the long run.

Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, Hall said. "We have not had that discussion yet."