Wednesday, October 19, 2016

New Plans for Olympia’s “Mistake on the Lake:” Residential, Restaurant, Gym, Pool


Above: Looking north from the switchback trail on the State Capitol Campus toward downtown Olympia, Budd Inlet and the Olympic Mountains, a vacant, nine story building stands in the middle of the view. Local developer Ken Brogan says he is under contract to purchase the former office building and proposes to redevelop it into a mixed use residential apartment complex.

By Janine Gates

Ken Brogan soon hopes to be the new owner of the nine story building in downtown Olympia, best known by critics as The Mistake on the Lake, and has a full set of plans for it. 

Others have been working for years toward its possible demolition to restore the original, open scenic view north to Budd Inlet and the Olympic Mountains.

Brogan met with city staff on Wednesday morning to discuss redevelopment of the two parcel site, which includes the nine story building and another vacant, one story building. 

The nine story building is also known as the Capitol Center Building, and The Views on 5th.

The proposed development would convert the nine story building to a mixed use project containing 136 apartment units, and a 6,364 square foot restaurant and café. 

The one story building nearby would be rebuilt into a new three story structure with an underground parking structure for residents, administrative offices, a rooftop swimming pool, and a fitness gym along the frontage of 4th Avenue, which would be open to the public.  It is uncertain if the pool would be open to the public.

The parcels are bounded by 4th Avenue West, 5th Avenue SW, Simmons Street SW, just south of Bayview Market, and Sylvester St. SW, which is next to the Heritage Park Fountain.

Built in 1965 and vacant for over ten years, the blighted nine story building has had a long and tortuous history, and at this rate, despite its location, is old enough to be of interest to historic preservationists for its mid-century architecture.

Homeless individuals currently sleep in and around the buildings and windows are often broken. Brogan, who has not yet taken ownership of the property, said that he and his team spend “everyday” trying to figure out what to do about the situation.

Above: Local developer Ken Brogan speaks with City of Olympia building official Todd Cunningham on Wednesday morning.

Nicole Floyd, city senior planner and manager for the project, led the discussion among key staff who took turns asking high level, clarifying questions, discussing codes, requirements, and concerns involving building, engineering, fire, urban forestry, and public works standards. 

Brogan submitted his plans to the city on September 28 and has not yet filed a land use application.

Among other comments, staff said a traffic impact analysis would be required, and the project would need to conform to the new Low Impact Development standards that will take effect December 1. Brogan said he anticipates submitting an application after that date and would comply with all current standards.

Staff expressed subtle and not so subtle enthusiasm about the project.

“It’s an exciting project, and an opportunity to clean up the area down there,” started city building official Todd Cunningham, who also admitted that the project was a complicated one. 

The building's height is non-conforming and is grandfathered into an area that has a current height limit of 35 feet, however, the structure cannot be enlarged or expanded in size.

There will be opportunities for public involvement throughout the land use process, which will start with a neighborhood meeting after Brogan submits a land use application. The project will be subject to State Environmental Policy Act review, which will be led by city senior planner Cari Hornbein.

Causing confusion for some is the fact that previously submitted plans for the building to be converted into a hotel are vested.

“The previous land use approval was for a hotel, which is still vested. That means an applicant can move forward with building permits to convert the existing building to a hotel. The new proposal is not vested. The applicant must file a new land use review application which must be approved by the city before building permits can be issued and the project constructed,” explained Tim Smith, principal planner for the City of Olympia, after the meeting.

The area is zoned Waterfront Urban – Housing. Smith says that no portion of the property is within shoreline jurisdiction.

Above: Waterfront indeed. A relatively tame storm surge from Budd Inlet spilled over onto Sylvester Street in downtown Olympia in March 2016, reaching 4th Avenue and the Oyster House restaurant. The nine story Capitol Center Building and another vacant building proposed to be redeveloped are in the flood zone. City officials told developer Ken Brogan on Wednesday that he will have to plan to accommodate a 16 foot sea level rise.

Jerry Reilly, chair of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, attended Wednesday’s meeting.

In an interview with Little Hollywood, Reilly praised the city’s purchase and demolition of two nearby, blighted buildings, in its effort toward the creation of a great civic space on the isthmus.

He is also pleased with the passage of last year’s ballot measure to create the city’s Metropolitan Park District that enabled the city’s purchase of Kaiser Heights, a wooded parcel near Ken Lake, and the LBA Woods. However, Reilly said he would like to remind councilmembers that a leading argument for the MPD’s passage was to also make more feasible the removal of the nine story building.

“Eleven months have gone by since over 60 percent of Olympia voters approved the creation of the Metropolitan Park District. One of the key selling points of the MPD was its potential to make more likely the removal of the Capitol Center Building.

“We may be on the verge of an historic missed opportunity to purchase and remove this building. The building is now at the bottom of its market value. The question now, most often heard from people regarding this building is, ‘Why was it allowed to be built in the first place?’  The question in the future may be, “Why didn't we remove it when we had the chance?

“The people of Olympia intensely dislike this building. They have told us this on many occasions, through an initiative signed by nearly 5,000 registered voters, a Trust for Public Lands poll, the Elway poll, and the positive vote for the MPD. If redevelopment proceeds, we will endure this Mistake on the Lake for another fifty years. Time is running out,” said Reilly.

As for Brogan’s designs, Reilly called them “interesting,” but questioned why he would want to remodel a building built on fill in a floodplain susceptible to liquefaction.

Little Hollywood’s attempts to speak with Brogan were somewhat unsuccessful.

After asking Brogan a few questions, he discontinued speaking with Little Hollywood after twice asking, “Do you support the project or are you opposed to the project?” Further conversation was apparently conditional on my response.

Little Hollywood responded, “If you read my writing, I try to be fair and offer new perspectives. I have fans on both sides of the issue. I tend to stick to the facts and let other people’s comments provide balance,” and suggested he read my articles.

Brogan did say that he thinks the nearby 123 4thAvenue building is a big compliment to downtown Olympia, and if given the opportunity to pursue his project, he would use local contractors.

Above: The interior of the Capitol Center Building is fully gutted. The windows on the first floor are often broken and a source of easy entry into the building.


For more interior photos and information about the Capitol Center Building, aka The Mistake on the Lake or The Views on 5th, hotel plans, the isthmus, scenic views, Jerry Reilly, the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, the city’s Downtown Strategy, king tides and sea level rise, go to Little Hollywood and type key words into the search button. 

Story Clarifications, October 20: The original article made it sound like the underground garage would be under the nine story building. It would be beside it, as part of the three story building. Also, in preparation for sea level rise to 16 feet, the elevation is in relation to mean sea level, and the sidewalk at that location is about 12 feet.