Port of Olympia

Concerns air over Port of Olympia’s New Market Industrial Campus

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TUMWATER –– The Port of Olympia’s impending New Market Industrial Campus lease option came up for air again last night, this time in a Tumwater City Council meeting that saw some city council members expressing concern over whether or not the Port should develop that property. 

However, it might not be up to the city council at all to determine what goes in on that property. City and port officials talked over the fact that The Port of Olympia functions as its own governmental entity, and while it must abide by the city’s zoning rules, can provide a 10-year lease option to develop nearly 200-acre site by the airport to anyone they want. The lease option, according to port officials, functions much like a reservation fee and isn’t actually a lease. A company could take advantage of the $354,916-a-year lease option so the port can’t lease the property to anyone else, port officials said, and come back after 10 years to lease the property for 55 years with an option to extend that lease. 

Some city council members had objections to port officials potentially extending the lease option to Irvine, Calif.-based Panattoni Development, a commercial real estate company that markets itself as an industrial, office suite and build-to-project developer. City officials said the company specializes in building warehouses, which some don’t want to see go up on the as-of-yet undeveloped site that is currently a grove of trees. As of Tuesday night, port officials confirmed there was no formal proposal for developing the new market industrial campus site. 

“My concern is Panattoni’s known for big warehouse development,” said Charlie Schneider, Tumwater city council member. “That’s what they did in Lacey, and I’m concerned about it on this piece of property. This is a beautiful piece of property and I would like to see the city get something beneficial out of it.”

Leatta Dahlhoff, another Tumwater city council member, pointed out District 4 of the property is zoned for airport-related industrial development, allowing a warehouse by Panattoni to go in on the New Market Industrial Campus should the company choose to build one. District 4 is surrounded by Interstate 5 on the East side, Harper Street on the West side and Tumwater Boulevard on the North side. Those with environmental concerns don’t want to see trees felled to make way for an industrial development on that site, although the port’s executive director, Sam Gibboney, said such development wouldn’t mandate that all the trees on the campus come down. 

“There’s this phenomena that people think there’s a distinct proposal, and that proposal would involve cutting all of the trees,” Gibboney said. “That’s not likely how the development would happen, and it’s certainly not how the development would happen if it’s in keeping with your codes and development regulations.”

The port has a self-imposed deadline of July 13 to make a decision about how and who to lease the property to, driven much by what port officials at the meeting called market demand. Plans over the last four years brought port officials to determine July 13 this year as the date by which a decision would need to be made about leasing out the New Market Industrial Campus. 

“There is nothing driving that as far as statutory requirements,” said Gibboney. “I will say the ports are really the platypus of local governments in that we have a foot in both worlds. We operate in the world of business, and in a very competitive business.”

With the market interest driving some port activities, Gibboney said, the time frame for making decisions is different from other government planning processes. Further development of the area could also bring about the creation of 1,000 new jobs, she added.

“What’s driving this is, quite frankly, we have a developer and they have opportunities in various places,” Gibboney said. “We would like to see them be able to work with our properties. We’d like to get them under option so we can move forward.”

Much of the port’s land surrounding the New Market Industrial Campus was used for agricultural and timber production until the 1970s, when the property was used for log storage and transfer yards, and roads and building pads were constructed on the property. The 1990s brought more commercial activity, as well as the development of recreational spaces, including the baseball field and golf course. Today, government offices, manufacturing and other businesses take up residence on the property. 

Efforts to develop the New Market Industrial Campus would, port officials said, further the economic benefits of the port and the greater Olympia area. 

“The port is interested in not just doing the minimum of what is required, but really being a good partner,” Gibboney said. 

While port officials want to bring in financial and economic resources to continue the port’s development plans, others want to prioritize conserving the community’s natural resources. Tumwater City Council Member Joan Cathey expressed trepidation over moving forward with developing the port’s land, stipulating that market demands might not be the best way to determine a timeline for adequately protecting the ecology of the site. 

“It feels to me that we’re going to be put under some pressure with the habitat conservation plan to meet your deadlines and demands about this, and that makes me feel uncomfortable,” Cathey said during the meeting. “At a time of climate crisis, that trees would be cut down and stuff would be paved over, the timing of this has brought up so many old and new things that have just collided here.”

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