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Developer studies former Poulsbo city hall site
POULSBO — Talk of a hotel in Poulsbo's historic downtown has begun again, this time backed by feasibility studies and a reputable development company volunteering its time to study the site.
The City Council voted to approve a 120-day option agreement with Seattle-based Lorig Associates at Wednesday's meeting. Lorig is a development company that will spend three months exploring the old city hall site on Jensen Way to "consider a variety of development opportunities," said Lorig CEO Tom Fitzsimmons. A hotel, however, seems to be on everyone's mind.
"We don't know much, but we do know it’s a hotel," Mayor Becky Erickson said at the council meeting. "It could have conference space, it could have structured parking in it. There are a lot of variables … but [we] need time to study what that might look like."
The property stretches from Front Street to Jensen Way, including King Olaf parking lot, on 1.8 acres. The former city hall is 16,000 square feet. There are height restrictions on development downtown. Under current zoning regulations, the new project could be up to three stories, or 35 feet tall, without underground parking, and four stories, or 45 feet, if underground parking is included.
A few months ago, the city hired a consulting firm to study the site for a potential hotel. The study came back with "a very positive response.” Erickson said the firm surveyed 30 Kitsap businesses, analyzed pricing structures and would-be customers.
The city has wanted a someone to build a hotel downtown for quite a while, but the last prospective buyer of the property pulled out in April 2011. Downtown Poulsbo had many hotels in its pioneer days, but the last hotels shut down in the 1950s, according to Judy Driscoll of the Poulsbo Historical Society.
In the last few months of talking with city leaders and touring the site, Fitzsimmons said Poulsbo is a "very special place."
"The downtown area, the city's openness and friendliness, the site itself has a lot of possibilities," Fitzsimmons said.
"Becky is a great leader of that community, she wants to … bring in more jobs and economic development. One way to do that is get more people there."
Lorig Associates has participated in other public/private partnerships, projects where mixed use or commercial buildings have been developed on or incorporating government-owned property.
Fitzsimmons said Lorig has also worked on buildings on the federal historic registry, and the company appreciates Poulsbo's historic significance.
"Every community has its own sense of what it would like to protect, how development can blend in and add as opposed to detract," Fitzsimmons said.
The option agreement gives Lorig the exclusive reign of the site for 120 days — the city can't entertain any other offers to lease, buy or develop the property. No money has exchanged hands, and Erickson said the city is under no obligation to work with Lorig to develop the property, if that is where the study leads.
"There are a range of options," Erickson said — sell the property, lease the property, or form a partnership. "The simplest and securest thing would be to sell … But then we don't have control over what is built if we sell the property." Erickson added a ground lease is possible; the city would have a level of financial investment in the developed property, but the city is not in the hotel-operating business, she said.
The vote was unanimous, with many council members expressing their excitement over a possible hotel.
With this development, "Poulsbo could be first out of the recession in Kitsap County," Councilman Ed Stern said.
"Now is the time to engage the public," Erickson added.
For more information on Lorig Associates, visit www.lorig.com.