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10th Avenue location tabbed for new city hall

POULSBO — After a $76,000 study concluded that a $600,000 investment in the original site for a municipal campus in Little Norway was a bust, city officials are hoping for better luck the second time around.

In 2000, the city purchased a 2.75-acre parcel known as the Morris property near its current public works facility in hopes of building a municipal campus that would consolidate city hall, the police department, courts and a civic center. By 2003, those plans had been abandoned.

The municipal campus idea, however, was not.

On Wednesday night, city council members gave their unanimous approval to allow Mayor Donna Jean Bruce to enter into negotiations with Olympic Property Group for a 5.65-acre parcel at the corner of Lincoln Road and 10th Avenue. Costs for the property have yet to be determined, but estimates for the building and land range from $6 million-$6.5 million.

“I think the land has the best potential for the city’s use, even though it is a tight site,” Public Works Director Jeff Lincoln told council members as he laid out the details of the proposal.

The location is the first viable option to surface since plans to build on the Morris property were scrapped due to environmental constraints limiting development on the land. City staff presented 10 possible locations to the mayor and council in numerous executive sessions before announcing the 10th Avenue property as the preferred location.

“I believe there is room for city hall, courts and the police department,” Lincoln said. “However, I am not totally convinced it will work, which is why I want to work with architects before finalizing the deal.”

One of the site’s potential drawbacks is its isolation from the downtown corridor, as it is bounded on three sides by roads including State Route 305, noted Councilman Mike Regis.

That link to downtown will be one of the key aspects in the development of the property, Regis remarked.

“If we can’t tie it back to downtown on a pedestrian level, then we don’t need to do it,” Regis said.

Under the city and OPG agreement, both parties would have 60 days to come to terms on the property, but that period could be extended by mutual consent.

Those terms could include a land swap that would be beneficial to both parties, Lincoln said.

“Whatever the land swap lacks, we’d be asked to make up for in cash,” he noted.

The 10th Avenue property is currently valued at $2.05 million, including the company’s $1.04-million headquarters, which will remain on the property, even if the sale goes through. The current city hall site on Jensen Way is valued at $1.09 million and the current police department site is valued at $659,400.

Regardless as to what the city does, OPG already has plans to develop the property, he explained, pointing to the group’s application for the Westview Business Park project.

“That application will continue to move forward, but if we get to purchase and sale, we will have to address that issue,” he said.

As part of the effort required to move the project forward, Lincoln asked the council to award Tacoma architecture-firm BLRB a contract not to exceed $50,000 to study the feasibility of the property.

BLRB designed Gig Harbor’s civic center and initially declined the city’s offer to interview for the project, he said.

“I really respect it when somebody tells me no,” he remarked. “However, when we asked them again in June, they said they were available.”

The firm presented the interview committee conceptual ideas of potential possibilities for the site, which generated some excitement among members, Lincoln said.

“They are concepts, which are exciting to be considered,” he explained, noting that one potential addition could be a pedestrian bridge over SR 305 linking city hall to the downtown corridor.

However, Councilman Ed Stern said that the time to move forward with the municipal campus idea is now.

“We do need to make some hard decisions because otherwise it would be costing us a lot of money,” Stern remarked, pointing out that the current city hall is need of numerous repairs.

While agreeing with the proposal to start negotiations, Councilman Jeff McGinty stressed the need for a complete study by the architects before finalizing any real estate purchase.

“This is something we absolutely need to do, so we don’t end up with something like we did on the Morris property,” McGinty explained.

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