Tavern block development remains on hold

The impression developers and city officials give is of downtown development projects ready to roll, but they sprinkle it with mounting frustration at projects so intertwined that one can’t start until the other does.

The impression developers and city officials give is of downtown development projects ready to roll, but they sprinkle it with mounting frustration at projects so intertwined that one can’t start until the other does.

Jeff Oliphant, president of JLO Washington Enterprises, needs parking for the KeyBank-City Hall annex-retail and medical office building he plans to build on the site of the tavern block between North Division Street and Auburn Avenue. But he can’t do anything until Auburn Regional Medical Center begins building its 300-stall parking garage at the site of the old police station north of City Hall.

Per arrangement with ARMC, half of the stalls will be reserved for city use. And the city, which has run out of room at 30-year-old City Hall, really needs that parking.

“We have submitted our plans to the city for a building permit,” Oliphant said. “We should be in a position from our perspective to start construction in 90-to-100 days. There’s a big if, however. We need to finalize arrangements for parking. Without having arrangements for parking, we are uncomfortable starting construction. We look forward to the hospital getting started on its much-anticipated project.”

Pat Bailey, assistant administrator at Auburn Regional Medical Center, would not discuss the cause or causes of the delay, but she said that no one wants to get started more than hospital officials do.

“New construction bids are due April 29,” Bailey said. “Within the week after that, we should know considerably more than we do now. We are the least patient of everybody; we want to start as quickly as possible.”

In December of 2007, ARMC demolished the old Auburn police station immediately north of Auburn City Hall. Where the station stood, it plans to build a 28,000-square-foot cancer center and medical office building with an attached parking garage. The complex will offer medical oncology, radiation oncology and a community outreach and educational component. It will be affiliated with the Tacoma Radiation Oncology Center.

According to the Planning, Building and Community Department, the building and parking garage foundations and structure will be sized for two additional floors of about 14,000 square feet each, allowing for future expansion should the hospital or city decide it is necessary. The three-story parking garage will total about 106,000 square feet. A bridge will connect the structure to the medical building on the second level.

Auburn Regional Medical Center acquired the property from the City of Auburn for about half of its $1.2 million market value in July of 2005, in exchange for agreeing to build a parking garage the hospital and city would share.

In the fall of 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck, and the hospital’s parent corporation was tied up with its interests down south, delaying local plans.

Parking spots needed

City officials understood, but they still needed the parking garage to accommodate their employees. City Hall was built in 1978 when Auburn’s population was 25,000. Today, with the recent annexations of Lea and West hills, its population is 68,000.

In 2007 Oliphant, who owns the former Cascade Savings and Loan and Sporting Goods and the Main Street Tavern on the tavern block, began developing a plan for his block-wide building, to include the City Hall annex, which at 25,300 square feet will take up roughly half the space.

The city, which bought the old Mecca and Jade tavern sites in anticipation of a future development, moved forward with Oliphant, confident it had the parking available off block to provide for the annex employees.

But the garage has not been built.

“We have been working on that on almost a weekly basis now to get it going,” Lewis said. “Mr. Oliphant has already turned in his plans, and we are processing them. We cannot start construction until the hospital commits to building that parking garage. We have had several amendments calling for that parking garage to be completed by the middle of 2007. And still, no garage.

“So yes, I am frustrated,” Lewis said. “I’ve heard all kinds of reasons from the hospital. I’ve heard their attorney was sick, that they have a new CEO and that the bids came back high. But frankly, after being in the development stage for several years, they ought to know what those bids are by now. This lack of moving forward on a contract that was made with the city can hurt all of us, and this project on the medical block needs to start now. Everything is being held captive to this big if.”