Council to hear comments on City Hall buy

Officials say feedback has been positive over move to former Columbian building

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Public meeting

What: The Vancouver City Council will hear public comment and make a formal vote on the purchase of a new City Hall at 415 W. Sixth St.

When: Monday, 6 p.m.

Where: Council Chambers, City Hall, 210 E. 13th St.

Should the $1 million a year Vancouver’s budget officials say they’ll save by moving into a new City Hall pencil out, there’s no doubt the city’s getting a great deal: Six stories, almost brand-new, LEED-gold certified, spacious, downtown location, sweeping views of the Columbia River and Esther Short Park for $18.5 million, 44 percent less than its $32.9 million assessed value.

City workers will be moved out of five buildings that are up to 10 miles apart, including some from buildings that could best be described as “pink-carpeted 1970s concrete specials” into much nicer digs.

And some city officials are reporting they’ve heard some concern from residents about public servants working in one of the nicest buildings in Clark County. Some say they haven’t.

But all said the deal they’re getting in buying the former Columbian building, at 415 W. Sixth St., outweighs any perception issues that might come up from having upscale space.

“There’s no way as a city that we would pay to build a building like The Columbian, but purchasing something for a rock-bottom price — that’s a different question,” Vancouver City Councilor Jack Burkman said.

Burkman said he’s been stopped in the streets and at the store since word got out of the city’s potential deal with Bank of America to buy the largely-empty building, formerly home to The Columbian.

Downtown Vitality Partners (which is owned by the Campbell family, publishers of The Columbian) forfeited the building to the bank in its bankruptcy settlement earlier this year; the family no longer has a financial stake in the property.

Vancouver residents will have their chance to have their say about the proposed sale Monday, when the city council will hear public comment before they’re expected to vote on the deal.

Mayor Tim Leavitt said he had some concerns that it might look bad to house city government in such palatial surroundings, but he’s “not heard one piece of feedback … suggesting as much.”

Instead, he said he’s heard from many well respected business folks — the type that might be expected to take up residence in a building such as this.

“They’ve told me this is a landmark decision for the city council,” Leavitt said. “This could be considered the transaction of the decade. I know we’re going in the appropriate direction.”

Assistant City Manager Eric Holmes said City Hall will be a community asset owned by the taxpayers. The quality of the building hasn’t been part of the conversation, he said.

“It’s been does it meet our needs and is it cost effective?” Holmes said.

City Councilor Jeanne Stewart said she hasn’t heard a lick about putting government workers into a nice building, but had heard some push back about what those workers who might be losing their jobs may think.

“How does it look to employees who are getting laid off to be buying a building, instead of just maintaining?” Stewart asked. “If it’s a good deal now, it might be a better buy later.”

City Manager Pat McDonnell has said that the $1 million they expect to save by consolidating the city’s services may actually save some jobs.

The city is currently paying $2.45 million a year in leasing and operating costs to house its administrative employees in five buildings. Holmes said that the city will relocate in summer 2011, as leases in the other buildings run out and renovations are complete.

The total sale is expected to cost $23 million, which includes 5.14 acres, remodeling the building, broker costs and other moving related expenses. The city has about $12.5 million in capital funds already, and will take out $10.5 million in bonds to pay for the building.

Tenet revenue

Tenants occupy about one third of the 118,000 square foot building, and the city hopes to offset its costs by keeping them on and collecting about $500,000 a year in rent, Holmes said.

Other savings are expected to come from $80,000 in energy costs, due to the structure’s LEED certification, and by increased efficiency by having all employees in the same building, he said.

The 300 employees and visitors to the building have a total of 366 spaces at a surface lot at the corner of Esther and West Sixth streets and in the VancouverCenter, which fits parking guidelines, he said.

Holmes said that even if the city staff grows in proportion to the city’s population (which it is not projected to do), the building will accommodate both the city and its tenants for at least 12 years. He said he expects the city to be in that location for at least 40 years.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.