Acorn Development wants to buy the Esther Short Building, which the city put on the market nearly two years ago, for $5 million, City Manager Eric Holmes said Monday.
Holmes, in an email to Mayor Tim Leavitt and members of the city council, said a contingent purchase and sale agreement was signed Friday.
The sale must still be approved by the city council. A public hearing has been tentatively set for Dec. 16.
It was the second big real estate announcement in as many weeks for Acorn Development, as owner David Copenhaver unveiled plans on Oct. 10 for a $32 million urban apartment development in the city's Uptown Village.
Copenhaver did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.
Holmes said Copenhaver plans to renovate the two-story building and retain its present use as office space.
At one time the city had eyed the building, at 610 Esther St., across from Esther Short Park, as the site for a new $30 million city hall.
But, as recounted in a status report to councilors on Monday, the city was able to buy The Columbian's former building from Bank of America for $18.5 million, "a fraction of the price it would have cost to renovate and build new on the Esther Short site."
The city moved into the almost new six-story building, at 415 W. 6th St., in 2011.
The building had been largely vacant since late 2008, after the newspaper staff moved back to its old office space as part of a bankruptcy filing.
By consolidating city staff from five buildings into the new city hall, Vancouver lowered its annual operational costs by $1.2 million.
The city declared the Esther Short Building as surplus property in December 2011. It has been shown to more than 20 potential buyers, investors and developers, according to the report sent to councilors.
"Due to an asking price of $5.23 million and a depressed market, sales activity stalled," the report read.
Acorn Development's offer of $5.09 million was equal to the current appraised value. Once the sale closes, the proceeds will be deposited into the city's general fund, Holmes said.
The Vancouver Farmers Market has been using the parking lots around the Esther Short Building. Executive Director Jordan Boldt said Monday he doesn't yet know what the sale will mean for the market, which runs on the weekends from March through October. The market brackets the building on both sides.
Holmes said that Copenhaver recognizes that the farmers market has used those lots for years and hopes to work with the market.