Promoting economic vitality is the Olympia City Council’s highest priority, Mayor Stan Biles announced at the Olympia-Thurston Chamber forum Feb. 9. His statement came during a state-of-the-community address involving representatives from Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and Thurston County.

The City’s second priority is redeveloping West Bay Drive, a waterfront marred by the remains of a burned-out plywood plant and office building, he said. Along with planned commercial development, Biles said, the Council would like make sure any hazardous materials are removed and to encourage recreational development in the area.

Doug DeForest, executive director of the Olympia Master Builders, who had criticized the City for passing higher building-related fees last year, said Biles’ announcement was a pleasant surprise.

“I’m frankly delighted,” DeForest said after the meeting. “I really hope this means the Council has begun to recognize that one of the ways to solve any financial problems they might have is to promote business to generate sales tax. That’s their largest source of income, anyway. I’m hoping it’s a signal of change.”

Much of the growth in the three-city area seems to be in retail, a phenomenon that may in part be attributed to population growth. With the City of Olympia growing at a 2 percent clip annually, adding between 800 and 900 new residents each year, Biles reported progress in Home Depot’s plans to build a new store on Olympia’s west side, at the site of the City’s former municipal landfill. He also said Westfield Shoppingtown Capital Mall plans to expand with a larger cinema complex, among other changes. A new set of condominiums is also planned along West Bay Drive at the site of the recent office building fire.

Tumwater Mayor Ralph Osgood said that thanks to recent new business development in his city—including buildings constructed for use as state offices—the City is not suffering much from the loss of revenue from Initiative 695. The initiative, which was approved by state voters last year, eliminated $175,000 in Motor Vehicle Excise Tax revenues from the City’s budget.

Osgood said he hopes that the retail sales generated by the new Fred Meyer store in the works at the former site of the Tyee Hotel will help make up for the ongoing budget gap.

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff