The state’s oldest non-native settlement is getting newer all the time. The 10.7-square-mile city has more than 50 residential and commercial building projects in the works. But officials warn that Tumwater must work out its traffic and floodwater problems, along with the rest of the southern portion of Thurston County, before it gets much more new development.

Growth is not yet overwhelming the infrastructure, says Mayor Ralph Osgood, but it is happening faster than planned. Hampered by a city structure divided right down the middle lengthwise by Interstate-5, the city’s biggest traffic bottleneck is at the Trosper Road interchange. City government is looking into installing a costly new on-ramp, as well as expanding Intercity Transit bus service to ease the congestion for commuters.

“We also still have ugly power lines,” Osgood laments. But with limited resources, he says, the city has had to put the money it has elsewhere.

The state of office space

As many as 618 new arrivals to the city are moving to Tumwater to work in three new buildings at Point Plaza East. Even more may be on their way.

“It’s going to bring a lot of people here between 8 and 5,” Osgood says of a slew of planned buildings whose developers are wooing the state to lease them. Deputy Director of the Department of General Administration Grant Fredricks points out that recently completed buildings already are home to the state’s Office of Financial Management, Department of Transportation, Department of Retirement Systems, the Health Care Authority and Department of Employment Security. That’s just the beginning of what may become part of 1 million square feet of new office space planned in the city, all of it designed to be leased to the state, Fredricks says.

The fourth building in the Point Plaza East development is getting ready to go vertical, says Tumwater development services specialist Roger Gellenbeck, and a fifth is on the drawing table. The Vine Street Group, developer for Point Plaza East, is also working with local architect Glenn Wells to build Point Plaza West, a four-building complex under construction.

Together, both sets of buildings are to total 440,000 square feet and are to be near Israel Road, where Tumwater City Hall is located, and Capitol Boulevard, the main thoroughfare through town.

Fredricks says the state also is planning for office space in Olympia and Lacey as it works to consolidate departments and agencies. But Tumwater will get its share of new offices, he adds, so city officials are working with the state to come up with plans for mitigating the impact such a significant influx of workers will have.

On April 25, state legislators were able to tweak $100,000 from the state’s budget to study the state’s office space needs in Thurston County over the next 10 years.

“It came as a surprise,” Fredricks says of the windfall that was pushed by private developers in the 11th hour of the session. On June 3, the state is expected to come up with a policy that regulates what impact office moves will have on Tumwater, Olympia and Lacey.

Other new office buildings being built in Tumwater with the state in mind include the 6400 Linderson Building, which will have 126,000 square feet of floor space, and the Herb Simon Office Building with 255,000 square feet.

Other commercial growth

The state isn’t taking up all of the new office space being built. Linda Moody of Bennett-Thomas, LLC, says that company is planning a 30,000-square-foot structure near the famed Tumwater Falls Park because of its visibility. Motorists driving near the landmark Olympia Brewery would be hard-pressed not to see the three-story Parkside Building planned at 300 Deschutes Way SW. Owners Jim Bennett and Keith Thomas of Re/Max Parkside expect the building to be ready for occupancy by January or February.

“We liked the history with this piece of property,” Moody says of the project that is already 45 percent pre-leased, mostly to private businesses in the real estate/construction field. “We want this to be a one-stop shopping area for real estate, with engineers, architects and contractors.”

A construction-related office center may be exactly what’s needed in the area, given the current flurry of commercial growth ranging from light industrial to the hospitality industry.

Projects in the works include a new Tumwater Post Office on Airdustrial Way, a 106-unit motel that may be called Extended Stay Motel, a 60,000-square-foot Thurston County Jail annex, a 36,000-square-foot wholesale Pacific Salon Supply building, Sherwood Forest Farms, a 70,000-square-foot industrial building, Maxi Storage, a 33,000-square-foot storage facility, a new 7-11 convenience store, Tumwater Medical Plaza, a new 8,500-square-foot medical and dental office building and a new Tumwater Fire Station among others.

Port of Olympia projects

The Port of Olympia, whose mission is to encourage business growth, has seven projects either recently completed or underway on its NewMarket Industrial Campus property in Tumwater. Among the most noteworthy are a recently completed 59-room motel that opened in March called the Guesthouse Tumwater and the Timberland Regional Library, which is completing a 3,840-square-foot warehouse.

MBCI has taken out a one-year option to lease nearly 12.5 acres for a new manufacturing plant that will produce components for construction of metal buildings, says Heber Kennedy at the Port. If the company chooses to exercise its option by April of next year, the project may be completed by 2001.

Stan’s C Stores is planning to build a gas station/mini mart near the Guesthouse. Richmond Engineering is planning a new 5,000-square-foot office to accompany its warehouse.

Floodwater problems

A small group of homeowners in south Thurston County is pushing for something to be done about the floodwaters that are plaguing some of their homes and have damaged others. But since waters don’t pay attention to boundaries, Tumwater has problems as well.

Beulah Astle, secretary of the South Tumwater Hickman/Hopkins Action Committee, is among those asking county commissioners to do something about the problem that periodically has forced them to sandbag their homes.

“We’ve had water up to three feet high running through our back area,” says Astle, who lives in the county near 93rd Avenue. “”Luckily our house is on a hill.

“The neighbors behind us, their septic tank imploded,” she says.

“Commissioner Kevin O’Sullivan was out there sandbagging with us,” says Astle, who criticizes commissioners Diane Oberquell and Judy Wilson for what she describes as not wanting to pay attention to the problem. Oberquell and Wilson have called such criticism unfair.

“He’s really fighting to get something done about it,” Astle says of O’Sullivan.

Neighbors tried to get help two years ago, when flooding last occurred, but were unsuccessful. They are circulating a petition to present to the county commission. [For more information, call Astle at (360) 352-9323.]

Tumwater City Administrator Doug Baker’s biggest concern is high groundwater all the way down to 93rd and I-5.

“It’s zoned residential and commercial,” Baker says. “The big question right now is how will we deal with new construction in an area that appears to be periodically flooded.”

Developments bode well for economy

Despite challenges posed by flooding and downsizing woes that have included departures of Sunset Life and Tyson Seafoods, Tumwater’s economic future is bright, says Dennis Matson, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Thurston County. MBCI’s manufacturing project “bodes well for a small town,” he says.

Compared with its larger neighbors, Tumwater has competitive advantages, Matson says. These include a Port of Olympia industrial area and the Olympia Airport.

“The challenge is the number of state employees that are going to be out there,” Matson adds. “Tumwater will need to revise its transportation plan.”

The influx of state employees and industrial expansion in Tumwater are going to have a multiplier effect on the economy, creating even more jobs, Matson predicts.

“Tumwater has quite a few new upscale residential developments,” Matson says, such as those on Somerset Hill. “There’s not a lot of old housing stock. They don’t have as much multi-family rentals either.”

That’s why apartment rentals in Tumwater are higher than the county’s average. In April 1998, according to the Thurston County Profile, the average apartment rented for $540, with a 6.5 percent vacancy rate. In Tumwater, those figures were $566 with a 6.3 percent vacancy rate.

Retailers are paying attention. Safeway in Tumwater is undergoing a major remodel, and other retailers are looking at locating near Costco, which is becoming a retail center of sorts, Matson says. It’ s around the block from the older Southgate Center.

“It’s a promising time,” Gellenbeck says. “There’s a lot on the drawing board.”

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff