Dramatic changes are underway and in the planning stages at the Port of Olympia. Over the next several years, those who haven’t been present to watch the transformation aren’t likely to recognize the place, officials say. For those interested in keeping score, here’s a district-by-district look at what’s going up at the Port of Olympia’s properties:

Market District: Olympia developer Pat Rants of the Rants Group is looking into building a multi-story combination office-retail building to be called the Olympia Town Centre. Currently, the project is undergoing environmental review.

Marina: The Port is planning to expand its dock area to add 150 slips to its current 550. Many of the new spaces will be built for larger boats, says Nick Handy, the Port’s executive director.

“By putting in big slips, we’re not competing with other marinas in town,” Handy points out. “There are very few, and they’re all full. Plus we’re helping to support the boatworks. Big boats spend proportionally more money in the boatyard than smaller boats.”

There is a side benefit for area pedestrians, he says.

“When you’re walking along the waterfront and enjoying the marina, it’s fun to look at the 50-footers,” Handy says. “It makes our waterfront more interesting from a destination perspective.”

The new docks, now in the planning stages, should be open for business by the end of next year, Handy predicts.

Casual observers may not realize that the Port also owns the parcel of land on the front of State Street where the former Hardel warehouse stands.

Handy says development in that two-acre area has no restrictions because it was under water before a dike was build and the site filled with soil to create land, just as other portions of the Port were man-made. The Port is looking into whether this parcel can support commercial development.

“You have water views from there,” Handy says. “It’s really quite a strong property on State Street. It would be a nice anchor boost to the east end of downtown. It would fill in what’s been a hole down there—a not-very-attractive hole on Port property.”

Further up the Marina, near Genoa’s restaurant, a new marine fuel dock is being planned by Olympia-area resident Red Westgard, who owns Totem Marine in Tacoma.

“That will be welcomed by area boaters,” says Handy. “Since West Bay Marina lost their certification, they’re not fueling there anymore. There’s no place to fuel your boat in the bay anymore. You have to go to Boston Harbor.”

The Port is preparing to build its biggest project of the year near its waterfront property at the former Cascade Pole site. There, a five-acre concrete containment cell will be built to contain contaminated matter from the Cascade Pole hazardous waste site. The cell will be 14.5 feet in depth, says Cascade Pole site manager Don Bache, but, depending on the varying elevation of the area on the site, only three feet or so of it will project out of a built-up berm.

“The Port is building the cell to contain sediments that the Port will excavate from the offshore tidelands next year,” Bache says. “We are planning on putting the work out to bid in April, with construction to be finished by this fall.”

The thickness of the cell, which Handy refers to as the “bathtub,” will range from 15 feet at the top to 62 feet at the bottom. The $2.5 million project will be funded in part by grants from the Department of Ecology, as well as insurance settlements resulting from the environmental damage at the site. In addition, the Port increased its levy from 22 cents in 1999 to 29 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in 2000, in part to pay for the project.

Of the $835,393 in additional money the levy increase will produce this year, $687,643 will go toward the Cascade Pole project, says George Fox, the Port’s financial officer.

Another $1.4 million in revenue produced by the levy will go to pay for the Port’s general obligation bond debt, and $1.2 million will go into the Port’s capital budget.

Marine Terminal: The Marine Terminal, long a drain on Port resources, is finally coming into its own.

Reeling from the loss of its sole tenant, Sunmar, in 1998, it lost $100,000 in 1999. But the terminal stands to make a profit this year, officials says, even if no replacement for Sunmar is landed.

Part of the surge in business is due to a rise in the volume of logging traffic being handled, despite recent efforts by the Port to expand the range of products it handles beyond wood. Logs are being imported through the Port from Canada, Handy explains, but exports are up, too.

“We’re actually projecting an increase in our forest products business this year,” Handy says. “Not because more business is being done, but because we just think our share is going to get bigger. We have a good location for where the market is right now, which is in high-quality Douglas Fir export logs. The companies doing the logging happen to be in good proximity to where we are.”

Many of those logs are headed to Japan, Handy reports.

Meanwhile, the Port continues to seek a major tenant for its terminal, says Handy, and is bidding on three potential contracts. He declined to disclose who the potential tenants might be.

Swantown Boatworks: The Port is in the midst of major expansion in its Swantown District, with one new building for boating repair tenants being erected by Simon Johnson, a Tacoma developer, and another similar venture planned by Peretti-Ryser Inc. of Olympia.

A boatworks building planned by Peretti-Ryser is going through the presubmission process with the City of Olympia. If approved, it will be constructed along Marine Drive, across the street from where the boatworks already is under construction.

Harbormaster Bruce Marshall says business development at Swantown has been faster than originally anticipated. Marshall says the Port had expected to haul out 250 boats last year after officially opening in mid-February 1999. It hauled out 437 in a nine-and-a-half month period.

The boatworks should be even busier this year, says Handy, because nearby West Bay Marina has closed its haulout facility. The private company also threatened legal action against the tax-supported Port for stealing its customers.

“We could very easily have 600 this year,” Handy says of the number of boats the Port’s haulout facility is likely to handle.

“We’re pretty successful here,” Marshall boasts. “We’re really anxiously awaiting these people with the new building to go in. It’s going to add a lot to the project.”

Olympia Airport: The north end of a runway at Olympia Airport is scheduled to be relocated this year because the Federal Aviation Administration has determined it lies too close to Highway 99, Handy says. The 300 feet of runway will have to be moved to the runway’s south end.

Handy describes the project as expensive but says an exact cost figure is not yet available. Ninety percent of whatever it costs will be funded by the FAA, he adds.

It will be unnecessary to acquire new land for the project, says Handy, but the Port anticipates community outreach will be necessary to let the public know that it is not adding a runway.

Handy also reports that Peretti-Ryser has been looking into construction of a new hangar at the Airport but that project has been put on hold. Heber Kennedy, property development manager for the Port, says a kit aircraft manufacturer is considering the project for its operations.

Kennedy says that half the price of new aircraft comes from liability insurance, so those buyers wanting less expensive aircraft can get around that cost by building over half of the plane themselves. That’s where the aircraft kit company comes in.

“These guys make the components,” Kennedy explains, “but when you sign up to build one of their aircraft, you must dedicate a few weeks to the assembly to meet that 51 percent requirement. That way, you can buy a plane that cost $500,000 for $160,000 to $175,000. It’s a major cost change.”

New Market Industrial District: A Comfort Suite motel is in the site-plan review process in the Port’s Tumwater district. The same company that built the area’s first motel, a Guest House Inn, is planning the project, in part to meet the demand for conference space that was created when the Tyee Hotel closed its doors last fall.

“It’s full all the time,” Kennedy says of the 1,000 square feet of conference space at the Guest House Inn.

Developer George Swift wants to include 2,500 square feet of conference space in the Comfort Suite, Kennedy says. The 60-room motel will be about the same size as the existing facility and will be located on 2.5 acres next to the existing inn near the Interstate 5 onramp. The project could be complete as early as this summer, Kennedy adds.

Bruin Development, a local developer that completed a golf range project in the area several years ago, has an option to build an 8,000-square-foot industrial warehouse space on 1.4 acres next to existing businesses ASKA and the Family Golf Center, Handy reports.

“They’re talking about six or eight businesses to go in the same complex with shared common resources, such as restrooms and warehousing space,” Handy says of the Bruin plan. That project is expected to be underway this year.

UPS is expanding its facility on Port property, and developers are negotiating for space in the Port’s district for a new 275,000-square-foot office building for the state Department of Health.

“The winner’s going to get a 10- to 20-year lease for the whole building,” Handy says. “That’s a kind of a low-risk deal for a developer.”

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff