Thurston County and Olympia, especially, are carving out a new, sleeker image as a place for building — or rebuilding.
Cases in point: Ice Breakers, the Yelm-based small business that found success on the television program “Shark Tank” a few years ago, is expanding into a 20,000-plus square foot Tumwater site by the airport.
• A new Hobby Lobby is completely redeveloping the former Kmart site in Lacey. Burlington Coat Factory, set to move into the former Top Foods site, is currently hiring.
• In Rochester and Grand Mound, the Great Wolf Lodge water park resort is sparking a resurgence in restaurants and retail around it. And the Yelm Walmart, long the main retail site for the city, is also expanding.
“Whenever we see retail start to rebound, it’s a great indication of economic rebound and an indicator of a healthy economy,” said Thurston County Ecnoomic Development Council deputy director Renee Sunde.
Even downtown and west Olympia are seeing several mixed-use projects spring into action.
For both the commercial and residential sides of the county, City of Olympia principal planner Steve Friddle said there has been a redevelopment resurgence. Starting with downtown, the mixed-use commercial project at 123 4th Avenue is a seven-story retail and parking garage site with 138 units first generated in 2007, just before the recession. It was shelved due to the downturn in the economy, but now has found new life, with construction crews “digging up the ground as we speak,” Friddle said. It’s slated to open in 2016.
Then there are blocks of former office spaces being converted into apartments and mixed-use space by the Kolb family. At 402 Legion Way SE, the developers adding 14 apartments to a former professional space, plus 14 more living spaces in the adjacent building. According to Olympia planning director Keith Stahley, these and other residential units under construction in town total more than have been in the works simultaneously since the 1990s.
Add to this the 120,000 square feet of new executive office space in the 1063 building on Horizon Avenue, which is currently under development contracts and in the permitting phase. And there’s a retirement division going in on the West Side, which isn’t just a residential site but also a job-generator, plus growing single family home activity in the communities.
“There are a lot of neat things going on with high volume of apartment construction,” Friddle said. “In particular, there’s been an upturn in single family detached subdivision activity, with renewed growth in that market.”
One of the large projects in the limelight for several years is the 1,000-acre, master-planned community of Lacey Gateway Town Center. With two million square feet of retail and leisure space for civic and community activities — including one million square feet of office space, 7,000 residential units, a 90,000 square foot performing arts center and a 25,000 square foot conference center — the project anchors on Cabela’s and the adjacent neighborhood.
Lacey, set along tow sides of I-5 between exits 111 and 109, is Puget Sound’s fastest-growing community, with $3 billion in retail and leisure market sales, an average household income of more than $70,000, and an annual growth rate of 1.2 percent. Gateway Town Center, which stalled during the recession, but is once again in “go mode,” is expected to generate 8,000 to 10,000 new jobs and $50 million in revenue for the state.
However, one of the most revered smaller residential projects on tap this year is literally “on tap” – the new mixed-use site at the downtown Olympia corner of Legion and Franklin where Thurston First Bank will move in with a brew-pub restaurant and 19 upstairs apartments. (See this issue’s “South Sound Banking Update” article for more details.)
This project is a prime example of the county’s changing image when it comes to potential for business-building, according to Thurston EDC executive director Michael Cade.
“It’s important that when we look at economic development, we look at the whole (picture),” he said. “This is really a significant piece of development for us because it’s a case study; it shows that Olympia can handle this type of project and be a good home for repurposing buildings.”
And the EDC itself will be moving next year, into the new South Puget Sound Community College complex in Lacey known as The Woodlands. In addition to the educational buildings and the economic offices, all of which are conveniently near City Hall and its government offices, this sector of Thurston County, too, is expecting a following resurgence of repurposing, restaurants and retail.
“It’s a really good example of everyone listening to what people wanted there, and we’re starting to see some (investor) movement,” Sunde said.