8 questions about sale of Richland’s old City Hall

Now that the city of Richland has moved into its new City Hall, what’s going on with the property across the street where the old city complex is?

Mandy Wallner, marketing specialist for Richland’s economic development department
Mandy Wallner

The city is clearing out and demolishing its former City Hall at 505 Swift Blvd. and 975 George Washington Way.

The site is expected to be fully cleared by November and will be nearly shovel-ready, with some old growth trees and parking lots remaining for use while the property is for sale.

The city is selling up to 2.8 acres for the “right project.” The city has not provided an asking price for the lot.

We asked Mandy Wallner, marketing specialist for Richland’s economic development department, about the city’s plans to sell the property at what it considers to be a high-profile corner within the central business district.

What is for sale?

There are two parcels that can be divided up. A 505 Swift Blvd. address (about 1.5 acres) and there’s 975 George Washington Way (about 1.3 acres).

The George Washington Way lot was intended to be the future fire station, but if it was the right project and someone wanted the whole space, we could sell up to the full 2.8 acres. We’re marketing it as a whole site, but it could be split with two buyers or two projects or one project. It can front either street. The traffic counts for the lot average about 55,000 daily trips between George Washington Way, Swift Boulevard and Jadwin Avenue.

Why did Richland relocate its City Hall instead of rebuilding on the corner?

The current building wasn’t intended to be multi-level besides the basement and the first floor. So for us to go up, we would have had to remediate the building and start over. To be able to leave that building open during construction, it was better to build on a different site. Additionally, we knew that it is a highly-marketable site and it made more sense for us to be here (625 Swift Blvd.) since there was so much parking here, so there wasn’t a gap in service. Since we are a full-service utility, it was important to us to be able to have that access.

How is it being marketed?

We started soft marketing while we were building the new City Hall and knew we were at least 18 months out. We took it to some conferences. We went to the International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Vegas and marketed the property to developers there nationally. We’ve done more grassroots marketing as far as meeting with real estate agents one-on-one, taking any developer interests and building that relationship to market the property and get the right use. We have a pretty solid idea of what they (city council) want to see there, so that’s why it’s been approached that way, having those conversations.

What is the idea or vision for the site?

It’s hard to describe as far as, “this is the project we want.” But it definitely is going to be a mixed-use development. It’s going to contribute to the vibrancy and walkability of downtown. The city council has a clear vision about wanting to energize the core of the city to make that a walkable, vibrant, energized core. That’s, in part, where the Park Place development (650 George Washington Way) comes in, bringing more residents downtown. We also have the 1100 and 1200 Jadwin projects that are in the process so that will bring residents downtown also. By adding those residents down here, that changes the look, feel and energy, and we want to be sure to complement that with multi-use buildings and facilities. Additionally, central business district is how it’s zoned, so there’s some restrictions there. But also has a lot of benefits that aren’t available in other places in the city.

Has there been interest so far?

We did do an RFQ (request for quotation) on the property and it didn’t really render the responses we were looking for. So that’s probably when we started the actual marketing push, if there was an official start date. We’ve had people look at groceries there, we’ve had people look at residential there. In the central business district, you can build up, with 110 feet as the limit. The Federal Building is a good gauge for how tall that is, which allows for about six stories. We definitely want to see some taller buildings in the downtown so that’s a desirable use, but it doesn’t have to be.

Why did the city turn down a proposal for a performing arts center there?

The committee reviewed the project and decided that wasn’t what they wanted to see there. In part because there’s historical proof that performing arts centers typically aren’t programmed during the day. They offer mostly weekend or evening activity, so it would need to be combined with some other kind of a use to energize that all the time. We’re looking for kind of a 24-hour energy there that is retail, commercial, could be office space, it could be restaurants, it could be all kinds of things. Unfortunately, I think the message ended up that Richland doesn’t want a performing arts center, which I don’t think is the message we’re sending, it’s just not the right space.

What is the current status of the effort to sell the lot?

We’ve had a lot of interest in whether we’re going to do another RFP (request for proposal). That is forthcoming but we’re not sure when that will happen. We do maintain a list of people we will notify when that comes, and people can always sign up to be notified or email info@richlandbusiness.com to be added to the list or ask questions. As long as we don’t have an open RFP, we can direct negotiate with someone at any time. During an RFP process, we still have to honor that process. But we could always close it and direct negotiate, and that’s up to council. But typically, we try to follow those guidelines. Outside of that we are free to entertain any offer at any time. It just needs to come in with something formal like a rendering and letter of interest.

Why hasn’t Richland shared an asking price for the property?

We have an appraisal, so we know what the land is worth. For the right project, that’s somewhat flexible. That’s the benefit we have to owning our land. We haven’t really wanted to say it’s this much money, because if there’s the right project, and it’s a highly-desired use, there may be some flexibility in that. But we’d like to stay close to the appraised value. Since this has George Washington Way, Swift Boulevard and Jadwin Avenue access, and those are our three busiest streets in Richland, that tends to make it a highly-marketable area for all kinds of things. It’s a really exciting time for us, making sure there’s appropriate access and appropriate use. There has been interest, but just not the right project so far.

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