By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES — A former log yard at the corner of Oak and Front streets that is expected to be the site of a combined marine science-conference center-retail complex has a long history of failed attempts at development.
The 1.96-acre parcel was owned by the state Department of Natural Resources until 2002.
Its fortunes have risen and fallen with the economy.
Here's a history of attempts to develop the parcel:
■ 1993: Shilo Inns submits proposal that fails.
■ 1993: Tod McClaskey Sr., the father of Tod McClaskey Jr., who is on the verge of selling the property to Neeser Construction Inc., wants to build a 150-room hotel with enough meeting space for 500 people, but doesn't.
■ 1996: Shilo Inns submits proposal that fails.
■ 2002: The state Department of Natural Resources transfers the property to the Port of Port Angeles.
■ 2002: Randall Ehm, of Seattle and San Diego, plans a four-story, 156-room hotel and conference center.
The project collapses in 2004 because of lack of financing and after vigorous opposition from Olympic Lodge owner Tod McClaskey Jr. and other city residents.
The city of Port Angeles had pledged to pour $2 million in hotel-motel taxes to market the conference center.
■ 2006: The port sells the property to Harry Dorssers of Seattle and Monte Carlo, owner of Monte Mare LLC, for $800,000.
He first planned an aquatic center, then condominiums with retail businesses. Plans included underground parking.
■ 2008: Dorssers sells the parcel to McClaskey's Olympic Lodge LLC for $1.3 million, blaming the economy.
“No one has any money at the moment,” he tells Peninsula Daily News in a Sept. 19, 2008 interview.
■ 2008: McClaskey puts the property on the market for $1.6 million with the provision that daily or weekly lodging cannot be allowed as a use of the property.
The parcel is now listed for $2 million.
Here's a history of valuations of the property, according to the Clallam County Assessor's Office, dating back to 2006, when the port sold it to Dorssers:
■ 2006: $725,715.
■ 2007: $1,024,535.
■ 2008: $1,024,535.
■ 2009: $870,856.
■ 2010: $870,856.
■ 2011: $819,629.
■ 2012: $768,402.
■ 2013: $655,703.
That's the view of Kevin Thompson, owner of Family Shoe Store, located near the field of broken dreams known as the Oak Street property.
The 1.96-acre lot at the corner of Front and Oak streets on the western edge of downtown is on the verge of seeing new life as a marine science and conference center with space for retail operations.
An announcement Thursday by Anchorage, Alaska-based Neeser Construction Inc. confirmed the company has reached agreement, contingent on satisfying final details, to purchase the property from owner Tod McClaskey Jr. of Camas, also owner of Olympic Lodge, for an undisclosed price.
Among those details are an assessment of soil conditions. The property is composed of fill, like much of the city's shoreline.
Neeser plans to construct a two-building, 63,000- to 67,000- square-foot marine science and conference center with 7,000 square feet for retail space that could include a restaurant and marine-related businesses.
Since 1993, developers have offered six hotel, convention center, condominium and water park proposals, none of which were realized.
The seventh time is looking like a charm: Neeser has advanced further than all other developers.
“I think that maybe we have a purchaser for our last broken field of broken dreams here, I hope,” said Tim Smith, interim director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council and the city of Port Angeles' former economic development director.
“In my review of projects they have been involved in, by golly, they are the real deal.”
Thompson said Friday he would welcome any parking problems that might result from an overabundance of vehicles in the downtown area.
“I would have concerns,” he said.
His store is a half-block from a parking lot owned by McClaskey that would be part of the sale.
“But I wouldn't like to see parking stall the project,” Thompson added, anxious for the revenue that would come with more people and vehicles downtown.
“You ought to start thinking about creating a parking problem from an economic standpoint.
“If you create a parking problem, someone from the private business world will come in and create a solution,” such as building a parking garage, Thompson said.
Downtown businesses within the Parking Business Improvement area pay an annual assessment to the city for promotional activities and to maintain downtown parking lots that are administered by the Port Angeles Downtown Association.
One such parking lot is next to Thompson's Family Shoe Store and contains parking spaces Thompson has said he needs to remain a viable business.
In the past he has fought for those spaces, vigorously objecting to a Downtown Association plan a few years ago that would have placed a temporary open-air market in the lot.
“Right now, we have an abundance of parking, and nothing is happening,” Thompson said.
Said Neeser Project Administrator Gary Donnelly: “There's going to be long-range planing that would accommodate any parking needs.
“I can assure you it will be worked out.”
The company plans to build the project in two phases: a 27,000-foot building that would include retail space that would be built beginning in July and a second, 36,000-40,000-square-foot building built beginning in 2015.
The complex would house a new home for the Feiro Marine Life Center and a 5,800-square-foot conference center that would include a 250-300-person capacity, 3,000-square-foot conference room leased to the city of Port Angeles.
The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary headquarters, like Feiro now housed on the city's waterfront and, like Feiro, outgrowing its quarters, also may move to the new complex.
Neeser would lease all facilities to tenants.
The project must be limited to 45 feet in height, or three or four stories depending on the roof line, city Planning Manager Sue Roberds said Friday.
Donnelly said no building plans have been drawn and that the design is still in the conceptual stage but said he is certain the sale will go through, a suitable parking plan submitted to the city, and the buildings built.
The rectangle-shaped property Neeser is planning to purchase includes a parking lot on the western edge.
Feiro alone attracts 15,000 visitors a year, and a full conference-center event could attract 250-300 people a day.
On average, 19 percent of the city's available spaces are occupied at any given time, with 21 days of the year when parking is “in high demand,” city Community and Economic Development Director Nathan West said last week.
An existing parking area is also part of the area Neeser would purchase.
“I'm really not concerned,” West said.
“A significant portion of properties in downtown are vacant parking lots at this point in time.
“We have plenty of free city-owned parking lots that are administered by the Downtown Association and we have plenty of privately owned parking lots.”
Downtown Association Executive Director Barb Frederick was confident that parking issues could be worked out.
“I think the project is fabulous,” she said Friday.
“The parking challenges can be dealt with and overcome and worked on to accommodate a facility that could really become a game-changer for our community.”
The city's blossoming waterfront project includes a just-built esplanade east of the Oak Street property and a soon-to-be-built West End Park just north of it.
“This is a really big deal,” West said Friday of Neeser's plans.
“We are just happy to see investment being made that coincides with the waterfront project.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.