Family, business ties drew Alaska firm to Port Angeles waterfront development project

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Neeser Construction Inc. CEO Jerry Neeser’s business ties to Western Washington and, in particular, a Bainbridge Island firm are behind the Anchorage, Alaska, company’s plans to buy property for a marine science and conference center in Port Angeles, 2,300 miles away from home, company Project Administrator Gary Donnelly said.

Soils testing will be conducted next week on the 1.96-acre Marine Drive-Oak Street parcel owned by Olympic Lodge owner Tod McClaskey Jr., who has yet to finalize the sale to Neeser, Donnelly said Thursday.

A final agreement has been reached on the sale, pending a due-diligence process that includes soils testing on property that consists of fill, Donnelly told the Peninsula Daily News on Jan. 9.

It could become Neeser’s in three weeks, Donnelly said Wednesday.

Construction could begin in July on the two-phase, two-building, 63,000-67,000-square-foot project, which would house a new, larger Feiro Marine Life Center, retail shops and a conference center, all of which would be leased from Neeser.

Included would be 7,000 square feet of retail space, while the conference center would include a 250-300-person-capacity, 3,000-square-foot conference room leased by the city.

Donnelly would not discuss the cost to build the project, how it will be financed or who will do the financing, and the company is still working on a business plan, he said.

But he left little doubt it will be built on what is commonly known as the Oak Street property on the western edge of downtown.

Feiro’s participation in the project “has always been the inspiration for us getting involved,” Donnelly said.

“If it went a different direction because somehow it couldn’t come together as a viable project — frankly, I don’t see that happening.

“We are philosophically invested in having this happen,” Donnelly said.

But why would a construction company that builds medical, hospitality and recreational facilities 2,300 miles away in Alaska come to Port Angeles?

For one thing, Jerry Neeser, who was born in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, has family ties in Spokane and owns properties in the Olympia and Seattle areas, Donnelly said.

Neeser, his father and brothers built schools, churches and commercial buildings in Idaho, Oregon and Washington before Neeser moved to California in 1969 and then to Anchorage in 1974.

“Because of his relationship to the Northwest, he always, for a number of years, wanted to re-engage in business down there,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly said Neeser became acquainted with Scott Horner, CEO of BIOS LLC of Bainbridge Island, who will design the marine science-conference center.

“In the last year or year and a half, we had struck up a basically a friendship and relationship from other business ventures we were doing,” Horner said.

Horner’s firm specializes in aquariums — and marine science centers.

“We’ve always had some vision to bring an aquarium or visitor center to Port Angeles that was coming from seven years ago,” Horner said.

Horner suggested Neeser Construction talk to Feiro officials about the marine life center’s expansion needs, Donnelly said.

“He said, ‘Why not meet with Feiro?,’ and we did,” Donnelly said.

The project would double Feiro’s space — it’s now located at City Pier in city-owned space — to 7,000 square feet and would include a 36,000-40,000-square-foot Phase 2 building that would consist of covered space and open-air exhibit space.

Feiro Director Deborah Moriarty said facility officials should identify Feiro’s specific needs by the end of February.

“We feel very comfortable going into a capital campaign for our portion of the project,” she said.

The city is developing plans for a West End Park just north of the McClaskey parcel as part of the Downtown Waterfront Development Project, which fits in with Neeser’s project, Port Angeles Community and Economic Development Director Nathan West said.

Six months ago, long before Donnelly said Neeser will purchase the property, West identified the company in a July 16 memo to the City Council as a “potential landlord” of Feiro’s.

West envisioned Feiro being part of a “multi-agency campus” that could include the marine life center, the city with its conference-center meeting room and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary headquarters.

Donnelly said Jan. 9 that the marine sanctuary headquarters, now located in cramped quarters at The Landing mall near City Pier, could be located in the Phase 2 building, which he identified as a “science building” that would be built beginning in 2015.

The sanctuary designation protects more than 3,300 square miles of coastal Pacific waters from Cape Flattery to Copalis Beach.

The staff of 15 needs to increase to 20, marine sanctuary Deputy Superintendent Kevin Grant said.

Whether Neeser’s new marine science-conference center will house the agency’s headquarters “remains to be seen,” Grant said.

“We have a long ways to go before we can make any sort of commitment,” he said.

“It’s certainly an option.

“We are still trying to find a location that meets all of our requirements.

“Being co-located with Feiro certainly has advantages as part of our shared programs.”

Grant said sanctuary officials are finalizing their space needs, which then will be forwarded to the General Services Administration to help the sanctuary determine a location that will meet those needs.

“It’s not our job, basically, to find the place,” Grant said.

“It’s our job to detail our requirements.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 23. 2014 6:57PM
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