By Rob Ollikainen and Joe Smillie
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Sequim officials spoke with Clallam commissioners last week about getting the amount from the county's Opportunity Fund to help develop a big-box-style shopping center on a 75-acre lot known as the Burrowes property off U.S. Highway 101 at Sequim Avenue.
The funds would upgrade streets in and around the property, with a traffic light at the intersection of Sequim Avenue and Prairie Street south of downtown included.
City Manager Steve Burkett said the development has “the potential of returning the most in terms of jobs and revenue of probably any project the county has ever funded.”
The citizen board that oversees the Opportunity Fund recommended to commissioners that they fund the infrastructure request.
The Opportunity Fund is an eight-tenths-of-1-percent sales tax used for “construction of public facilities that promote economic development” in rural counties, according to the Revised Code of Washington.
A firm has shown solid interest in developing the site, Public Works Director Paul Haines said.
Haines, however, would not name the firm.
“Since it's not official, the developer has asked that we not talk about it until it gets to the permit process,” Haines said.
Mark Burrowes, owner of the property, said Friday he didn't know much about the deal.
“I haven't heard anything for or against,” Burrowes said.
“I'm really not in the loop on that. And actually, I'm not even sure who's in the loop or if there is a loop.”
Fred Meyer, the Portland, Ore.-based superstore chain, has contemplated putting a store on the property in the past, Burrowes said, but no one has told him anything recently. In July, Burkett discussed the possibility of a Fred Meyer store being built in Sequim during a presentation to the Sequim Association of Realtors.
Fred Meyer is a division of the larger Kroger Co. chain of retail stores.
Back in 2004 plans to possibly include a Fred Meyer in the proposed Bell Farm shopping plaza on the Burrowes property were dropped.
The chain renewed its interest in the site in 2006 and 2008, though without following through.
Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty voiced concerns at Monday's meeting with the city about using county money for private development.
“When I read through it, it sounds to me, just generally, that it's a public subsidy for a privately built development,” Doherty said.
“That's just what government does,” Burkett countered.
“Basically, the reason cities exist is to provide infrastructure for people to do business.”
Doherty said there were too many unknowns with the “mystery tenant” on the Burrowes property.
“I'm not convinced this one is going to land,” he said.
But Commissioner Jim McEntire disagreed.
“I tend to have a different view from my colleague, Mike Doherty about how we ought to look at this fund,” he said at Monday's meeting.
“I know there's some history to it, but I'd like an opportunity to influence the course of this thing in the future.”
McEntire called for a future work session with the Opportunity Fund Advisory Board to talk about priorities of the fund.
After Monday's City Council meeting, Sequim Mayor Ken Hays said that the county's investment in a business incubator in Port Angeles, four rental houses in Forks and, most recently, a commitment of Opportunity Fund dollars for a sewer in Carlsborg created few jobs and returned little to the county when compared with the potential tax revenue that a shopping center at the Burrowes property might bring.
“I think this is a real opportunity for the Opportunity Fund,” Burkett added.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.