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Tacoma Elks Lodge leader believes sale will go through despite Wal-Mart controversy

Post by Kathleen Cooper / The News Tribune on Sep. 2, 2011 at 6:30 am with No Comments »
September 2, 2011 2:28 pm

The Tacoma City Council’s moratorium on big-box stores, targeted at stopping Wal-Mart from building in Central Tacoma, doesn’t worry the current property owner.

Ron Forest, chief operating officer of the Tacoma Elks Lodge #174, told me Wednesday night that he’s confident the lodge’s deal with the developer will go through regardless of the moratorium.

“It doesn’t affect us,” he said. “Our agreement with the buyer is that they will close in November.”

Jeffrey Oliphant, through his development company JLO Washington Enterprises, has been working since February 2010 on a plan for the 18-acre Elks site. The Elks have been trying to sell the property for several years to finance the building of a new, smaller lodge near Allenmore Golf Course. Oliphant is at least the third developer to try to make a go of it, after Opus and Panattoni walked away.

Because Oliphant’s plans for the site have already cleared an extensive city environmental review, it’s presumed his company has spent thousands of dollars already on the site including earnest money that’s typically spent to tie up the property while due diligence is conducted. And Wal-Mart confirmed Wednesday that it indeed plans to build on that site, and filed paperwork with the city to make it official. Could the moratorium cause the developer to walk away?

Forest expressed confidence that that won’t happen. Oliphant hasn’t returned calls for comment.

“Any contract has language that will allow that. But the Elks have Plan B. All I can tell you about Plan B is that we’ll have our money in November,” Forest said. From the same developer? Forest wouldn’t comment other than to say that “from our position, we’re covered.”

It’s hard to know what to make of this because the details of the purchase and sale agreement between JLO and the Elks isn’t public, and Oliphant isn’t talking. But Forest made remarks at the end of our interview that indicates that this deal isn’t a small matter.

“Our survival hinges on selling our property. No one can say 100 percent we’ll get our money, but we’re confident,” he said.

UPDATE, 10:15 a.m.: Mr. Forest just e-mailed me with more information:

When we entered into the sales and purchase agreement with JLO the best use project for the property was medical. JLO pursued that end and had reached some tentative agreements with MultiCare on projects on the property. From the beginning we expected this project to come to fruition with the majority of the space occupied by medical users. JLO put a lot of time, effort and monies into creating the site plan that was submitted for this project. In the last few weeks MultiCare made a decision to hold off. Because we have a locked in closing date for the sale, JLO was forced to go to their back up plan with WalMart. We were not made aware of this until it went public this past week.

Prior to accepting the JLO purchase agreement we had an offer from representatives of WalMart to purchase the property and we rejected that offer.

The Tacoma Elks provide many community services such as scholarships, service to Veterans, our Christmas program for children, and many more. In order to keep these programs going, and hopefully to expand them, we need to get out of the facilities we are in and lower our operating costs. The sale of this property in crucial to that process. The community would suffer greatly if the Elks were not here. Tacoma needs the Elks and the Elks want to be here for our community.

Please don’t pass any unfriendly feelings for WalMart on to the Elks. We have no control of what the buyer does with the property. We support their efforts because we want the deal to close on time.

UPDATE, 10:25 p.m.: The Central Neighborhood Council voted last night to oppose a large-scale retail development on the site. Their secretary, Justin Leighton, was one of the first community members to push for more details on the site. Here’s their news release:

Tacoma Central Neighborhood Council in the Heart of Tacoma unanimously passed during their September 1st monthly meeting a resolution opposing large scale retail development at the Elks Lodge property located on the corner of S. 23rd Street and Union Avenue.

The Council encourages the other seven neighborhood councils in Tacoma, community groups, business district associations and neighbors to join them in this opposition.

In their opposition the CNC members were disappointed in the lack of transparency and openness of Walmart’s pending plans to build a 150,000 square foot retail store in the center of their Central Neighborhood.   They feel the proposed development will harm their community. They expressed concerns about market saturation and massive traffic congestion in an area already facing capacity.  Council members outlined goals for the site, including buildings based on urban design, diversity in the marketplace, affordable housing, low impacts to traffic, and living wage jobs.

“This is about protecting the businesses already established who are struggling day in and day out to keep their doors open and adding this development will do nothing but drown the market diversity in our neighborhood” said Justin Leighton, CNC Secretary.

“The Elk’s Lodge site is a great location to implement a mixed use center with residential and commercial elements.  A large single purpose retail store with surface parking will not benefit the neighborhood,” commented Tricia DeOme, Central Neighborhood Council Chair.

The Central Neighborhood Council is one of eight neighborhood councils in Tacoma.  Created to 1992, the councils were formed to increase citizen involvement in the city’s planning process.   The Central Neighborhood Council helped lead the opposition against digital billboards in Tacoma which took place in the last few months.

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