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The recession’s silver lining: bargain price for new waterway park land

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Dec. 3, 2012 at 11:29 am |
December 3, 2012 11:29 am

When the Foss Waterway Development Authority last week approved purchase of a new park site on the west side of the near-downtown waterway, it benefited from one of the few positive impacts of the financial downturn.

The $400,000 purchase price of the .7-acre tract at 1147 E. Dock Street, was just a third of the $1.2 million a private owner paid for the site just four years ago.

That price decline allowed the authority to stretch city bond fund monies designated for capital projects to buy property that would have been unaffordable before the financial downturn.

A private owner had bought the property just south of the Murray Morgan Bridge for $1.2 million in 2008, said Su Dowie, the authority’s interim executive director. A bank that bought the property in a foreclosure sale paid $950,000 for the land. That bank was subsequently taken over by another bank.

At the time of the takeover in 2011, the land was appraised at $650,000. And in September when the land was put on the market, it was valued at $450,000.

The authority authorized its purchase last week for a negotiated price of $400,000.

Dowie said the overall drop in land prices nationwide had played a part in cutting the price, but its overall sales prices was also affected by the limited amount of land on the site available for development.

Because the land, once the site of a steam plant that served downtown Tacoma until the ’80s, was once contaminated with mercury near the waterway’s edge, the state Department of Ecology has prohibited pile driving to support structures near the water.

The land has been cleaned up, but only to a limited depth. The contaminated land below that level has been capped with clean material. Any pile driving could penetrate the cap the disturb the contaminated soil.

Anyone who owned the land would also have to reserve a 20-foot-wide strip along the water for construction of a public esplanade. A land owner would also be prohibited from building on part of the land designated for a view corridor. And on the street side of the property, 10-feet of width would be taken up with a public sidewalk.

Dowie said the authority had heard repeatedly from citizens about the need for public green space along the middle of the waterway. Existing parks are located at the north and south ends of the waterway.

The authority will soon begin looking for grant funds to begin planning and engineering for construction of a park on the property.

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