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What to do with the empty ‘spec’ building at Satsop Business Park?

Port officials have put on hold plans to upgrade a long-empty building at the Satsop Business Park until they figure out if the costs of doing the upgrades will be really worth it in the end.

In 2006, officials with the Satsop Business Park approached the county with a novel idea: Help fund the construction of an empty warehouse building that could later be customized by a specific tenant. The goal was to provide a customizable building to attract quality tenants.

The county commissioners approved the arrangement and, in 2010, the building was constructed using a $1 million loan from the state Community Economic Revitalization Board. The county is in charge of paying off the loan.

But, flash forward to today and the 50,000-square-foot warehouse continues to sit empty.

Back in 2006, there was hope that as many as three businesses would find their home in the warehouse. But none of that ever worked out. County Commissioner Frank Gordon says the county is paying $70,000 per year to repay that loan out of a special economic development fund “that I would, frankly, really like to see be used on something else at this point.”

Beyond an empty structure, the “spec” building has power connected to it and a line for a hose out front, but that’s about it. The “clear-span warehouse with grade height and dock height freight doors” also has 16,400 square feet of office space adjacent for support services, according to Satsop’s website.

In May, the Port commissioners — who are now in charge of the Satsop Business Park — approved spending upward of $300,000 to improve the building, specifically with a new sprinkler system.

Port Commissioner Jack Thompson had expressed some hesitation in the expenditure, wondering why the Port was spending the money for a building that was supposed to be constructed to the specifications of a future, unknown business.

Thompson eventually joined with his fellow commissioners to approve putting the improvements out to bid with the funds coming out of the Port’s capital budget, specifically funded by property taxes.

“The plans, specifications and engineering for fire system improvements to the warehouse should be completed in the next few weeks,” project manager Mike Johnson told the port commissioners.

As of last week, however, Port staff had put the project on hold, according to records turned over to The Vidette as part of a public records request.

Emails between Port staff show there was a concern that the cost to modify a new sprinkler system may very well exceed the cost of the original installation, making it not cost effective for the tenant. The concern was that if a tenant puts in rooms or wants to store special materials, will the cost to change it all be too much in the long run?

“We have not proceeded with this effort because we are uncertain of the design standards, and unwilling to risk the dollars until we get a verification — my task — of the utility of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ sprinkler system,” writes Marc Horton, the Port’s environmental & engineering director. “My concern — and that of Port management and commissioners — is that if we invest, the system must work for most — if not all — types of uses of the building. I’ll be meeting with the county fire marshal this month.”

An automatic sprinkler company says their cost to draw up specifications on the project is $7,840 plus applicable taxes.