South Sound 911 is willing to give Pierce County up to $2.7 million for the demolition of the old Puget Sound Hospital building that has sat empty since 2010.
In exchange, the county would discount a long-term lease agreement with South Sound 911 so it can build an emergency communications hub on the site at 3580 Pacific Ave. in Tacoma.
The financial arrangement is the latest move by South Sound 911 leaders to speed construction of a state-of-the-art communications facility that would house six 911 centers and emergency administrative services.
The $2.7 million would come from a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax collection approved by voters in 2011 to pay for the $62 million project.
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The County Council must decide whether to approve the deal, but appears ready to support the arrangement.
The move would allow the county to tear down the one-time mental health hospital sooner than it would if it has to find the money in the proposed 2017 budget that has yet to be finalized.
Council Chairman Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood, said the council recently was briefed on the arrangement and was expected to vote in the coming weeks on a resolution supporting the swap.
To date, he said, he had not heard any council opposition.
Demolition of the former hospital could occur as early as spring, said Bret Carlstad, the county’s facilities management director.
South Sound 911 officials identified the site as the ideal location for a new communications campus this summer. Tentative plans call for the agency to lease the land at fair market value from the county, which owns the land.
“We’ll still determine what that market value is,” said county budget and finance director Gary Robinson, “but it will be discounted by the amount that South Sound is loaning for the (hospital) removal.”
Carlstad described the arrangement as a rental prepayment.
“It’s not a loan. It is better characterized as prepaid rent,” he said. “They would be fronting us the demolition costs.”
It’s not a loan. It is better characterized as prepaid rent. They would be fronting us the demolition costs.
Bret Carlstad, Pierce County facilities management director
The County Council was set to vote Oct. 18 on an ordinance requesting that County Executive Pat McCarthy include money in the 2017 budget to tear down the old building. The ordinance was pulled Monday after council members agreed the latest arrangement satisfied the same goal.
The new scenario would require the County Council to approve before the end of the year a budget amendment accepting the money as part of the 2016 budget.
“I have no reason to believe the county isn’t serious about us taking the property,” said Andrew Neiditz, South Sound 911 executive director. “I’m very confident we’re going to do this, but we need to have council approval.”
Work on the project is progressing quickly, Neiditz said. That includes preparing to brief neighbors of the former hospital in the city’s Lincoln District.
“We’d like to start the seven-month ‘predevelopment’ process this month,” Neiditz said. “We are eager to start that process so the neighborhood can understand better where our two buildings will be situated.”
Pierce County and South Sound 911 operate independently, but are working together to develop the new communications center.
Plans call for a 55,000-square-foot building to house 911 and dispatch operations and a municipal operations center.
A second, 25,000-square-foot building would house the agency’s administrative offices. It also would offer fingerprinting and concealed pistol license applications.
I’m very confident we’re going to do this, but we need to have council approval.
Andrew Neiditz, South Sound 911 executive director
County facilities officials are reviewing demolition plans for the hospital that were drawn up when the county wanted to build a general services building on the site, Carlstad said.
The hope is to time the project so construction begins immediately after demolition, he said.
The site is the third location selected for the facilities.
In 2015, South Sound 911 backed away from plans to build in Fircrest after a geotechnical review showed the land wasn’t suitable.
In March, a new plan was hatched that called for consolidation of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and Pierce County Community Connections in one building. It would have freed up a county-owned building at 3602 Pacific Ave. S. for South Sound 911 to buy and raze for its facilities.
“From our standpoint, we’re eager to move and get this project going,” Neiditz said.