Vacant University Place apartment buildings off Bridgeport Way to be razed

Two apartment buildings that have sat empty for eight years across Bridgeport Way in the heart of University Place are finally coming down.

The University Place City Council approved a contract this week to demolish the buildings located in the footprint of the development long known as Town Center, recently re-branded the Village at Chambers Bay.

Once pegged as the site of the UP branch of the Pierce County Library system, the empty buildings have instead become a place where vandals and squatters gather.

“There have been a lot of efforts to secure them, but ultimately as with other structures that we have, you can’t secure them perfectly,” City Attorney Steve Victor told the City Council on Monday.

While the land is part of the 18-acre Village at Chambers Bay project, it is not part of the property under contract with a private partnership that’s doing active development. The city signed an agreement with Verus Partners LLC almost a year ago to develop six parcels. Verus is responsible for courting Whole Foods, an anchor tenant set to open next year.

City officials don’t know when the apartment building land could be developed, but said it was time to finally do something about the nuisance.

“My goal for this year was to get that building down and eliminate that safety problem,” said Gary Cooper, the city’s Public Works and Parks and Recreation director.

Like the rest of the long-stalled Town Center development, the two apartment buildings were controversial at one time in the city’s history.

In 2006, the city spent $1.6 million for the property off 36th Street Court West closest to Bridgeport Way. The buildings were part of the Briarwood Apartment complex that still rents apartments and townhouses next door.

The people who lived in the 16 apartments were forced to find new housing when the city bought the buildings. University Place officials at the time said the buildings would be torn down by the end of that year.

But as plans changed for how the site would be developed with commercial business and residential living, the apartment buildings were left standing.

Leasing companies interested in renting the apartments on a temporary basis approached the city four years ago. A review determined the buildings didn’t meet code requirements.

The City Council on Monday approved a $92,672 demolition project using private contractor R.L. Rhine. The money will come from $100,000 the council set aside two years ago in the city’s revitalization financing fund.

A timeline hasn’t been set for the demolition, but Cooper said he expects work to begin within weeks.

“It will be down by the end of the year,” he said.