Port not willing to pursue Oyo hotel for senior housing

The Oyo Hotel in Tumwater, WA.

The Oyo Hotel in Tumwater, WA.

sbloom@theolympian.com

If there was any doubt about where Port Olympia stood over the hotel owner’s efforts to sell her property to the Thurston County Housing Authority, port commissioners made their position clear this week.

Shammy Rowe, owner of the Oyo Hotel in Tumwater, is trying to sell her building to the Housing Authority. Ro reached an initial $3.3 million deal in April that would allow the building to be converted into housing for 58 low-income seniors, a fraction of the price of new construction.

But its target has met resistance from the port, which owns the land under the Oyo River – and 13% of Tomwater, making it the city’s largest landowner.

Since the hotel is on property adjacent to Olympia Regional Airport, it is subject to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules prohibiting the use of land near airports for “residential” purposes.

The port received specific instructions from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on June 29 detailing how to obtain an exemption that would allow sales to advance, but despite six months of campaigning by Ro and Housing Authority Director Craig Chance, as well as significant public outcry. , the port did not work. No action was taken.

The port command confirmed on Monday that it would not pursue the case.

“I don’t care to follow it,” Commissioner Joe Downing said at a port meeting on November 8. Find out her last name – see if she sells it.”

The topic was not on the agenda for Monday’s four-hour port meeting, but was raised during “other business” by Commissioner E.J. Zeta, who supports Rowe’s efforts to advance the sale.

This was followed by a short discussion in which CEO Sam Gibboni claimed that because Ro was in the process of selling Oyo, pursuing an FAA waiver would “interfere” with Ro’s business decisions. Then Commissioner Bill McGregor suggested that the port could expose itself to a lawsuit even to discuss the matter during a public meeting.

Roe, who later watched a recording of the meeting, told The Olympian she was surprised by the misrepresentation of her long-awaited goal: to sell her property to the Housing Authority. She called Gibboni and McGregor’s comments “irresponsible” and a “ridiculous excuse”.

Gibboni also said at the meeting that the FAA waiver would require staff effort and cost “tens of thousands” of dollars, though she did not say why.

Zeta refused, calling this amount of money a “peanut” within the port’s budget.

“If we were to let that stop us from considering the possibility of housing indigent seniors with underutilized and underperforming assets, I would really have to question our priorities,” Zeta said.

Then MacGregor said he was tired and didn’t feel like discussing it. “Question them, then,” replied MacGregor, “I think that’s all I can tell you.”

Zeta and McGregor will leave the port commission at the end of the year, and will be replaced by Bob Eyal, Nisquale tribal chief and CEO of Medicine Creek Enterprise, and commercial real estate broker Amy Evans.

Gibboni, contacted by The Olympian on Friday, defended her comments and said Rowe had not notified the port of a “purchase and sale agreement” with the housing authority.

“The only thing we have is that she listed her property with a broker, which means there are likely to be many buyers out there and that there has definitely been a connection with at least one other buyer,” Gibboni said. “It is therefore inappropriate for us to prefer one buyer over another.”

The Housing Authority previously had an “intent to buy” agreement, which is a less formal agreement, but it has since expired.

Chance, the director of the Housing Authority, is increasingly puzzled by the port’s handling of the situation. He went so far as to offer to pay any third party costs the port might encounter, such as ratings. But he doubts that nothing will make a difference.

“I started thinking, is all this fuss about the FAA a hoax, and is there anything else we should know?” chance said.

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Brandon Block is the Olympic correspondent for Housing and Homelessness. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that puts journalists in local newsrooms.

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