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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Former Amazon Building Lease Could Cost Washington $270M Over 30 Years

Joe Mabel

It could cost the state of Washington more than $250 million over 30 lease and operate the former headquarters of

Earlier this year, state lawmakers voted to turn the building into a new training center for future health care workers. The preliminary cost estimate is contained in documents released as part of a public records request.

Pacific Tower is that 14-story brownish-red former hospital that you can’t miss if you’re stuck on I-5 south of downtown Seattle. It’s now empty.

The state of Washington has signed a letter of intent to lease it for a community college health care training program to fulfill demand created by Obamacare. Internal documents peg the total cost of that lease -- including utilities and maintenance -- at more than $270 million over 30 years.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, a Democrat aligned with Republicans, doesn't believe the costs is a good deal for taxpayers.

“You had a very sophisticated operator Wright Runstad that couldn’t make that building work and to think that the state can come in there and make it work, it just makes no sense,” says Tom.

Wright Runstad lost its lease on the building after it couldn’t find a replacement for and missed a lease payment.

Democratic Speaker of the House Frank Chopp has been a key champion of the plan for the state to take over Pacific Tower. He was traveling and unavailable, but fellow House Democrat Jamie Pedersen says he thinks the lease pencils out -- especially since the rent money would go to a development authority whose primary mission is to fund low-income health care.

“Where it really becomes a win, win, win is that you’re getting a pretty good deal on a great building, you’re using the building to a great effect and all of the rent from the lease is going to help people get health care,” says Pedersen.

Washington state is currently in the midst of a 90-day due diligence review of the proposed 30-year lease. State officials caution the $250 million cost projection is “very preliminary.”

Also, the state would hope to offset at least half that cost by sub-letting space in Pacific Tower to other tenants.

On the Web:

Pacific Tower timeline - Pacific Hospital Preservation & Development Authority

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."