Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
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."

Nineties Real Estate Deal Proved To Be Money-Loser For Washington State

The state of Washington is expected to sign a 30-year lease Tuesday for Seattle’s iconic Pacific Tower on Beacon Hill.

The idea is to turn the former headquarters of into a hub for health care innovation and training. It’s reminiscent of another big real estate decision the state made nearly 20 years ago. One that’s proven costly.

The Rhodes Center in downtown Tacoma is two office buildings connected by a sky bridge. When Washington bought the complex in 1996, the idea was to consolidate state agencies and save taxpayers money.

But it hasn’t exactly worked out that way.

“We are actually on paper losing up to $400,000 or $500,000 a year,” says Nick Cockrell, who oversees the Rhodes Center for the state.

Cockrell says the complex currently has a 15-percent vacancy rate.

“It does represent lost revenue and lost opportunity,” he says.

The state tried unsuccessfully to sell the Rhodes Center. Now the plan is to pay off the mortgage and hope at that point the building goes from the red to the black.

Like the Rhodes Center, Washington’s plan for the former headquarters in Seattle is born of a vision for what could be. Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, a Democrat, wants to fill Pacific Tower with a health college and non-profits.

He says, “The whole dynamic is totally different than the Rhodes center.”

Chopp acknowledges he doesn’t know much about the details of the Rhodes purchase. But the Speaker says he’s confident the state -- acting as a master tenant -- can fill Pacific Tower.

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."