KGY, Port of Olympia at odds again over radio station building on port peninsula

Olympia Heritage Commission/Courtesy

KGY radio and the Port of Olympia are again at odds over the building the station has occupied since 1960 on the very north end of the port peninsula.

Earlier this year, KGY entertained a possible sale of the building to a Tumwater business called Glacier Aviation that wanted to turn it into a possible bar and restaurant, including helicopter flights in and out.

That idea didn’t advance, KGY radio general manager Nick Kerry said. There was an “overall unwillingness to continue the conversation from the port’s perspective,” Kerry told The Olympian in April.

Now, the property, considered to be of historical significance, has been nominated for inclusion on the Olympia Heritage Register. The idea has the support of Kerry and members of the city’s Heritage Commission, but the port opposes it.

“At this time, the Port of Olympia cannot support the nomination of the KGY radio building to the local heritage registration and does not consent to such,” said Allyn Roe, business development and real estate director for the port, in an email to the commission on Sept. 16.

“We feel it would be appropriate to discuss the nomination process after the lease expiration and during future planning efforts,” Roe added.

The lease between KGY and the port expires at the end of 2024.

Roe writes that the ordinance that governs historic properties “would be considered an encumbrance on the property of which KGY has no right to approve and would place them in conflict with the terms of their lease.”

The Olympian could not reach a port official on Friday to further explain the opposition.

The details of the nomination and Roe’s email emerged during a Sept. 21 meeting of the Olympia Heritage Commission at City Hall. A port representative did not attend the meeting.

The KGY building was nominated by Greg Griffith, director of the Olympia Historical Society/Bigelow House Museum, with support from KGY general manager Kerry, according to meeting agenda materials. A subcommittee of the Heritage Commission visited the building in July and took a tour.

“The Port of Olympia was invited but did not attend,” the agenda materials read.

Committee members came away from the tour feeling the building meets the conditions for inclusion on the heritage register. Among the criteria it met: (The building) “embodies the distinctive architectural characteristics of a type, period, style or method of design or construction, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.”

Heritage Commission Chairwoman Holly Davies was enthusiastic about the nomination.

“I can’t say enough good things about the building,” she said. “It’s a fabulous building and it’s still being used for its original purpose, inside and outside. All of the parts are there.”

The Sept. 21 meeting was originally supposed to be a public hearing and a vote on whether to approve the nomination for the register, but after the email from the port, the meeting resulted in only a discussion about the nomination. A date for a hearing and vote is still to be determined, said Marygrace Goddu, Historic Preservation Officer.

Kerry spoke during the meeting and expressed disappointment in the port’s 11th-hour email, “despite our best efforts to provide a significant amount of lead time and discuss the idea and process with our landlord.”

He disagrees with the port’s idea of addressing the nomination after the lease expires, saying he fears that if the lease is not renewed with the radio station, it puts the building at risk of being demolished. At the same time, Kerry said he has seen the building included in the port’s “destination waterfront” plans.

“I’m a bit baffled as to why they don’t have a positive feeling at this point about this process, but I think we should have a discussion with them and influence them to reconsider,” Kerry said.

Historic Preservation Officer Goddu said the local register has more “teeth” to it than state and national registers. It largely regulates the exterior of buildings, making sure they remain intact without major alterations, although the local register does allow for paint color changes and solar panels, she said.

If the Heritage Commission voted to approve the nomination, but the port still opposed it, it would then come before the Olympia City Council, Goddu said. If the building was ultimately put on the register and there was a desire to demolish it, that demolition permit would still need to be approved, and the Heritage Commission would make a recommendation on whether to approve it to a city building official.

If the city denied the demolition permit, it could be appealed to the city’s Hearings Examiner, Goddu said.

But before any of that happens, the commission and port need to talk, she said.

After the tour of the building in July, the subcommittee made a recommendation to the commission and a letter was sent to the port’s executive director, but the commission didn’t hear anything until Sept. 16.

“All of the sudden it hit their radar,” Goddu said, adding they have yet to have an in-person meeting with the port.

“The first step is to talk to them,” she said.