Port eyes building to lease to tech firm

By Vicki Hillhouse, June 12, 2015, Walla Walla Union Bulletin


An Alder Street building known as a former destination for beauty services may be the latest Port of Walla Walla property acquisition as the economic development agency makes a play for an expanding tech firm.


Port commissioners on Thursday unanimously authorized entering into an option agreement for the 4,800-square-foot building at 115 W. Alder St., formerly occupied by Misbehaven and now leased by an insurance office.


The Port will pay $10,000, essentially as earnest money with the intention to buy the building and lease it to a Seattle company run by a Whitman College graduate with an eye on expansion.


If successful, the transition would bring new industry to Walla Walla in the form of undertapped technology, Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz said.


“I think it needs to be said we’re doing this solely to recruit,” Port Commissioner Mike Fredrickson said Thursday.


He differentiated this project from the Port’s consideration of purchasing the Teague property occupied by Legacy Ford. That project had no identified tenants. It was ultimately voted down.


Pending final contract scrutiny from Port attorney Tom Baffney, Kuntz said he intends to put the earnest money down next week. The current property owner is identified through the Walla Walla County Assessor’s office as limited liability company Eagle Pass Enterprises.


The existing tenant has first right of refusal on purchase of the property. That provides 30 days to opt to buy it instead of the Port.


The Port will simultaneously start lease negotiations with the Seattle firm, which has not been publicly identified. That lease — likely structured for a period of years — will include an option for the business owner to buy the property from the Port.


“The transition plan is to put this back into private ownership,” Kuntz said. “We will have fulfilled the role of what the Port is all about.”


A couple of other details: If all goes as planned, the Port will also have an environmental and structural assessment completed at the property. Should any issues arise in that process, the Port will receive it’s deposit back. The money is also considered a down payment on the $600,000 purchase price of the building.


The balance would be owed upon closing. Kuntz believes that timeline could be 90 days if the tenant opts to exercise first right to buy and the assessments are cleared.


Kuntz said this morning he doesn’t have a number on how many jobs might be created for Walla Walla if the project comes to fruition.


He called the $10,000 down payment “an important first step” in the process. Commissioners were encouraged, too.


“I am totally excited about seeing where we can go with this,” Commissioner Peter Swant said.


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