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Apartment plan approved for George Washington Way ‘pit’ in Richland

The Crown Group of Hoffman Estates, Ill., extended its purchase agreement for the Richland-owned “pit” at 650 George Washington Way after the city council agreed to allow it to build apartments instead of office space on Nov. 15.
The Crown Group of Hoffman Estates, Ill., extended its purchase agreement for the Richland-owned “pit” at 650 George Washington Way after the city council agreed to allow it to build apartments instead of office space on Nov. 15. Tri-City Herald

A Chicago developer extended its agreement to buy Richland’s infamous “pit” property after the city council narrowly agreed to let it build apartments there.

On a 3-2 vote, the council agreed to amend a purchase and sale contract with The Crown Group for city-owned property at 650 George Washington Way. The company requested flexibility to build apartments rather than office space, citing market conditions.

The purchase agreement was to expire at the end of business on Wednesday . With the new terms in place, The Crown Group executed its option to extend the deal another three months.

The extension was signed Wednesday, said Mark Lambert, president.

The original 2015 agreement calls for The Crown Group to build 10,000 square feet of retail space and 18,000 square feet of offices at the high-profile intersection.

The property is best known to Tri-Citians as “the pit” for the excavation work conducted more than a decade ago for a development that never materialized.

Everyone wants to see something happen.

Richland Mayor pro tem Terry Christensen

The company asked for flexibility, saying there isn’t demand for that much retail space and that its prospective office tenant had pulled out.

The deal approved Tuesday allows it to build 5,000 square feet of retail space and 60 or more apartments while preserving the option to go with the original plan.

The council approved the request, but with reservations.

“This space is very sensitive to the public,” said Councilman Brad Anderson, referencing the high-profile campaign to include a public market in the development.

The city nixed the plan saying it wanted to pursue the original vision, developed, in part, based on community surveys. The public market’s supporters have moved on to other sites, but are not ready to disclose prospects publicly.

That is a gateway property. I don’t think residential is the best use for the 650 (George Washington Way) site.

Richland Councilwoman Sandra Kent

Councilwoman Sandra Kent also voted against the deal, saying apartments and a token amount of retail space are inconsistent with the city’s plans for that area.

“That is a gateway property,” she said. “I don’t think residential is the best use for the 650 (George Washington Way) site.”

Councilman Phillip Lemley supported the amended agreement, saying times have change and the city shouldn’t lock its partner into an unworkable project.

Mayor pro tem Terry Christensen also supported the change. The highly visible property has been an eyesore for too long, he said.

“Everyone wants to see something happen,” he said.

Christensen, Lemley and Councilman David Rose approved the change to the purchase and sale agreement. Mayor Bob Thompson and Councilwoman Dori Luzzo Gilmore were absent.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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