Bainbridge buyer hopes to place hotel in downtown Poulsbo

The old city hall property sits in the shadow of Poulsbo
The old city hall property sits in the shadow of Poulsbo's new city hall, steps away from Front Street.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / North Kitsap Herald

POULSBO — The question as to when, or if, the City of Poulsbo would sell a valuable piece of downtown real estate has been answered: a Bainbridge Island businessman has purchased the former city hall property.

"The main idea is a hotel," said Michael Burns, who purchased the property from the city in early June.

"Then anything that can be added to that (hotel)," he said. "Whether it will be retail space or other types of space associated with the building remains to be seen. Really what we want to do is put a really nice building in downtown Poulsbo and help invigorate the downtown scene.”

Burns said it would be nice to have a restaurant, conference space and meeting rooms in the hotel, but again stressed that nothing is for certain at this point. But he is confident that there is support for a downtown hotel, at the very least.

"The city is very aggressive with this idea. They like it," Burns said.

The City Council on June 4 approved the sale of the property at 19050 Jensen Way to Burns for $1.2 million. Earnest money of $25,000 was paid to start the process. Burns signed the purchase agreement on June 4. Mayor Becky Erickson signed on June 6.

The purchase agreement between Burns and the city is subject to a variety of contingencies. The city is required to demolish the old city hall. The City Council  approved the demolition of the building in December 2013.

Other contingencies include: the city will retain an easement to connect Jensen Way with the King Olaf Parking Lot; property co-owner Kitsap County must approve of the sale; Burns has 120 days from the purchase to get a site plan approval from the city for what he proposes to develop.

Mayor Erickson said she is optimistic that the county, which owns 25 percent of the property, will agree to the sale.

Through an umbrella of companies, Burns has a foot in a variety of markets, some of which have contributed to the Kitsap landscape. He owns Blue North Fisheries in Seattle, a sustainable timber business in Idaho, and a sustainable agricultural business in Oregon that specializes in organic beef.

He also owns a real estate company and Madison Avenue Development, Inc., which will oversee the Poulsbo project, and has already developed land in the area.

Drivers on Highway 305 pass the company's commercial center at 10th Avenue and Liberty Road, consisting of three-story buildings, home to KeyBank, a John L. Scott Real Estate office, and other tenants.

The company also has given Bainbridge Island's Hildebrand Lane a considerable facelift over the past 15 years with the development of various retail and residential buildings; tenants include small shops such as a pet store, a laundromat, a pizza restaurant, a bank, and second-floor apartments. Doctors' offices are also located on the Hildebrand Lane properties. The company also owns the island's nearby Camelia Apartments built in 2003. It also built cottages on Madison Avenue.

For Burns, however, the Poulsbo project will be new territory.

"It's an entirely new venture, this hospitality thing," he said, noting that the old city hall property was attractive for a variety of reasons.

"I think the availability of the site (was attractive) and then there's been studies done that show there is a need for hotel in downtown Poulsbo," Burns said. "So those two factors led us to believe that we can take a run at it."

Burns also cites personal reasons for taking on the Poulsbo project.

"I'm driven not by profits but by putting in nice buildings and becoming part of the fabric of downtown, and enhancing the whole downtown experience," Burns said. "That's what appeals to me, the opportunity to do something like that. Otherwise, I would just go and build some apartments someplace else."

“This appeals to me as more of a centerpiece project for downtown Poulsbo," he added.

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