Dayton-based REA eyes long-vacant WW Port building

The acquisition paves the way for Dayton-based Columbia REA to expand its Walla Walla and College Place presence.

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Electric cooperative Columbia REA plans to buy the Port of Walla Walla's Melrose Street building complex in a roughly $5.3 million deal that would re-energize the vacant property.

Port of Walla Walla commissioners have unanimously approved the sale through a letter of intent signed at the end of June.

The sale of the 88,000-square-foot main building and 10 acres of property is slated to close in September, barring any unforeseen issues before then.

The acquisition paves the way for Dayton-based Columbia REA to expand its Walla Walla and College Place presence, a spokesman for the co-op said.

It also brings life to a building that has been vacant for five years and, consequently, not generating revenue for the Port or through the tax rolls.

Port officials have said the property has been difficult to market because of its size -- too big for smaller manufacturers; too small for larger ones.

Initially built at a cost of $4.1 million for Strauser Manufacturing, the structure was most recently leased by Key Technology. It's been vacant since 2005.

Built in 1988, the complex includes an 88,267-square-foot tilt-up building, 10,280-square-foot office building, and 4,060-square-foot Quonset building. Strauser filed bankruptcy in 1990 and moved out of the building. Key Technology began leasing it in 1995.

The co-op would likely sell its Rees Avenue service center and relocate much of the equipment it stores in its Dayton location, said Scott Peters, Columbia REA's manager of marketing and member services.

He said the operation's headquarters will remain in Dayton, where the co-op got its start in 1939.

"The majority of the cooperative's growth for the last two years has been in the Walla Walla-College Place area," Peters said. "We've been looking for a way to expand our presence and give us the space we need, and this building is going to do that."

Les Teel, chief executive officer of Columbia REA, said in a prepared statement the co-op has outgrown its Walla Walla site and has been fortunate to find a space that meets the company's long-term strategic needs.

Under terms of the letter of intent, Columbia REA pays a $10,000 cash deposit to the Port. A 60-day due -diligence period allows Columbia REA time to inspect the property and locate any structural, environmental or compliance issues that could impede the purchase.

That 60-day period began June 29. If all goes smoothly, Columbia REA would pay $5,330,416.70 to the Port.

Port Commissioner Mike Fredrickson said money from the sale would likely be used to help fund construction of a new sewer system for the Port's Burbank Business Park.

For the co-op the larger space represents opportunities to streamline the operation for future growth. Equipment -- from transformers and wire to poles and water heaters -- is all stored in Dayton, which means workers have to drive back and forth to pick up materials for work that is primarily taking place in Walla Walla and College Place.

The co-op's Rees Avenue site is too small for storage, even with three trailers behind the building, Peters said.

He said the co-op has no intention of abandoning its headquarters in Dayton. But the operation that employs 51 people -- 18 of whom have been based in Walla Walla -- expects to see more growth in membership and employment in the coming years.

He said officials hope to have a start in the facility early next year.

Columbia REA owns and operates 1,200 miles of electric lines through Walla Walla, Columbia and Umatilla counties and serve more than 4,800 member accounts.

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