State allegedly 'unfair' over North-South Freeway



Posted on October 30, 2013 at 11:17 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 4:11 PM

SPOKANE, Wash.--The Tapio Center on Second and Freya sits a few yards away from I-90. It is the final piece of property in the North-South freeway master plan.
The State said it will eventually have to buy the Tapio Center. The owners said they are being treated unfairly in the process. They decided to sue the state over the planned buyout.
The Tapio Center is an office park with about 100 office spaces, restaurants and various businesses. The owners of the park said the state has purposely blighted the neighborhood around the center. They claim the state has made the value of the office park essentially worthless.
John Stejer said he is proud of the Tapio Office Park. His family and four other local families purchased the property in 1989. Stejer’s dream was to build the Tapio into the finest office park in Spokane. His dream turned into a nightmare when he received word from the State of Washington in the mid 1990’s that the North-South Freeway would tear through his complex.
“It creates a huge cloud of uncertainty for the tenants,” said Stejer.  “They don't know how long they're going to be able to do business here. I have to answer these types of questions for lease negotiations.”
The uncertainty has prompted tenants to leave and led to short term leases and empty office space. Stejer said the most frustrating thing for him has been watching houses being torn down around the center.
Stejer’s lawyer Kevin Roberts said the state had strategically purchased the property around the Tapio, causing the value to drop and essentially putting the office park on layaway.
The Attorney General’s office would not comment on any pending litigation. A spokesperson from the Washington Department of Transportation said the state simply does not have the money to buy the Tapio center right now.
“In the lawsuit, it's going to come out that this has been a calculated manner of doing business in terms of acquiring properties for the North-South Freeway,” said Kevin Roberts of Dunn and Black Law Firm. “..Calculated to create a blight and depressed neighborhood along this freeway corridor so they can reduce the amount of money they have to pay the owners.”
Roberts shared an internal email from October 9, 2006 to support his argument. It was part of a case that involved the old Ziggy’s store on Market. The store’s situation was similar to the Tapio at the time.
In the email, the state allegedly outlined a strategy of purchasing property around the store, blighting the area and then buying the property at a reduced price.
Stejer said the email confirmed his suspicions.  
“Wow, it all makes sense.  The values are down, people have scattered, there's vacant blight around us, and we're sitting here begging to be treated fairly and we have to go to trial to do that,” said Stejer.
The trial was set for January of 2014 in Spokane Superior Court. The State has motioned for a continuance.
“We've been waiting and our documentation is in place but we continue to get pushed back.  And as a tax payer to see they have outside council - it feels like this is dragging on and on, all on the backs of our investment group and the tenants of the Tapio,” said Stejer.
Stejer said he is not looking to make a profit on the Tapio at this point. He said he just wants compensation.
He said he wishes the state would communicate with him so he could get some clear answers.