Mercer Island Reporter


A small sign, but a big price

Mercer Island Reporter Former editor
February 13, 2013 · 9:21 AM

This pair of buildings on S.E. 29th Street, across from the Jacksons gas station and mini mart, started out as a home, on the left, and a garage. They were built in the late 1940s. / Rebecca Mar/Staff Photo

The small white sign perched on the corner of 77th Avenue S.E. and S.E. 29th Street is rather modest considering the asking price for the 13,000-square-foot parcel.

The property, now home to the Pacific Northwest Ticket Service and the State Farm Insurance office, is up for sale by the Bitney family for $2.1 million; an amount that is the equivalent of just under $165 per square foot.

As owner Dean Bitney will cheerfully tell you, the value is certainly not in the buildings, but the land.

After he posted the ‘for sale’ sign about three weeks ago, he has had around a hundred calls, he said.

Indeed, the two buildings that occupy the land — adjacent to the Veloce Velo Bicycle Store to the north, and west of the mixed-use building owned by the King family — are holdovers from the 1940s. One of them served as home to Bitney family members, as well as tenants.

Bitney calls the land and its buildings the “last piece of old Mercer Island.”

The property is in the southeast corner of a large piece of underdeveloped property that appears ripe for some sort of development — perhaps on the scale of The Mercer or the 7700 or 7800 mixed use buildings.

Bitney, along with his neighbors, the King family and Gary Lewis, who owns the Mud Bay and Veloce Velo building, have had conversations over the years about selling the three pieces together — but have yet to be successful.

It has been slow and complicated. There are easements and a less than positive real estate market. But Bitney thinks that this is the time to get serious about a deal.

Bitney and his sister own the property and are each looking to perhaps find warmer places to spend their winters.

A garage was the first structure built on the property in 1947. It was later converted to house the insurance business that remains today. The house on the corner, where the ticket office is now, was finished in 1948.

The house has been home to several businesses. There was a drapery business, an art gallery and framing shop, and several beauty parlors. Along the way, various people lived in the house, too.

A family named Boyd lived in the house for a time in the 1950s. They were followed by the Ballard family, who had a drapery business there. They, in turn, were followed by Mike Davidson, an artist who had a gallery and taught at the high school. There was a picture framing business as well.

Finally, Dean Bitney lived there himself for a time and eventually took over the State Farm business. His tenancy was followed by a series of beauty salons.

The ticket agency moved into the house in 1978 and remains there on a month-to-month lease. The business has been home to a USGS satellite-linked remote sensing seismograph for about 10 years, he said.

Bitney, a 1971 graduate of Mercer Island High School, has fond memories of living in the house on the corner himself. He remembers the bowling alley, located where the Farmer’s Insurance offices are now along with the still-undeveloped feel of the Town Center.

When Bitney retired in 2009 from the insurance business, he had three calls in the first hour that it was offered for sale.

“Pauline [Reed] was the first one to call, so she got the business,” he said.

The State Farm agency was begun in the 1920s by Bitney’s grandfather. The first office was in the historic Dexter Horton building in downtown Seattle. Bitney’s father took over the business in 1953, later moving it to the Island, where the family lived and where it remains to this day.

“My dad did not want to commute,” he said.

Of all the calls he has had regarding the property, he has only shown it to two or three people, he said. People are not interested in looking inside the old structures.

He remembered a story from years ago in the Reporter that referred to a business in “that rundown building.”

“You just need to drive by to see what you are buying and what needs to be done,” he said. “You just need a bulldozer.”

Below, the home next door under construction in 1948. Bottom, a view of the back of the garage, facing toward S.E. 29th Street. The lot with both structures is for sale for $2.1 million. Contributed photos.


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