Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital has purchased the 85,000-square-foot former state Ecology Department building for office space.

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YAKIMA — When the state Department of Ecology left downtown Yakima last year, many wondered who would take on the large space it vacated.

Prospects for a buyer for the bank-owned building at 15 W. Yakima Ave. appeared dim.

“We didn’t know how long it would take to find a buyer,” said Bill Almon Jr., the designated broker for Almon Commercial Real Estate who worked with Umpqua Bank to sell the building and other nearby properties.

The wait ended up being much shorter than some feared — just six months — after Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital purchased the 85,000-square-foot building for office space.

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Memorial has been under space constraints for several years, said Jim Aberle, the hospital’s chief operating officer. To deal with the crunch, nonclinical services and business offices were relocated from the hospital’s Tieton Drive campus to leased properties throughout the city.

The downtown building will serve as a centralized location for those offices, though the hospital will continue to lease several properties, including the one at 3800 Summitview Ave. that houses its outpatient operations.

But having the downtown building provides flexibility.

“It’s about giving us options that we could convert quickly,” Aberle said.

Memorial will spend the next several months renovating the building and deciding which services and offices will relocate there, he said. Leasing out some of the space to other tenants also is an option, he said.

The search for another building started before Memorial’s merger with Virginia Mason Health System of Seattle, but the merger could dictate future plans for the building, he said.

The purchase provides the Yakima Valley’s largest private employer a visible and sizable presence downtown. The hospital acquired the Liberty Building on North Third Street in the late 1990s from a donor, but eventually sold it.

“Obviously, our needs for operations were foremost, but it’s great to have that impact on downtown,” Aberle said.

The building dates to the early 20th century and had once been a fruit-packing facility before being renovated for office space. There are a few tenants — the state Department of Labor and Industries and El Taco Loco — but the Ecology Department’s departure left the building mostly vacant.

In its $1.7 million purchase, Memorial also acquired a second building that houses Yesterday’s Village antique store and the neighboring parking lots.

With the sale to Memorial, Oregon-based Umpqua Bank is close to selling all the properties it acquired during the bankruptcy of former owner of Yesterday’s Village Inc. (no relation to the Yesterday’s Village antique store) in 2013.

A year later, Umpqua Bank held an auction for the property that housed the Ecology building, but did not get its desired price. So last year, the bank subdivided the property — made up of three buildings — into smaller parcels to garner more interest from potential buyers.

The most attractive of those subdivided properties is a 54,000-square-foot building occupied by the state Department of Agriculture under a long-term lease.