Tacoma, Pierce County plan a bold swap
In a swap of major public landmarks, the City of Tacoma and Pierce County are working on a deal that would give the city full control of Cheney Stadium and the county sole possession of the County-City Building.
Under an agreement to be considered by elected officials from both governments next week, Tacoma would give the county its share of the jointly owned County-City Building downtown. In exchange, Pierce County would give up its share of Cheney Stadium, plus $2 million.
City and county officials say the deal makes sense for taxpayers and would give each government full control of a prized asset.
“It’s better to have one government in charge (of each facility) instead of multiple governments,” said County Executive John Ladenburg.
The county owns half an interest in six parcels at and around Cheney Stadium, the home of minor league baseball’s Tacoma Rainiers. The city owns the remaining share and manages the stadium property.
According to the county Assessor-Treasurer’s Office, the six stadium parcels are worth about $10.5 million.
The city owns about 44 percent of the County-City Building. The county owns the remaining share of the building, which is assessed at $115.6 million.
Despite the value difference, city leaders see sense in giving up the city’s share of the downtown building in order to get control of the stadium.
Mike Slevin, the city’s interim public works director, said the city uses only about 7 percent of the County-City Building’s floor space, but has been paying for 25 percent of the maintenance costs. That’s worked out to about $750,000 to $1 million per two-year budget. The amount can vary considerably depending on what work the building needs.
If the swap is approved and completed, the city would lease back the space it uses in the County-City Building.
With Cheney Stadium, the city would take complete ownership – and assume the obligation to remodel it, a job that’s estimated to cost up to $26 million.
Some of that money already is secured. There are about $5 million in available grants, and the county would agree to help find $5 million in matching funds, Slevin said. The private owners of the Rainiers baseball team also would contribute $5 million, he said. That leaves a shortfall of about $10 million that officials would need to find.
It makes sense for the city to own the stadium, Slevin said, noting that it’s already managed by the city.
“This puts the right facilities under the right ownership,” Slevin said.
For its part, the county has long wanted to gain control of the County-City Building. Ladenburg said the county has spent about $14 million to renovate the building in recent years. He said county taxpayers would get a good deal because the value of the building is greater than the value of the stadium.
The County-City Building opened in 1959, and Cheney Stadium was built a year later. The slab-sided building, which cost about $9.5 million, replaced the Victorian Pierce County Courthouse. It housed many city offices, including those of the mayor and City Council members, the city manager and the public works department, but over the years it’s become primarily a county building.
The city and the county have been talking about a swap of the properties for years. But it took a recent deal for the county to acquire the Tacoma Narrows Airport to jump-start the property swap.
Pierce County and the Peninsula Metropolitan Parks District initially agreed to pay Tacoma $5 million for the airport and a golf course near Gig Harbor. However, the Federal Aviation Administration nixed the sale price, saying Tacoma couldn’t sell the airport at a profit.
Instead, the FAA approved a $3 million sale price.
Now the county is pitching in the extra $2 million it had budgeted for the airport purchase to sweeten its offer in the stadium-building swap.
The County Council’s Rules Committee will consider the proposal at its meeting Monday, and the full council will take it up Tuesday.
The Tacoma City Council also will take up the proposal Tuesday.
David Wickert: 253-274-7341
50% Pierce County, 50% Tacoma
City would get:
55% Pierce County, 45% Tacoma
County would get: