After several years of uncertainty over management and ownership, entrepreneurs at Freighthouse Square are banding together to bring people back to the Tacoma landmark.
They’ve formed a merchants’ group to combine ideas and resources to help market the building. The group’s first big event is in two weeks, called “Sample the Square,” where visitors can buy $3 samples of food from the wide variety of restaurants while taking a look at what’s new.
“Everyone wants this place to be a vibrant destination it used to be,” said Tammi Anderson Loucks, president of the Freighthouse Square Merchants Association and owner of Reclamation Candle Co. “Every month someone new is opening a store. In my section there’s only one space left, and someone is considering that.”
Built in 1909 as the Western stop for the Old Milwaukee Railroad line, the 10,000-square foot property has been an indoor mall for years. With small spaces and low rent, it’s been the launching point for several retailers, including Celebrity Cake Studio, which recently expanded into its own building elsewhere in the Dome District.
“The thing about Freighthouse is that it’s a bit of an incubator for retail,” said Ernie Velton, managing broker for Bellevue-based JSH Properties, which has been managing the building since August 2011 as a court-appointed receiver. “It’s great to have a merchants’ group that’s participating and giving us a sense of consensus.”
That month, a Pierce County court appointed JSH as a general receiver after the previous ownership group defaulted on its loan. The former owners had tried to sell the building for $3.5 million, but were unsuccessful. Union Bank had started to foreclose, but then decided to ask for a receiver to take over property management and try to sell it. JSH has listed it for $2.5 million, and Velton said Tuesday they’ve started the process of selling it to an unidentified local buyer.
Several merchants said Tuesday that they understood six offers were made, and that they hoped the winning bidder was a current tenant, though they wouldn’t name names.
Anderson Loucks, who worked in marketing before opening her dream retail shop in April, said the merchants’ group is open to anyone at Freighthouse and doesn’t plan to charge a membership fee. The only cost might be to chip in on the group’s campaigns.
“If we all placed ads (for individual businesses), it would be expensive. But if we place an ad about Freighthouse in general, it’s affordable,” she said. “So far I can’t think of any (merchant) who’s not interested in participating.”
The group also plans events through the fall, including reinstating those that used to be popular such as indoor trick-or-treating and a craft bazaar on the second Saturday of each month.
“We’re striving to bring people back,” said Tonya Reynolds, owner of Seasonal Delights Cafe. Freighthouse is “becoming a treasure again. We want people to be in the habit of coming here and of it being a friend and family hangout again.”
Reynolds hopes the potential new owner understands the importance of local connections.
“It’s not supposed to be a commercialized, big chain kind of place,” she said. “I’s supposed to be a custom, personalized experience. Home-made goods. Hand-crafted items. It’s supposed to be eclectic.”
Sample the Square
What: A day of free activities, including cookie decorating, jewelry making and a family fun zone. Merchants also plan raffles and gift certificate drawings. All restaurants are offering $3 samples.
When: Sept. 29, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Freighthouse Square, on the corner of East D and East 25th streets, just a few blocks north of the Tacoma Dome.
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