Fiscal reality has struck down the dream of a massive mixed-use complex in Tacoma’s Brewery District.
Top city officials informed the Asia Pacific Cultural Center last week that the linchpin of an ambitious plan for a new cultural headquarters isn’t going to happen.
“They wanted the city to donate the property for this project,” Ricardo Noguera, the city’s economic development director, said Friday. “Unfortunately, the property they want is tied to taxpayer bonds, and there’s over $8 million of encumbrances on it. So, that’s just not something we can do.”
Undeterred, APCC executive director Lua Pritchard said Friday she’s confident the envisioned complex will be built within the next seven years – and potentially still on the ground her group has been eyeing.
“I’m not one to give up,” Pritchard said. “I’m a firm believer that if the project is good, it’s going to happen.”
Last year, Pritchard detailed to city officials her group’s grand vision for developing a new cultural headquarters as the centerpiece of a mixed-use complex that calls for a 250-seat auditorium, classrooms and exhibit spaces, a 50,000-square-foot ethnic grocery store, student and low-income senior housing, and market-rate condominiums.
As part of the plan, Pritchard requested the city set aside half of Tacoma’s so-called “Six-Acre Parcel” – the largest undeveloped plot in downtown Tacoma.
The city-owned land – just southwest of the University of Washington Tacoma campus between South 21st and 23rd Streets – has sat empty since 2002. It had been the proposed site for a new Tacoma Police headquarters, which ultimately was built on Pine Street.
The land – situated at the edge of what once was Japantown – holds meaning to Pritchard’s organization, which represents dozens of Asian and Pacific Islander ethic groups.
“That’s where the Japanese first settled in Tacoma,” she said. “That’s the main reason we’re interested in that piece of land.”
The parcel also has been identified by city and business leaders as the prime location for potential Brewery District and UWT expansion.
By all accounts, the APPC’s plan is ambitious: a 381,300-square-foot development initially estimated to cost $118 million. With some architectural drawings – but no feasibility study – in hand, Pritchard’s pitch last year met with some skepticism early on among city officials.
But official word came Wednesday, when City Manger T.C. Broadnax and Noguera informed Pritchard and other APCC principals that the city won’t donate the sought-after site.
The reason? The city has millions of dollars sunk into the property, Noguera said.
“The site they were interested in is locked up into millions of encumbrances and must be sold for a minimum of the fair market value,” he said.
An in-house appraisal done in 2009 valued the property at $3.9 million. The city purchased the land with proceeds from a bond issue in 1997, with ideas for building the new police headquarters.
When that didn’t happen, former City Manager Eric Anderson then used it as leverage to fund police facility construction. That debt has since been rolled over and refinanced to the point where now the land has $12.3 million of encumbrances, said Martha Anderson, the city’s assistant economic development director.
And the property faces even more costs – to conduct required environmental cleanup prior to development, officials have said.
The City Council also has identified the land as “a high priority site … that needs to go through (a public bidding) process” before ownership can be transferred, Noguera said.
“This is one of those properties that’s worth enough value that it must go through a request for proposals process,” added Anderson. “If (APCC officials) want to apply (to buy)… that property through the process, they are certainly welcome to.”
While the city won’t donate the land for the project, city officials have agreed to continue working with Pritchard’s group, Noguera said.
“We would offer technical assistance and help them identify another location, whether private or public, that might be more suitable for this project,” he said.
The big challenge for the APCC is finding the funding for what’s now estimated to be a $79 million project, Noguera added.
“Ultimately, they’re going to have to go on a capital campaign to raise the money,” he said. “We’re talking $79 million, and I just don’t know how you make that work. But Lua Pritchard is confident they can do it.”
Pritchard said she doesn’t have the funding in hand, but she says her group could raise it. The APPC’s current location in South Tacoma has drawn 66,000 visits since April, she added. As envisioned, Pritchard contends the new center could bring in as many as 200,000 visitors to Tacoma per year.
“We’ve been planting seeds, getting people lined up to endorse this,” Pritchard said. “And we have a really fantastic development team that includes investors. So, we have the plan. All we need to do is get the land for the location.”Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542 lewis.kamb@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics