Foss hotel legal battle victory goes to hotel proponents

Staff writerNovember 25, 2013 

The proponents of building a new Marriott Residence Inn on Tacoma's Thea Foss Waterway have won yet another legal battle with the owners of downtown Tacoma's Murano Hotel.

But the legal and political war, already in its fourth year, may not be over yet. 

Hotel backers say their opponents have indicated they may appeal Friday's summary dismissal from Pierce County Superior Court Judge John McCarthy. Neither the plaintiff's attorney nor a spokeswoman for Provenance Hotels, which operates the Murano, was available for comment Monday.

McCarthy dismissed the suit brought by KS Tacoma, the entity that owns the Murano. KS Tacoma had sued the Foss Waterway Development Authority, the city-chartered organization charged with revitalizing the waterway, contending the authority violated state law in not preventing the property owner from selling the hotel site to a Bellingham developer.

The development authority told the court it had no authority to block the 2010 sale because the deal was between two private parties.

The authority had sold the site years ago to a Seattle-based developer who had planned to build a boutique hotel and condominiums on the site. That site is on the waterway's west side just south of the Esplanade condominium development.

In its original request for proposals more than a decade ago, the authority had sought a developer for a small luxury hotel on the site.

But that developer couldn't find financing for the luxury hotel and condo building after the economy entered the recession. 

That developer, Bob Thurston, sold the land to Hollander Investments of Bellingham.  Hollander drew up plans to build two hotels on the land linked by an office structure. The project would be built in phases with the Marriott Hotel being the first to be constructed.

Attorneys representing the Murano owners argued that when the boutique hotel plan was replaced by a more ordinary branded hotel plan, the authority should have enforced its original concept and required a more upscale structure be built on the site.

Attorneys representing the authority, argued that the Murano had no standing to bring the suit and that the authority had the freedom to alter its development requirements when the boutique hotel proved financially infeasible.

The authority argued that the latest suit was merely another attempt by a rival hotel to block construction of a competing hotel. The hotel denied such motives.

The Murano's owners and a hotel workers union have repeatedly attempted to prevent the hotel from being built.

The two successfully delayed a Tacoma City Council approval of a environmental indemnity agreement for months more than three years ago. That agreement was approved when new members joined the council.

The hotel then appealed the issuance of a shoreline permit for the hotel taking that issue through several hearings and ultimately to the Washington Supreme Court, where the hotel proponents were victorious.

Dave Murphy, the hotel's architect, said the building permits for the hotel should be issued sometime next month, but groundbreaking for the project is still uncertain because of the threat of a legal appeal.

The $17-million project will have 104 rooms.  Retailers on Dock Street say they've awaiting the hotel's construction because workers and customers there will provide more business for the restaurants and shops.


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