Old City Hall is on the market again. Tacoma wants developers to pitch restoration projects

Tacoma’s Old City Hall is up for grabs again.

More than two years ago, the city asked developers to send their pitches for the 124-year-old building. Four developers replied with their visions.

Nothing panned out, so the city is trying again.

“We have received interest from a variety of developers,” said Elly Walkowiak, assistant director for the city’s Economic Development Department, via email.

The request for proposals calls Old City Hall “Tacoma’s most iconic historic building.” The city bought the building in 2015 for $4 million, far above its $1.6 million appraised value.

Had the city not bought the building, at 625 Commerce St., officials said, it might have died a slow death of neglect under its previous owner.

The city prefers that the building be used for class A office space, a tech center or a hotel, according to the request for proposals.

Two years ago, Portland-based developer McMenamins was selected. It envisioned basement soaking pools, 60 hotel rooms and bars throughout.

McMenamins owns the Elks lodge across the street from Old City Hall, and started construction earlier this month on its historic renovation with plans for a 2019 opening.

But the city and McMenamins never came to a deal on restoring Old City Hall, despite negotiating for months. Those talks stalled while McMenamins secured more funding for the Elks project, and in 2016 the city and McMenamins agreed to allow the city to court other developers for the project.

This time, the city’s request for proposals shows some lessons learned:

▪ The city is requiring developers to submit a $30,000 check to be considered. Those not selected will get their money back.

Money from the company picked will count toward the final sale price of the building. If the winner backs out the city will keep the money.

▪ The city requiring a minimum bid of $4 million or equivalent value, which can include what a developer tout as a “public benefit.”

McMenamins said in its winning bid last time that a public meeting room and pool passes for area residents for 15 years were a public benefit worth $2 million. This time around, the city wants the developer to estimate the cost of any direct public benefit.

▪ The winner and city will have nine months to negotiate the agreement.

McMenamins made no secret that it ranked its Elks project over Old City Hall, and funding delays for the lodge pushed negotiations for Old City Hall back until the deal fell apart.

The city will score the proposals based on a metric. The price can count for up to 40 points, while the remaining 60 points depend on how developers answer questions about how their proposals can fulfill neighborhood, economic development, planning and other goals.

Proposals are due to the city of Tacoma by 11 a.m. Dec 12.

“That building is singularly incredible, the way it was sited, the way it just rose out at the top of the hill,” city historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight said in 2016. “Nobody has a building like that.”

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports

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