Hilltop redevelopment moves ahead

Pair of historic buildings and adjacent properties could be revamped soon

The city of Tacoma is moving toward selling two historic buildings in the Hilltop neighborhood for $100,000 to a developer who wants to turn them into retail storefronts and apartments.

Next door, two other city properties are slated to be given away for free to the Tacoma Housing Authority, which has a similar plan in mind but would put up two new buildings there.

Tacoma City Council members gave their blessing to both deals Tuesday with no dissent, cheering them as a way to bring more affordable housing to Hilltop while restoring a pair of century-old buildings that have fallen on hard times.

“The worst thing you can see,” Councilman David Boe said, is “. . . boarded up buildings that are sitting there just waiting.”

The Pochert and Kellogg-Sicker buildings lie in the 1100 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Hilltop’s business district. Officials say the city bought them in 2005 after a history of nuisance-code and other violations.

The area is home to a growing number of medical facilities, and city leaders want light rail to extend there eventually, making it a potentially prime spot for more housing and retail. Local community groups have endorsed the projects.

City officials said the private developer, Kevin Grossman, plans to renovate the buildings by fall 2014 with an estimated 14 apartments above retail stores.

Both buildings have been approved for inclusion in the Tacoma Register of Historic Places. Their new designs must be approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Officials said the sale price essentially reflects the value of the land the dilapidated buildings sit on, based on a May appraisal.

Their sale is contingent on permits, financing and plans for construction.

The Kellogg-Sickler building is best known as the site of Browne’s Star Grill, which operated for more than 35 years before the city bought it out in 2005. Police considered Browne’s a magnet for drug dealers, and the city saw it as an opportunity for redevelopment.

On the properties next door, the housing authority has a more tentative plan to tear down a building that houses a men’s clothing store and construct new buildings on that site and on an adjacent parking lot. Construction might not be finished until as late as summer 2017.

“There are contingencies that we have to puzzle through (to) tell us if we can pull this off,” authority Executive Director Michael Mirra told the council Tuesday.

He said afterward it’s not yet certain exactly what will be built at what cost, and where to find the money.

The ground floor would house commercial businesses. Above, plans call for 40 to 50 units, although some people are urging the authority to build more, Mirra said. Rent is intended to be affordable for low-income workers.

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Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826