Real Estate News

Will a discounted price help move Old City Hall? Tacoma is about to find out.

Geeking out on Tacoma’s Old City Hall as architectural gem

Reuben McKnight, Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Tacoma, talks lovingly about the Italian villa style brick building built in 1893 to be the city’s “grand old municipal building.” McKnight considers it the town’s jewel.
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Reuben McKnight, Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Tacoma, talks lovingly about the Italian villa style brick building built in 1893 to be the city’s “grand old municipal building.” McKnight considers it the town’s jewel.

Old City Hall in Tacoma is on the market for the third time in as many years.

This time, the $4 million minimum bid for buying the downtown property is gone.

The city paid that amount for the historic building at 625 S. Commerce St. three years ago, even though an appraisal said it was worth $1.6 million. The city covered the difference from an economic and urban development fund.

In this latest round of bids, the city wants to get fair market value for the property, which will be determined by an appraisal closer to the sale.

The city would still like to get $4 million for the five-story structure, its request for proposals states, but will consider offers beyond just their cash amounts. It encourages "creative deal structures," which can have value to the public, such as free conference room use for neighborhood groups.

"We are allowing for more flexibility" for developers looking to renovate the building, said Elly Walkowiak, assistant director for the city’s Economic Development Department. "People got so hung up on that $4 million figure, maybe they had great projects but it was a stumbling block for them."

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Developers have until the end of July to respond to the city's latest attempt to attract interest in Old City Hall, which opened in 1893 and was accepted onto the National Register of Historic Places less than a century later.

"The structure is representative of the ebullience of spirit that characterized the city of Tacoma in the late 19th century," states the nomination submission. "The upper floors of the tower house a magnificent clock and a set of four bells. The clock is reputed to be one of the finest in the world."

Potential investors are lining up to take tours of the building later this month, but as past experience has shown, interest doesn't always translate into offers.

"This time around we are really trying to find the best fit for the project," Walkowiak said.

The city's investment landscape is a lot different now than it was three years ago. Tacoma boasts more than $1 billion in projects under way in the city, she said, within the next two years, some of which include overseas money. Those projects include:

The McMenamins Elks Lodge project at 565 Broadway is under construction, with a 2019 opening date.

Nearby, the Washington Building at 1019 Pacific Ave. is showing signs of life, with black netting surrounding the outside in preparation for a renovation into apartments. It could open in 2020.

Dozens of multifamily developments have sprouted or are in progress in many Tacoma neighborhoods, including downtown and the Stadium, Proctor, Point Ruston and St. Helens areas.

The $85 million Marriott-branded hotel at 1538 Commerce St. is rising next to the Greater Tacoma Convention Center. It is led by a Chinese real estate developer.

Town Center Tacoma, a $125 million development on a 6.4-acre parcel on the southern end of downtown, recently broke ground. It is spearheaded by a different real estate developer from China.

South along Pacific Avenue, a $60 million project, to be called The Brewery Blocks, proposes creating residential and commercial space in the Brewery District.

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McMenamins was the front runner in the city's first attempt bring the building back into productive use in 2015. The company envisioned a two-building complex — the first of its kind for the Portland-based developer. But as costs for the Elks property mounted, Old City Hall became less of a priority.

The second attempt to secure a buyer attracted two pitches: a McMenamins partnership with a technology incubator, and a headquarters for LiftPort. The company, which has zero paid employees, aims to create a space elevator on the moon. The state once told the owner to stop selling shares in the company without a license.

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For this third offer, developers have two months to put together a development team and financials and then submit details to the city.

McMenamins remains interested in the building, Walkowiak said.

Kate Martin: kmartin@thenewstribune.com, @KateReports.
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