Demolition of building clears way for change in Tacoma’s Hilltop

A demolition crew began tearing down the Martin Luther King Housing Development Association’s former office building Monday, clearing the way for a planned $26 million mixed-use center in the Hilltop neighborhood.

The centerpiece of the three-building development is the MLK Business Center, a retail and office building on the corner of South 11th and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The organization wants to build it six stories tall, but needs the City Council to raise the maximum building height from 45 feet to 85 feet.

The Tacoma Planning Commission is considering a proposal that would raise the maximum height in some of the city’s mixed-use centers, including the MLK corridor, up to an additional 20 feet if developments included certain bonus features into their plans, such as affordable housing, public art or ground-floor retail or restaurant space. Even if that proposal passes, it would allow the project to build up to only 65 feet, 20 feet short of what the association hopes to construct.

In the nearby Stadium District, where the current maximum height is 75 feet, the proposal would lower the base height to 65 feet but allow for buildings up to 85 feet with the proposed bonus.

Felix Flannigan, the association’s executive director, said he wants city officials to “do for us what they do for the wealthy neighborhoods.”

The Planning Commission will likely make a recommendation to the City Council in August, said Donna Stenger, Tacoma city planner. The City Council will hold a public hearing in September and likely make a decision in October, Stenger said.

No matter what the City Council decides, Flannigan said his organization is committed to building on the property.

The association’s plan also calls for a 70,000-square-foot residential building, and a 106,000-square-foot parking garage, Flannigan said. Out of 65 housing units, 12 of them would be considered affordable housing, Flannigan said.

About $4 million of public funding was approved for the project in the state’s 2007-09 capital budget.

Flannigan hopes to begin construction on the project this fall, after the City Council makes a decision on height limits. Anchor tenants have been found, but Flannigan said he was not permitted to name them until contracts are signed.

The project is more than two years behind schedule. When it was announced in early 2005, Flannigan said demo- lition was planned for fall of 2005. It is viewed as a poten- tial catalyst for the Martin Luther King Jr. corridor, which was once a thriving commer- cial district but has struggled for years to attract and keep businesses.

The association’s former office building has been vacant since the organization moved its office to Tacoma Avenue. The organization moved into the building about 1991, Flannigan said.

The building, a former bank, was built in 1964, according to Pierce County property records.

Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542