Politics & Government

Tacoma receives 4 offers to reinvent Old City Hall

A bicyclist pedals past Old City Hall Tuesday Nov. 3, 2015. Four Puget Sound developers met last month’s deadline to propose a vision of Old City Hall’s future. Now the city will take a few weeks to evaluate the proposals: A boutique hotel, office spaces, or a high-end bar and antique gallery. The city asked for proposals at the beginning of September. The Tacoma City Council voted to buy the historic building in June for $4 million.
A bicyclist pedals past Old City Hall Tuesday Nov. 3, 2015. Four Puget Sound developers met last month’s deadline to propose a vision of Old City Hall’s future. Now the city will take a few weeks to evaluate the proposals: A boutique hotel, office spaces, or a high-end bar and antique gallery. The city asked for proposals at the beginning of September. The Tacoma City Council voted to buy the historic building in June for $4 million. Staff photographer

Four Puget Sound developers met an October deadline to propose a vision of Old City Hall’s future.

Now Tacoma officials will take a few weeks to evaluate the pitches: a boutique hotel, office spaces, a project by Portland developer McMenamins, and a high-end bar and antique gallery.

The city asked for proposals at the beginning of September. It said it wants a project that will draw people to the north downtown area, maximize tax revenues, create jobs and pay off the $4 million the city paid for the building last summer, according to its request for interest.

City workers are now hunkering down to evaluate the four offers, said Elly Walkowiak with the city’s Economic Development Department. The city has 30 days to do so, though Walkowiak said it’s her hope to finish the review process sooner.

The Tacoma City Council voted in June to buy the historic property for $4 million from the former owner, Seattle’s The Stratford Co, which had allowed Old City Hall to fall into disrepair. The city feared the 122-year-old building could fail even further, possibly to the point of needing demolition. It bought it to prevent that outcome.

City officials did not release copies of the four proposals, citing an exemption in state public records law that allows them to withhold documents related to real estate transactions. People representing three of the proposals shared information with The News Tribune.

Costs for each proposal were not available Wednesday. McMenamins’ renovation of Tacoma’s historic Elks Temple, similar in scope and size of Old City Hall, is expected to cost around $20 million.

Boutique hotel

Grace Pleasants with Tacoma’s The Boulevard Group, proposes a renovation of the 122-year-old iconic building into a 110-room boutique hotel with a covered swimming pool. It would be operated by the Connecticut-based Starwood hotel chain, which has more than 1,200 properties worldwide.

Pleasants touted the budding nightlife scene near Old City Hall and eventual access to mass transit when the Link light rail expansion is completed.

She has teed up Starwood’s Aloft by W for the space, a hotel that advertises affordable style and caters to a tech-savvy clientele that values music and artistic expression.

“We have been looking for a site in Tacoma to put this brand — well over two years now. We think it would do very well,” said Pleasants, who renovated the historic Albers Mill on the Foss Waterway and helped broker the deal that made McMenamins the owner of Tacoma’s historic Elks Temple.

Over time, she said, the city would see a return of its $4 million investment through a cash payment and hotel taxes.

Office project

Daniels Real Estate of Seattle has a track record of historic renovation projects, including Seattle’s Starbucks Center.

In its proposal to Tacoma, Daniels envisions offices on several floor of Old City Hall. But the developers need more information from the city about the building’s mechanical systems, said Angi Davis, a vice president with Nitze-Stagen, which is partnering with Daniels.

Davis said a rehab of Old City Hall is most similar to Daniels’ Union Station project in Seattle, which was completed about 15 years ago.

Like Old City Hall, it had also lain vacant for many years. It is now the headquarters for Sound Transit.

“That is a beautiful building. It is an iconic structure in the landscape of Tacoma,” Davis said. “… The building isn’t in terrible shape. We’ve seen worse, and we’ve worked on worse.”

McMenamins mystery

Earlier this year, Brian McMenamin told The News Tribune that the Portland company’s Elks project in downtown Tacoma could open in spring 2017. The Elks project will follow on the heels of McMenamins’ just-completed renovation of Bothell’s Anderson School.

McMenamins bought the former Elks Temple property in 2009, a stone’s throw from Old City Hall.

A McMenamins representative declined to share the company’s proposal for Old City Hall.

Michael Sullivan with Artifacts Consulting, a historic preservation firm, is working with McMenamins on its Old City Hall offer. He said the company’s proposal for Old City Hall will blend in with its plan for the Elks property.

Ralph Lauren store and bar

A fourth offer has been presented by former state Sen. Larry Faulk of Steilacoom, who envisions Old City Hall as home to a Ralph Lauren polo bar and retail store and M.S. Rau Antiques gallery.

According to Faulk’s proposal, he plans to pay for it with money from the Ralph Lauren organization, a $5 million ask from the state capital budget, money from the grandchildren of the Mars candy fortune and 100 people from the Tacoma area who would each invest $100,000.

On Wednesday, he said the antique gallery would draw people from all over the region.

“If we had a (Ralph Lauren) retail store, my gosh it would change everybody’s perception of Tacoma,” Faulk said.

No matter which, if any, of the four proposals is approved, Old City Hall will require extensive renovations, which may include seismic upgrades and a complete overhaul of electrical and utility systems, Sullivan said.

The city has also promised to complete safety-related repairs to the building, which includes a leaky roof, said Mark D’Andrea, the city’s project manager for the property.

Developers will have more leeway than in most historic buildings in how to shape the interior space of Old City Hall because a renovation in the 1970s gutted the inside, Sullivan said.

“It’s a clean slate on the inside, so in a way it’s an ideal project for rehabilitation,” Sullivan said. “If it was the inside of the Pantages Theater, for example, they’d have to keep the auditorium.”

Developers are also likely to take advantage of federal tax credits and a local property tax incentive available for historic properties.

Walkowiak said developers will be interviewed in the next two weeks. The city will release details about the proposals after that.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542

kate.martin@thenewstribune.com

@KateReports

News Tribune staff writer Kathleen Cooper contributed to this report.

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