Editorials

Two historic beauties can grace each other downtown

The News Tribune

The City of Tacoma, owner of Old City Hall in downtown Tacoma, is seeking development proposals. Across the street is the old Elks Temple, seen in the reflection at left, which has been owned by McMenamins since 2009. Work has been delayed on it but is now at the top of the company’s to-do list.
The City of Tacoma, owner of Old City Hall in downtown Tacoma, is seeking development proposals. Across the street is the old Elks Temple, seen in the reflection at left, which has been owned by McMenamins since 2009. Work has been delayed on it but is now at the top of the company’s to-do list. The News Tribune file, 2011

Anyone keeping track of Tacoma’s slow but steady increase in places that draw people downtown has to be pleased with two separate news items from the last few days.

First came word that the City of Tacoma is seeking proposals from developers for restoring Old City Hall. The city bought the historic, 122-year-old building in June after the owner failed to meet deadlines for repairs. It will pay for repairs to stabilize the building, but then hopes to sell or lease the property to a developer.

The city should be picky about who it picks for the property. This isn’t just any building; if any in Tacoma could rightly be described as “iconic,” this is the one. That’s why the city was justified in paying $4 million for a building appraised for only $1.6 million. Paying the higher price avoided “demolition by neglect.”

Among the preferences the city listed for proposals was that a project “create synergy with surrounding development” and “draw pedestrian traffic the area.”

Which leads to the second news item: Restoration of another historic building, the Tacoma Elks Temple owned by McMenamins, is moving to the top of the company’s to-do list. That building is across Commerce Street from Old City Hall.

The city didn’t specifically cite the McMenamins project in its call for development proposals for Old City Hall. But any developer who wants to make points with city decision-makers would be wise to take it into consideration.

Ideally, whatever happens with the Old City Hall development would complement McMenamins’ temple project, which could get under way as early as March 2016 now that the company is finishing up its project in Bothell.

McMenamins’ plans include a restaurant-brewpub, concert venue, game rooms and hotel rooms. If it performs like McMenamins sites have in other markets, it will attract people downtown for different reasons at different times of the day and night.

The city and Sound Transit are taking steps to make it easier for people to get to the general vicinity. The proposed Link light rail extension would stop at Old City Hall and would be a short walk from McMenamins.

The south end of downtown is busy with museums, the University of Washington Tacoma, shops and eateries. The north end is slowly taking shape with restaurants and brewpubs. Adding McMenamins and a revitalized Old City Hall should give the neighborhood a big boost.

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