Architectural & historical significance:
Originally designed to house the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, the structure was adapted to government needs after the city and chamber decided to swap properties. Modeled after Italian Renaissance town halls, the 1893 structure features fine brickwork and terracotta ornamentation. The distinctive clock was added to the tower in 1904. The city moved out in 1959 and Old City Hall was saved from the wrecking ball in 1973. In the early 1980s, the structure was rehabilitated to house shops, restaurants and offices. In 2005, the iconic building was purchased by The Stratford Company which had ambitious plans to convert it into a condominium building and took action to sever leases for most tenants in preparation for the conversion.
You've heard the stories on the 2010 flooding and subsequent lack of action at Old City Hall including analysis in Daniel Rahe's thoughtful blog post at exit133 and Peter Callaghan's articles Get Aggressive, Get Creative and Latest Reminder of Neglect from late 2010 issues of The Tacoma News Tribune.
A city building inspector declared the building in derelict condition in December 2010. The building was slated to be sold at public auction in March 2011 but the building owner, The Stratford Company, paid off delinquent taxes & mortgage payments. $1M in mitigation, after the water damage, removed old carpet, drywall and flooring, an investment that would need to be made before rehab can start. The Stratford Company has a $14M plan for rehab but has been unable to find potential tenants for 3 stories of office & retail space; the rest of the building is planned for apartments.
The building was named to the WA Trust's 2011 Most Endangered Properties List on May 24 2011; the nomination was written and submitted by Gerry Sperry, Historic Tacoma member. The Stratford Company listed the property for sale at $3.5M in February 2012 with broker David Morton, 206.450.6389.
The City's Historic Preservation Officer has done several walk-throughs with the building owner and representatives from other city departments primarily regarding the leaking copper roof. As of late December, the water penetration issues have been resolved. Concerns now focus on the fact that the building is unsecured and lacks a fire protection. The City is requiring Stratford to erect internal fencing and monitor the building twice a day. See details in the Dec 22 Tacoma News Tribune article.
While the short term prospects for the iconic building are unclear, we believe that a Public Development Authority devoted to historic properties might be a great model for the redevelopment of this and other older properties. The PDA model used by Historic Seattle for the past 30 years is well-suited to Tacoma's situation: under-utilized and deteriorating buildings that developers can't get to pencil-out. Tacoma needs a long term, proactive approach to the conservation and re-use of historic structures, not a reactive one. Historic Seattle's model has been self-funding for years. To learn more about PDAs, visit the Municipal Research and Services Center page, with linked articles.
Photo credit: Gerry Sperry, 2010