Effort raises dough to rehab former bakery

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The former Wonder Bread bakery sits on a high traffic strip of Sprague Avenue and could house an array of new tenants once it lands a new owner. Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

An effort is on the rise to turn a mothballed bakery on Tacoma’s Sprague Avenue into a community magnet with visions of a community center, affordable housing and activities.

The former Wonder Bread bakery, near the corner of Sprague and Sixth Avenue, dates back 105 years. It made bread for area grocery stores until 2008 and has sat vacant ever since plans to demolish it to make way for a strip mall never came to pass. It’s now for sale, and a “Save the Sprague Bakery” page on Facebook and a GoFundMe campaign hopes to raise $2 million to renovate it for community use with affordable housing and after-school programs.

Josef Sellers started the effort after seeing the rent for his Sixth Avenue apartment double last year and coming across the bakery’s for sale sign.

“That was a little bit of a spark,” he said. “The community needs some affordable housing, so they can stay local.”

The two-story, 36,000-square-foot bakery could, if Sellers’ dream comes true, become micro apartments and still have room for recreational programs, art spaces, retail shops, a small grocer and pretty much anything else neighbors can envision.

“It doesn’t seem that large, but inside it is massive,” he said. “It’s tough to find all the ideas to fill it all.”

Sellers and co-organizer Kathryn Barlow, who have no financial ties to the building, are talking to local historical groups, and business associations and community leaders to generate discussions about the future of the bakery so any new owner has a workable business plan and community support to renovate the site. The GoFundMe effort, which has so far raised a few hundred dollars in pledges, is a long shot, but Seller said the main goal is really to grow awareness of the possibilities.

“We still have a long way to go, that’s for sure,” he said. “What we are really concentrating on now is getting the conversation started.”

The effort’s next step is to get a detailed inspection of the building to provide more specifics on what would need to be repaired and upgraded for any new uses.

Fortunately, much of that work has already been done. 

Artifacts Consulting did a feasibility study for a nonprofit earlier this year to see if the bakery could be converted into a social service center. Those plans eventually died because of a zoning issue about having drug counseling and housing so close to a nearby elementary school. But the feasibility study survives and available to any potential owners.

While the site has limited parking since the building takes up most of the property, the building itself is in relatively solid condition since it was built to handle the heavy ovens and equipment used by an industrial-sized bakery. 

“I know there are other people looking at it,” Artifacts Principal Michael Sullivan said. “It is a very versatile building. The building is really not in bad shape.”

To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/spraguebakery.

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