Activity could surge at Old City Hall with potential new owner

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With a magically “abracadabra” announcement, the bygone days of a rooftop restaurant overlooking the clock tower and browsing retail shops at street level of Old City Hall could be part of the historic landmark’s future if the City of Tacoma and Surge Tacoma finalize a deal early next year. Construction could start in the summer with a grand reopening in 2021, if the deal gets done and the timeline holds.

The city selected Surge Tacoma last week to enter into formal negotiations to re-develop iconic downtown building after reviewing five proposals from developers from around the region.
“Surge Tacoma submitted a compelling proposal to reactivate the historic Old City Hall by infusing the building with uses that will appeal to our entire community – residents, entrepreneurs and visitors,” said Mayor Victoria Woodards. “The redevelopment proposal aligns with the building’s storied history as a welcoming public place. It has the potential to be an economic catalyst while providing affordable housing that helps ensure those who work in Tacoma can continue to live here as well.”

Surge submitted a proposal for a mixed-use project that would include high-end restaurants in the former glass-enclosed atrium location on the roof as well as an eatery in the jail cells in the basement. A bar would anchor the Pacific Avenue side of the street level side of the building. About 20,000 square feet of retail space on the first and second floors would bring back commerce to the building after decades of declining use and then full vacancy and abandonment. The third and fourth floors would have office and co-work spaces, while the fifth floor would offer 40 micro apartments. Some office spaces would house a regional business incubator run by Startup253 that would help provide seed funding for new ideas, entrepreneur assistance, jobs and other venture services.

The proposal also includes periodic public tours of the Clock Tower, which would also be used for events, and space for the Tacoma Historical Society to use as office and exhibit space. Eli Moreno, managing member of Surge, is no stranger to rejuvenating historic buildings in Tacoma. He most recently turned the nearby 1888-built Union Club and the 1911-built Ludwig Family Drugstore in South Tacoma into shared work offices.

“This plan is meant to utilize all spaces in the Old City Hall rather than wasting any area of this unique building,” Surge’s proposal stated. “Picture weddings and events within the clock tower itself, with restaurants perched just below on the rooftop overlooking the mountain and water. Tourists and locals could shop at unique local retailers before taking a tour of the historic space or heading home for the evening all in the same building.”

Since the building doesn’t come with parking spaces, side deals would have to be worked out with the parking lot across the street and for street parking as well as incentives to promote vehicle-less living.

“Old City Hall is an amazing icon that should be synonymous with the vitality of our town,” said Moreno. “Our goal is to preserve its history and original materials while reconfiguring and modernizing the building’s spaces into thoughtfully designed gathering spots for eating, living, working, playing and learning. We envision Old City Hall becoming a reflection of – and a monument to – Tacoma’s talent and diversity.”
Other members of development team are Harlow & Falk LLP, NBS Financial, Pacific Engineering, Easyway Contractors, CBRE and Artifacts Consulting, Inc.

The financials of the deal include $2 million in cash and another $2 million in “public benefit” that includes 300 jobs created by the project and a boost in economic activity from new businesses in the building. The city bought the building from the Stratford Co. for $4 million three years ago, when it was appraised for $1.6 million because it was being neglected to the point of becoming a hazard. News of the pending deal comes as McMenimins continues its work on the nearby Elks Lodge. The former fraternal order building, which dates back to 1915, will offer 46 boutique hotel rooms, conference rooms, restaurants and a brewery as well as a music venue and an outdoor café by the historic Spanish Steps between Commerce Street and Broadway once the $34 million renovations are completed next summer.

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