Design standards in downtown bar district set for public review

The city’s business and high-density residential neighborhood around Old City Hall will be facing changes in the coming years with two key developments in the works. The city wants your thoughts on how the area can keep its historic charm while it becomes an entertainment hub of the city. Photo courtesy of City of Tacoma.

Tacoma’s Historic Preservation Office wants your thoughts on a draft roster of design guidelines for the Old City Hall Historic District, an area of downtown that will rapidly solidify itself as an entertainment and business hub in the city.

People interested in the 102-page draft guidelines can attend a drop-in session from 1-4 p.m. and then an open house from 7-8 p.m. on Jan. 10 at the Union Club, 529 Broadway.

The Old City Hall Historic District was the city’s first historical district, established in 1978, and is now listed on the state and national historical registries as well. The district borders from the 500 block of Broadway south to South 9th Street and from the centerline of Broadway east to the 705 corridor and is anchored by Old City Hall and the former Eagles Temple. Both are primed for redevelopment in 2019.

Those redevelopments will most certainly bring further redevelopments in the district, and the guidelines seek to ensure compatibility of any new construction or redevelopments with the neighborhood’s historic character, which includes the city’s most distinct landmarks.

“By preserving existing buildings and guiding compatible redevelopment, the guidelines also help promote cultural, environmental and economic sustainability,” according to the staff report. “The design guidelines are intended to guide appropriate building projects in the historic district that is consistent with the community objectives. Compliance with the intent of the applicable guidelines is expected, to the greatest extent feasible.”

Current and future building owners, architects and designers can use the guidelines in any planning for building upgrades or changes to historic properties within the district, while city staff and the Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission will use the final design guidelines in their reviews of future historic rehabilitation projects and new construction in the district. The guidelines span everything from signage and color schemes to renovation do’s and don’ts and even proper care and cleaning of historic building materials.

One emerging issue within the district that the guidelines address is that of parking and the design standards about any possible garage in the area. The gist is that any future parking facility would ideally be a mixed-use, multi-level project to encourage pedestrian activity at the ground level with parking on upper levels. Any new parking projects should be infill developments on vacant or underused lots rather than use historic properties.

How the district handles parking will be a key decision sooner rather than later since McMenamins Elks Temple is set to open in late April. The facility is finishing up a two-year, $34 million renovation to convert the long-vacant, former fraternal lodge into a hotel and entertainment venue.

The 102-year-old site will have 45 guestrooms, a 700-person music and entertainment venue, three restaurants, a brewery and several niche bars on the property.

Known for transforming historic buildings into unique bars, restaurants and lodging destinations, the McMenamin brothers operate nine Washington locations and 46 Oregon properties, with 19 of them on the National Register of Historic Places.

The facility that gives the district its name, Old City Hall, is also set for a new life after sitting vacant for years.

Surge Tacoma, led by Union Club owner Eli Moreno, is in final negotiations with the city to redevelop the 125-year-old building into a self-contained location for living, working, shopping and dining. The proposal promises more than 300 jobs. The proposal calls for a restaurant in the basement and bar in the former jail along the Pacific Avenue side of the building. Renovations will also turn the former center of city government into spaces that will include nearly 20,000 square feet of retail space on the first and second floors and an equal-sized space for offices. The fifth floor will offer 40 micro apartments, while the rooftop will have two restaurants.

The facility will also have exhibit and office space for the Tacoma Historical Society.

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