A Building on the Brink: A line-item look at Winthrop’s hefty deferred maintenance bill

A May 2009 property condition assessment made public last week brought some sobering financial information surrounding the Winthrop Hotel, the 12-story, 86-year-old building located at 776 Commerce Street in downtown Tacoma that is currently home to approximately 200 residents of low-income status.

The report, which was prepared for the Tacoma Housing Authority by Bothell, Wash.-based Criterium-Pioli Engineers, showed the building is in need of approximately $15.7 million in repairs and upgrades over the next 10 years. The most expensive repairs are also the most urgent: approximately $7.95 million needed by 2012; approximately $5 million needed by 2015; approximately $520,000 needed by 2019; and approximately $2.2 million need for “optional” repairs. The repairs are grouped into categories that include site improvements ($250,000), structural/seismic improvements ($4.15 million), roof repairs ($528,150), exterior masonry and window repairs (approximately $2.8 million), plumbing (approximately $2.28 million), electrical ($27,200), elevators ($360,285), security / fire detection / fire suppression systems ($365,000), and interior finishes (approximately $1.4 million).

“The Winthrop Hotel has a significant amount of deferred maintenance, of which there are many areas that are in need of immediate correction,” wrote the report’s authors. “We believe that building envelope and plumbing system restoration on this building is needed as soon as possible. There is evidence of moisture entry in numerous places around this building from the roofs, windows, parapets/gutter, terra cotta, and also from the plumbing system. There is evidence of current structural damage that we can see and it is certainly likely that there is much more that we cannot see. The longer that this moisture damage is allowed to continue, the more damage that can happen to the structure (and interior finishes).”

The assessment was included in interim City Manager Rey Arellano’s Aug. 4 weekly report to Tacoma City Council and in response to an inquiry raised July 19 by Councilmember Jake Fey during City Council’s noon study session.

In 2007, Tacoma-based Prium Companies LLC purchased the building for approximately $6.5 million by using a $4.5 million loan from Frontier Bank (now Union Bank), and a $2 million loan from the City of Tacoma. In 2009, Tacoma Housing Authority considered purchasing the building. Last month, The News Tribune reported the Winthrop Hotel is for sale and the company’s co-founders have declared bankruptcy and could owe as much as $350 million due to a range of failed development projects.

Criterium-Pioli Engineers’ report is two years old. It’s unclear how much — if any — of the needed repairs have been addressed. “As part of the [Housing and Urban Development] contract for Section 8 housing, the owner is required to fund a monthly replacement reserve to address needed building improvements,” noted Arellano in last week’s report. “According to documents filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, $87,000 in replacement reserve funding is set aside annually. In 2010, approximately $115,000 in building repairs/improvements were made.”

That said, here are some of the “big ticket” deferred maintenance items facing the building, according to the May 2009 report:

  • Improve the building’s overall deficient lateral resisting system by adding concrete shear walls at the core up through the building ($1.5 million);
  • Residential windows and pre-finishing installation ($739,600 — The report’s author’s note: “This price is for historical wood replacement windows. Aluminum windows would likely be approximately 50 percent of this cost if aluminum is allowed as a replacement on this building. This is not a historic building, but it is located in a historical district”);
  • Replace main plumbing supply lines to 9th floor and 10th floor, install control valves on each floor, and redesign the floor distribution ($550,000);
  • Renovation of corridors and common areas to Housing and Urban Development standards ($459,391);
  • Stabilize foundation walls and alleviate moisture intrusion by retrofitting suspect walls with drainage wall mat and adding penetrations for hydrostatic relief and reinforce walls with shot-crete ($400,000);
  • Terra cotta restoration ($354,320);
  • Add interior perimeter slab footing drains and interior slab drains to remove water and discharge into a collection system with two sump pumps (primary and auxiliary) that discharge to the storm system ($250,000);
  • Repair damaged concrete beams and floor system from oxidation of structural steel by retrofitting with adjacent steel beams and sand blast, apply primer, and re-coat all exposed steel ($200,000).

The Winthrop Hotel in downtown Tacoma. (FILE PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the Winthrop Hotel, click on the following links:

In 2009, the Tacoma Daily Index published a series of interviews with many residents of the Winthrop Hotel. To read the complete series, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.