Tacoma honored for historic preservation legislation

A new law enacted last year that aims to protect Tacoma’s historic buildings has earned top honors from the State of Washington.

Last spring, the Tacoma Daily Index reported an initiative was under way at City Hall that aimed to bolster the City of Tacoma’s enforcement codes in order to prevent instances of so-called “demolition by neglect,” the process by which buildings endure crippling, long-term issues such as deferred maintenance, vandalism, or even foreclosure and eventually become too expensive to save in the eyes of building owners.

After a series of public meetings last summer, Tacoma City Council adopted the “Preventing Neglect of Historic Properties” ordinance in September. Some of the strongest elements of the new ordinance, which defines neglect as a public nuisance, apply to properties listed on the Tacoma Register of Historic Places, National Register of Historic Places, and to properties within designated historic districts; provide incentives to encourage owners of neglected properties to find new owners with the means and interest to save the historic structure; afford the City of Tacoma the authority to address conditions that threaten historic buildings before they are deemed ‘dangerous’ and, ultimately, demolished; and finally, allow the City to create an “emergency preservation fund” to tackle deferred maintenance issues that threaten Tacoma’s historic buildings.

City of Tacoma officials announced this week the City is a recipient of the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation’s annual awards for outstanding achievement in historic preservation. The award will be presented during a ceremony on Tues., May 13, at the Legislative Building in Olympia.

“This award is recognition of the high value that Tacoma places on the preservation and care of our historic and cultural places, for the benefit of all citizens,” said City of Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight. “The historic property maintenance code is one component within our expanded effort to encourage investment and rehabilitation in historic buildings, including more financial and regulatory incentives.”

In Tacoma, one doesn’t need to look far to find instances of endangered historic properties. The 1890s-era Luzon Building was demolished in 2009 after City inspectors deemed the historically significant building a safety hazard for fear it would collapse after decades of neglect. The 120-year-old Old City Hall has experienced threats of foreclosure, fire damage at the hands of a transient, a ‘derelict’ designation by city inspectors, and an ‘endangered’ designation by a local historic preservation group. Finally, the 88-year-old Winthrop Hotel is in need of nearly $16 million in deferred maintenance, according to a report prepared four years ago.

Last year, the City of Tacoma received a similar award from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for its work to rehabilitate the Murray Morgan Bridge.

"This award is recognition of the high value that Tacoma places on the preservation and care of our historic and cultural places, for the benefit of all citizens," said City of Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight of the award to honor the City for enacting new legislation that aims to protect historic buildings. "The historic property maintenance code is one component within our expanded effort to encourage investment and rehabilitation in historic buildings, including more financial and regulatory incentives." (FILE PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

“This award is recognition of the high value that Tacoma places on the preservation and care of our historic and cultural places, for the benefit of all citizens,” said City of Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight of the award to honor the City for enacting new legislation that aims to protect historic buildings. “The historic property maintenance code is one component within our expanded effort to encourage investment and rehabilitation in historic buildings, including more financial and regulatory incentives.” (FILE PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

To read the Tacoma Daily Index’s complete and comprehensive coverage of legislation to save neglected historic buildings, 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 first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengerssecond-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State; third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; and third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright. His work has 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.