Albers Mill: New life for an old building

Once destined for the business end of a wrecking ball, the historic Albers Mill building completed an improbable comeback Friday, going from a structure dismissed as impossible to revive to the home of 36 loft-style apartments and an art gallery.

Some 250 people, including Tacoma city officials, business leaders and members of the community, turned out on a sunny afternoon to celebrate the grand opening of the Albers Mill Lofts. Attendees enjoyed champagne and dessert appetizers, as well as tours of the building, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“We are now re-opening this building 100 years later,” said Mayor Bill Baarsma, referring to the Albers Brothers Milling Company expanding business from Oregon to Tacoma in 1904 with the construction of their mill on the Thea Foss Waterway.

Albers Mill will be placed on the U.S. Register of Historic Places and the Tacoma Historic Register.

The resurrection of the Albers Mill building is an example of several economic priorities converging on a single project, Baarsma pointed out. “In fact,” he said, “this building is symbolic of Tacoma’s revitalization efforts.”

The Albers Mill building is emerging as an integral part of the revival of the Thea Foss Waterway, and is just one of several area projects. For example, California-based Nearon Enterprises is planning to develop two parcels of land between the Thea’s Landing residential complex and the 15th Street Bridge, including a hotel, a luxury apartment complex, commercial and retail space and a marina support space.

The decision to redevelop a building that stood vacant from the 1980s until its year-long renovation beginning in November 2002 was criticized by some at the time, but Baarsma said it was the right decision. “What a tremendous, tremendous step forward for the City of Tacoma,” he said.

“This is so sweet,” said Michael Sullivan of Artifacts Consulting in Tacoma. “I cannot believe it.” When officials in other cities want to know how to go about preserving historic buildings, they now look to Tacoma, he said. It wasn’t so much hardened opposition that made it a challenge to save Albers Mill, he explained, but rather powerful indifference. “But this one was a hard sell,” he added.

While other vacant industrial buildings around it were razed, Albers Mill managed to avoid being demolished. In the late 1990s, the building was considered as storage and office space for the planned Museum of Glass, but that idea was later dropped. Real estate developers again suggested getting rid of the building. Several developers expressed lukewarm interest in buying the former mill, with only one showing serious interest. In November 2002, the sale of the building to Anchorage-based Heritage Properties for nearly $695,000 was finalized, and work on the building was begun.

An investment of $9.5 million has since transformed the five-story brick building into 70,000-square-feet of living and gallery space. The lofts are a mix of old industrial and high technology, with the building’s original brick facade, 13-foot high ceilings and large wood timber beams retained and combined with hard wood floors, dramatic window openings that let in natural light and modern cabinets and fixtures. Plans also call for a wine and coffee bar to be developed on the waterfront side of the building in coming months.

Describing the structure’s blend of old and new as a metaphor for Tacoma, Sullivan said, “It is an extremely cool building. It’s a relief from concrete.”

In addition to the lofts, the ground floor is home to the William Traver Gallery, an 8,500-square foot art gallery that opened in November 2003.

With its stunning views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, as well as cityscapes and surrounding areas, apartments are being snapped up. About half of the lofts have been rented so far, said Shari Campbell, Day Public Relations & Marketing.

Prices range from $900 a month for a 479 to 1,261-square-foot loft to $2,495 a month for a 1,266-square-foot penthouse with a water view.

Located in the heart of the city’s “Museum District,” Albers Mill Lofts is at 1821 Dock St., adjacent to the Chihuly Bridge of Glass and the Museum of Glass. For more information, call 253/627-5200.