City ponders future of Carlton Center

With the Business Systems Improvement Project (BSIP) set to vacate the building by the end of the year, future plans for the city-owned Carlton Center were discussed during Tuesday’s City Council study session.

The building, located at 1551 Broadway, is the temporary nerve center of Tacoma’s $50 million computer upgrade that is currently being implemented. BSIP occupies 21,500 square feet of the building’s 37,000 square feet of space.

City Council members heard from officials as they mulled strategies, including leasing office space as it becomes available and selling the building outright.
Councilman Kevin Phelps said the city should make a definitive determination on a course of action. “Are we planning on holding this asset or what?” he asked.

“I’m going to go ahead and say leaving space vacant is not a good business choice,” said Rick Brush, of the asset management division of the city’s general services department, noting three businesses have – on their own – shown interest in the building. He did not name the businesses.

The general consensus from City Council members was the city should place the building on the market to determine interest, while retaining all options.
“It may be prudent to proceed with a lease in case an owner-user doesn’t pan out,” Brush said. “That will maintain the economic viability of the building.”

Bill Frame, senior vice president and branch manager of GVA Kidder Mathews’ Tacoma office, agreed that keeping pressure on the marketplace is a sound strategy.

“It will make them (interested parties) make a decision,” he said.

“Where do we go from here?” asked Deputy Mary Bil Moss.

Brush recommended placing the building on the market and doing a market study and then taking it from there.

“It’s for sale at the right price,” Brush speculated.

The Tacoma City Council voted last year to buy the former Carlton Hotel for $3.7 million after deciding it was better to buy the building than to lease office space for BSIP.

At the time, the purchase was considered somewhat controversial.
Councilman Bill Evans said he voted in favor of buying the building, because he viewed it as a return on an investment, knowing the building would appreciate in value.