Council resolution on Winthrop rehab expected tonight

One day before the Tacoma City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution stating whether it supports or opposes...

One day before the Tacoma City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution stating whether it supports or opposes a developer’s plan to renovate the historic Winthrop Hotel, members of the city’s neighborhoods and housing committee wondered yesterday whether a resolution was needed at all.

At issue is a request from the housing division of the State Department of Community Trade and Economic Development, which could provide funding to a private development firm that wants to rehabilitate the building.

The developer, Oakland-based A.F. Evans, plans to spend as much as $21 million to purchase and renovate the building by restoring its grand ballroom, improving commercial storefronts, and transforming 26 units into market-rate apartments. The remaining 168 units would continue to serve as federally subsidized apartments.

A resolution supporting the development plan might give the application a better chance of approval by the state, according to Ric Teasley, a supervisor in the city’s community and economic development department.

““The state looks to that locality for a letter of support,”” said Teasley during the neighborhoods and housing committee yesterday afternoon. ““It might have 80 applications for funding, but funding available to only 40 projects.””

Still, he told the committee that a vote of support or non-support “would not dictate an outcome in regard to any particular project or program.”

But Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma wondered why the council was even voting on the issue. He said he couldn’t recall ever voting on a resolution supporting a particular project. “”This has to be precedent-setting,”” he said. ““This is new. I’ve never seen it before.””

He called the resolution “premature,” adding that he has received letters from “a number of hotel developers keenly interested” in restoring the building to its earlier status as a premier hotel.

It’s a development plan the mayor has supported for awhile, based upon recent city investments in the nearby Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, and letters from nearby business owners complaining of crime and blight resulting from the building’s high-risk residents.

Ryan Petty, director of the city’s community and economic development department, agreed that the building had a future as a hotel. ““The best ultimate use would be as a hotel property,”” said Petty. “”In the future, it could be turned into a hotel, and market forces could take us there.””

But Petty disagreed with the mayor’s assessment of the number of offers from hotel developers. ““There are hotel developers interested, but not if A. F. Evans’s proposition is on the table.””

According to Petty, one deal is on the table, “but we “don’t have another deal precisely at this moment in the wings.””

Councilmember Tom Stenger also supported the idea of turning the building into a hotel. “”The best use is as a hotel, and we should find a hotel developer for it,”” he said.

At press time, councilmembers were expected to vote on the resolution during tonight’s city council meeting. But Mayor Baarsma did not rule out the option of pulling the resolution from the agenda.

““This is a discretionary act on the part of the city council,”” said Mayor Baarsma during the meeting yesterday. “We’re not forced to even vote on this.””

The Winthrop Hotel in downtown Tacoma. (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.

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