Developer eyes City surplus property for Winthrop Hotel project

A development company that wants to turn the Winthrop building into a four-star historic hotel announced yesterday it would work with the City to identify surplus property where replacement housing could be built for low-income residents who would be displaced by the project.

During a presentation to councilmembers at City Hall, a spokesperson from Prium Companies, Inc., which owns the Winthrop, said the company was working with the City’s community and economic development department to learn more about the city’s surplus inventory. Two potential sites, where approximately 130 units of housing could be built, have been identified. One property, located at South 34th Street and Pacific Avenue, could create 50 units of affordable housing. Another property, which is located on Tyler Street, but not specifically identified by Prium, could bear 80 units.

Prium chief operating officer Peter Ansara told committee members that the company would like any new development to be a blend of mixed-use and mixed-income housing. “Our edict is to do it as smoothly as we can by taking advantage of a model of mixed-use and mixed-income [housing],” said Ansara. “We won’t be building a concentration of low-income housing.”

In addition to finding locations for new housing, another challenge is transferring the federal subsidy contract the federal Housing and Urban Development department affords residents at the Winthrop. Prium has asked HUD for the ability to transfer the existing contract over to newly constructed housing. The company hopes a provision which exists under Sec. 318 of the Federal Housing Act, and created after damage to housing sustained by Hurricane Katrina, would permit the transfer. Though that possibility exists, however, the new housing would have to be comparable to existing housing at the Winthrop — namely, efficiency and one-bedroom units.

Similarly, the company is also exploring the possibility of HUD issuing tenant-based, Sec. 8 vouchers that would allow residents to select their own housing.

Ansara also stressed the importance of the project’s timing, citing ongoing deterioration of the Winthrop. “It’s in poor shape as it sits now,” he said. “It has not been maintained.” He added the building is an important part of the city’s affordable housing portfolio, and the company is concerned about it’s current condition.

“Renovation will require substantial capital, and tens of millions of dollars,” said Ansara.

In addition to the locations at 34th and Pacific, and on Tyler Street, Prium and the City looked at a third location, the former Brown’s Star Grill at the corner of South 11th St. and Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. However, the developer “met with resistance” from neighbors, according to Ansara.

“I have a feeling that regardless of what part of town you’re in, there’s going to be an initial reaction,” said Councilmember Rick Talbert, who also chairs the economic development committee. Talbert said he had already received a letter from residents near 34th and Pacific who were concerned about a high concentration of low-income and affordable housing that already exists in the area.

On Jan. 8, City Council authorized a $2 million loan for Prium to assist the developer’s goal of renovating it into a historic hotel. As part of that agreement, the city directed Prium to create replacement housing for tenants who would be displaced by development. The hotel provides 170 units of affordable, low-income housing.

Yesterday, the economic development committee voted to support continued negotiation between the City and Prium on surplus city-owned property.

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: