Tacoma moves closer to Spanish Steps rehab

The City of Tacoma's Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has approved the specifications for a million-dollar rehabilitation of Tacoma's historic Spanish...

The City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has approved the specifications for a million-dollar rehabilitation of Tacoma’s historic Spanish Steps.

During the LPC’s March 10 meeting, public works engineer Darius Thompson told commission members the City has been accepting bids since March 9, and will continue to do so until 11:00 a.m. on April 13. Once Tacoma City Council makes the final decision on a contractor in early-May, the project could begin in mid-May and be completed by mid-September.

Located near South Seventh Street and Broadway, the Spanish Steps connect Commerce Street to Broadway, near Old City Hall, the Spanish Steps were built in 1916, and modeled after its famed namesake in Rome. They are located within the Old City Hall Historic District — an area listed on local, state, and national historic registers.

In the 1950s, the steps started to degrade. Shoddy patchwork, deferred maintenance, and vandalism contributed to its continued decline. Decorative urns have been toppled and smashed. Several years ago, a driver lost control of his vehicle and drove down the steps, knocking out a grill of colonnades that fronted a landing with views of Tacoma’s tide flats. And police officers have long complained the steps serve as an entry point for homeless people seeking shelter inside the adjacent and abandoned former Elks Temple building.

Developers recently announced the Elks Temple building would be restored and renovated by McMenamins into a combination brewpub, music venue, and hotel. Construction is slated to begin this fall, with an opening scheduled for the spring of 2012. Similarly, the City of Tacoma announced it will build a public garage of approximately 280 stalls, in conjunction with a private mixed-use development above the garage, that will include a grocery store, retail space and five floors of apartments.

But plans to repair the steps have been in the works for several years. In May 2007, the City received a Transportations Enhancement grant totalling $944,000 from the Washington State Department of Transportation for design and repair work. Additional federal funding brings the total purse to $1.2 million.

On July 25, 2007, the LPC approved recommendations from a local consulting firm on ways to use those funds to rehabilitate the landmark. The City was expected to solicit bid requests in the following month, award a contract in mid-October, and complete the project in early-2008, according to the City’s construction projects list. But the project stalled, according to Thompson, because it took “longer than expected to acquire the property rights near the north side of the steps in order to shore up the slope.”

During the July 2007 LPC meeting, Michael Sullivan, a principal at Artifacts, Inc., the local consulting firm that contracted with the City in 2004 to study the project and provide recommendations, said original designers used pulverized marble and cast stone to create a concrete-like material to comprise the staircase. Though cost-effective nearly 100 years ago, today the process is obsolete.

“It’s like Cartier jewelry made out of aluminum instead of platinum,” said Sullivan at the time.

Artifacts’ 36-page report includes recommendations to repair existing concrete, masonry, metal, and cast stone elements, as well as recommendations for thermal and moisture protection. It also includes a list of recommended suppliers for the replacement materials, contractor qualifications, and an itemized task list.

That report was used to guide the City in putting together bid documents and specifications.

Sullivan estimated that proper rehabilitation would give the Spanish Steps another 25 years of life. Perhaps more important, restoring it as an attractive setting serving a vital hill climb passage would give downtown visitors a reason to visit the area. “It’s amazing,” said Sullivan at the time. “At one time, these steps were used heavily.” He noted the steps were used to connect a streetcar line on Broadway to Old City Hall on Commerce Street. “[Today], they don’t seem safe to anybody. When they are not used heavily, they become a target [for vandalism].”

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For information on the Spanish Steps project, click here:

http://govme.cityoftacoma.org/es/cityprojects/inter/cityprojects/CityProjectsList_Details.asp?id=177

For information on the Spanish Steps bid, click here:

http://www.cityoftacoma.org/Page.aspx?hid=14131

For earlier Tacoma Daily Index coverage of the Spanish Steps, click here:

The Notes of Spanish Steps (09/30/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1633663&more=0 and http://i.feedtacoma.com/TDI-Reporters-Notebook/notes-spanish-steps/

Momentum continues for Spanish Steps rehabilitation (07/27/07) — http://wahmee.com/tdi_spanish_steps_rehab.pdf

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