TDI -- Reporter's Blog

May. 29, 2009 at 2:35pm

Winthrop Saga Continues

THA weighs building purchase

I sat in on a meeting this week between a small group of Winthrop residents and the Tacoma Housing Authority to discuss an issue of concern to at least a couple residents I know who live in the building -- Is the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) planning to purchase the Winthrop?

On Wednesday afternoon, THA Executive Director Michael Mirra addressed the rumor during the meeting at Brick City downtown by saying that THA was indeed looking into purchasing the building, but the idea was still extremely preliminary and the agency wasn't near entering into a negotiation with the building's current owner.

I wrote about the meeting for today's edition of the Index.

Here are the highlights:

  • Mirra told attendees, "Rumors are flying that we have made a deal. THA was asked if we want to purchase the Winthrop. We don't know if we can buy it. It's preliminary at this point." He added, "We're looking the building over to try and tell us the condition of the building and what it would mean to own it."
  • THA has discussed the idea with City officials because the city has invested $2 million in the building in the form of a federal Urban Development Action Grant and THA would need the city's help in order to complete any purchase. A city spokesman told me this morning, "The city is aware that there is an interest and THA has been doing a vetting process, but the city hasn't been involved at this point."
  • If THA does purchase the Winthrop, said Mirra, it has considered a couple possible uses for the building:
    • Address decades of deferred maintenance by fixing up the building and keeping it in its current use as affordable low-income housing. Mirra estimates the building needs tens of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance and rehabilitation;
    • Or convert the building into a mixed-use property consisting of low-income housing, market-rate housing, and commercial office and retail space, and lease the ballroom to the public.
  • THA is expected to conclude its assessment and make a decision late-summer.
If you're keeping score at home, many developers have circled this building in the past five years with plans to restore it to an historic hotel. As one long-time resident told me, "I hope that we fall under THA. I hope it works out."

Earlier Index coverage here and here and here.

Bonus: In 2006, I was invited inside the Winthrop to shoot some photographs. Here are some thumbnail pictures I shot while on the building's penthouse level:

A view of City Hall from the terrace . . .



A vacant room . . .



The kitchen . . .



Nice view of Commencement Bay . . .



The downtown skyline . . .



( Photos by Todd Matthews )

comments [16]  |  posted under Tacoma, THA, Winthrop

Comments

by morgan on 5/29/2009 @ 3:22pm
Thanks for staying on this, Todd! I think THA would do a fine job. They are smart and have experience managing large properties - just look at the new Salishan, for example.

It would have been so nice to see Quigg and his group restore it back to a hotel though. Some day...

by Erik on 5/29/2009 @ 4:22pm
Very disturing news that an arm of the City of Tacoma would seek to thwart the efforts to restore the ongoing Winthrop Hotel.

The public support to support the restoration of the Winthrop Hotel has been overwhelming.

We are in a tough economic period. However, that time will end one day.

The Tacoma Housing Authority may find itself flush with money from the stimulus package. However, it should not use the new found funds to stop a historic resoration its quest to acquire more properties.

Here's a piece I wrote a couple years ago on the blog run by Kevin Freitas:

Reasons to Support Restoration of Winthrop Hotel by Erik Bjornson

Over the last two months, my email inbox and ears have been filled by people describing to me why they support the restoration of Tacoma’s Winthrop Hotel. Here they are summarized below as well as a couple of my own. (I am sure Kevin will have his.)

1. The historical Winthrop Hotel is an authentic and integral part of Tacoma’s history and culture and worth restoring. In contrast, few will travel to see a renovated apartment complex

2. Seattle, Portland, Spokane all have restored historical hotels. Aberdeen is in the process of a hotel restoration. Of the nearly dozen former Tacoma hotels, zero have thus far been restored.

3. Restored historic hotels have a well established track record of revitalizing downtowns in cities and attract local residents and visitors alike.

4. The north portion of downtown Tacoma formally had 4 functional historical hotels. However, none of them are available for visitor accomodation.

5. Large high-density, high-rise low income housing projects have been a failure in many cities due to increased crime and disorder. Such a design is against the recommendation of HUD. (See Creating Defensible Space, Newman 2004)

6. The City of Tacoma has spent or committed to spend over ten million dollars on light rail, the Pantageous theater and on the upcoming LID street improvement work on Broadway in the Theater District. The expenditures of taxpayer funds will be of limited use if visitors have no overnight accommodation.

7. Dozens of Tacoma architects, preservationists, builders and craftsmen have been working during the last few weeks to design a plan to restore the Winthrop Hotel and address low income housing issues. The City of Tacoma should assist the restoration of the Winthrop, not spend $1,000,000 in taxpayer funds to squelch their efforts.

8. Final reason Tacomans favor restoring the Winthrop Hotel: Do we really want to be behind Spokane and Aberdeen?

www.kevinfreitas.net/journal/restore-tac...

______________

Here is the retored Davenport Hotel in Spokane:



Is the vision so low in Tacoma that we cannot imagine restoring the Winthrop Hotel?

Using taxpayer money to thwart the retoration of the Winthop Hotel and the public sentiment in support of the building is a misuse of public funds.

www.thedavenporthotel.com/

by Erik on 5/29/2009 @ 4:28pm
Also, here is an Opinion Piece I wrote in the News Tribune on the need for Tacoma to look past the current condition of downtown and work to restore the WIntrhop Hotel:

ebjornson2.googlepages.com/WinthropOp-Ed...


by Erik on 5/29/2009 @ 4:32pm
Here was the story less than 2 years ago:

The long wait is over: downtown Tacoma's historic Winthrop Hotel is now legally in the hands of the Prium Cos., which intends to restore the century-old landmark. What a relief.

What's odd is that news the deal closed Jan. 31 came not from Prium but from A.F. Evans, the San Francisco-based firm that took control of the hotel back in November but agreed to sell to Prium.

I would have expected the announcement to come from Tacoma-based Prium. It's a big deal, because the completed sale means hotel boosters no longer have to worry about things going sideways.


blogs.thenewstribune.com/oped/?p=7303

by Twisty on 5/29/2009 @ 8:44pm
"Of the nearly dozen former Tacoma hotels, zero have thus far been restored."

Does the Olympic not count? Or are you only counting historic hotels that have been returned to the hospitality business?

I too would love to see the Winthrop returned to its former glory, but I can't imagine how such a project could be viable. What reason is there for anybody to lodge at that end of downtown?

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 5/30/2009 @ 12:09am
Indeed, what is the Olympic Hotel, chopped liver? A fine restoration job. Is it maybe the "wrong" kind of people are living there?

by Erik on 5/30/2009 @ 1:33am
"Of the nearly dozen former Tacoma hotels, zero have thus far been restored." Does the Olympic not count?

Do you mean the Olympus Hotel?

The Olympus Hotel functions as an apartment complex, not a hotel.

The Davenport Hotel in Spokane, on the other hand, has has been restored as a hotel.

What reason is there for anybody to lodge at that end of downtown?

True, the area might be a bit blighted, but the LID should help. One has to start somewhere.

by Twisty on 5/30/2009 @ 5:44am
You know Erik, now that you mention it... if the Olympus were an actual hotel, instead of housing, I probably wouldn't have flubbed the name.

by NineInchNachos on 5/30/2009 @ 7:55am
just wanna note that I really enjoy Todd's Daily Index companion reader feed tacoma blog. keep up the good work buddy!

by Erik on 5/30/2009 @ 11:19am
just wanna note that I really enjoy Todd's Daily Index companion reader feed tacoma blog. keep up the good work buddy!

Yeah. Todd did a lot investigative work when the Quigg group was working to restore the Winthrop. Unfortunately, they got outbid by Prium.

Kevin covered some of the events as well:





Ideas are already surfacing, architects and engineers are analyzing, and a tentative documentary is in the works, but the deal has yet to be done. Once Citizen's Hotel, LLC can secure ownership of the building then these visions can truly become reality (and these early meetings can move into the old crystal ballroom in the Winthrop -- wouldn't that be cool?!).

www.kevinfreitas.net/journal/winthrop-pr...

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 5/30/2009 @ 12:02pm
The Quigg group is probably breathing a huge sign of relief about now, not having gotten involved in this mess. Sometimes the best deal you'll ever make is the one you don't make. I'm sure, in ten or twenty years, this cycle of what to do with the Winthrop will start up once again. Coffee will be drunk from paper cups, dreams and ideas will fly fast and furious. The Tacoma Renaissance will be yet around the corner. Maybe be we can learn something from Spokane. Seems to me the difference is they don't just sit around drinking coffee and talking about stuff, they actually get things done.

by Erik on 5/30/2009 @ 8:57pm
Seems to me the difference is they don't just sit around drinking coffee and talking about stuff, they actually get things done.

There is some truth to that. Also, they often have a higher vision for their city. Its getting harder to find anyone in Tacoma who remembers downtown pre-1970s when the downtown was vibrant rather than blighted.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 5/30/2009 @ 9:12pm
Erik says:
"5. Large high-density, high-rise low income housing projects have been a failure in many cities due to increased crime and disorder. Such a design is against the recommendation of HUD. (See Creating Defensible Space, Newman 2004)"

Why is it that fancy rich people can live in large density, high rise buildings without problems? Why would less affluent people have trouble living in such accommodations? Most of the poor are law abiding and good people. Could it be such accommodations are run by people not qualified to run them or are just simply uncaring about the welfare of the tenants. I'm sure most of the residents of the Winthrop would be happy to keep living there, especially if some effort would be made to evict the trouble makers. The poor have to live somewhere and the streets are not good enough.

by Erik on 5/30/2009 @ 11:53pm
Large high-density, high-rise low income housing projects have been a failure in many cities due to increased crime and disorder. Such a design is against the recommendation of HUD.

Yes, high rise low income housing units are an abandoned method for designing low income housing.

See Creating Defensible Space, Newman 2004

www.huduser.org/publications/pdf/def.pdf

For a synopsis see my Op ed on the study published in the Tribune:

ebjornson2.googlepages.com/WinthropOp-Ed...

by TDI-Reporters-Notebook on 5/31/2009 @ 9:12pm
If anyone is interested, Michael Mirra is scheduled to discuss "The Future of the Winthrop" during the next Downtown Merchants Group meeting . . .

Thurs., June 4, 8:00 a.m.
Pantages Lobby / 9th and Broadway

. . . the meeting is open to the public. More info here

by L.S.Erhardt on 5/31/2009 @ 10:53pm
Why does this have to be so hard?

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