Tuesday, June 27, 2017 This Week's Paper

New route for Old City Hall

Old City Hall has gotten a new plan of action. Sort of.

The Stratford Company, which has been through more downs than ups in the last seven years of owning the building, has officially put the Tacoma landmark up for sale.

But the investors who originally dreamt of converting the approximately 80,000 square feet into condo space say they'd like to keep the building.

"We've invested a lot into this building," said David Morton, Office Asset and Leasing Manager for Stratford, during a tour of the vacant historic structure March 5. "Ideally, we'd like to keep it… and find a joint venture for the re-use of this building."

Old City Hall, which has served many a function since opening in 1893, has been officially on the market for less than 60 days, and is available to own for a cool $3.5 million.

Morton said there has been a lot of interest since the market listing went public, but Stratford has yet to receive any offers.

The Seattle-based real estate investment company has long scrapped its plans for condo development, and is now looking into transforming the building into more affordable, and fundable, apartment units instead.

Renovations and repairs following a burst pipe flood in 2010 have left the interior more or less an open space, giving potential investors a blank slate to work with.

"It's pretty much a shell… you're starting from scratch as far as the interior goes," Morton said.

"It's going to take the right kind of buyer – someone who understands vintage buildings."

If the right funding partner comes along, Morton said, Stratford would love to carry out plans to turn Old City Hall into apartments. Off the top of his head, he said that level of work would take around $14 million and yield about 80 rentable units.

"There's a lot of new condos still available in Tacoma...lenders are not interested in financing more," Morton said. "The apartment market seems to be the most stable."

In its heyday, Old City Hall was the center for local government operations before the building moved into private ownership in 1959. After that, the building housed everything from retail shops to restaurants to small office units, before Stratford took over in 2005 with plans to flip the site to residential spaces.

The tenants at the time moved out in anticipation of construction, and then the market crashed. There was no funding for a large-scale condo project, and the site has been more or less empty since.

"We would like to find a new steward for the building," Morton said, noting that the appeal of Old City Hall keeps attracting interested parties to tour the storied levels of the hall, from the jail cells to atrium to the bell tower. "It's a remarkably complicated building, but everyone loves it."

A large-scale commercial tenant is a third option for bringing life back into Old City Hall. Morton said a sizeable lease could give Stratford enough financial support to hold ownership of it and move forward with renovations.

Until then, the building will sit and wait for the right person with the right vision, enough passion and a big enough bank account to push Old City Hall into yet another new era.