South Tacoma might get ‘new’ community center, of sorts

  • COMMUNITY CENTER: Tacoma Cambodian Evangelical Church is the lone bidder to buy the South End Neighborhood Center. It’s proposal to use the facility as a teen and community center now faces a decision from the Tacoma City Council in December. (Photo by Steve Dunkelberger)

It looks like the halls of the South Neighborhood Center could hear the chatting of children again. Tacoma Cambodian Evangelical Church submitted the only bid for the 9,500-square-foot facility by the deadline late last month. The bid has received an endorsement from the citizen review panel tasked with vetting proposals, meaning the sale is likely to get a nod from the City Council later this year. The church plans to renovate the largely mouth-balled facility at 7802 S. ‘L’ St. for use as a teen center and for community programs as well as some religious services. “I think they want to make it more of a community center and not just a center for the Cambodian community,” said Assistant Facilities Division Manager Conor McCarthy. The center was originally built in 1978 with the federal Community Development Block Grant and was used by Metro Parks Tacoma as a community center, which was relocated to other facilities in 2011 because of the growing costs to repair the facility. Estimates in 2008 put the total bill for deferred maintenance at $1.8 million. The minimum bid for the property was set at the price-to-sell bar of $430,000. The 51,876-square-foot site was appraised at $500,000.

Any new buyer would also have to agree to use the property in a way that benefits the surrounding neighborhood as determined by an advisory committee of city officials, concerned neighbors and the South End Neighborhood Council. On the committee’s 500-point scale, the Tacoma Cambodian Evangelical Church’s proposal scored 466. The center is home to Kid Power Day Care Center, a Clear Wire wireless communication antenna; and an air monitoring station for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Honoring those lease agreements with those tenants are part of the purchase-and-sale agreement. If the sale is approved, the proceeds would not go into Tacoma’s pocket, however. Any proceeds would have to be folded back into the Community Development Block Grant system because those federal grants were used to build the center originally. Another city property up for sale is experiencing less success in finding new owners. The former Swan Creek library, at 3828 East Portland Ave., has been up for sale for about a year. Two requests for proposals, two open houses and the hiring of a real estate broker have yet to gain a single offer, although several buyers have submitted “low ball” bids. “The city is willing to work with potential new owners, but we have to have something to work with,” Western First Properties broker Kyle Prosser said of the handful of offers that have so far been rejected because they fall below the city’s minimum bid of $300,000, which is $100,000 less than what was first asked when it was first put on the market.

By comparison, the former Martin Luther King Jr. library branch at Cedar and 19th Street was sold for $700,000 and is almost identical to the Swan Creek facility. “That tells you how much location means to a property,” Prosser said. The roster of current bidders include: a restaurateur, a day care operator, a property investor and a developer. Interested buyers earlier this year included the Puyallup Tribe, which was looking to expand its governmental operations and house its historical department and museum at the facility, and the Fellowship Bible Church, which has originally owned the site, had wanted to buy back the property and use it for religious services. Those potential buyers might inch up their bids for the property over time in hopes of getting the facility as inexpensively as possible or a new bidder would make an offer that fits the minimum bid price that would trigger a formal review. Whatever the scenario, nothing is going to happen quickly. “It could take a month, or it could take six months,” Prosser said. Unlike the proceeds from the South End Neighborhood Center sale, most of the money from the sale of the 4,420-square-foot Swan Creek facility will go to Tacoma’s General Fund. The Library Board of Trustees has requested that the money be allocated for the maintenance of library facilities. Tacoma bought the property for $37,500 in 1984 and spent $743,000 building the library branch, which opened in 1989. The site had an assessed value of $723,400 earlier this year but has since been determined to need some $450,000 in repairs, namely to the roof and ventilation system.


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