Give historic buildings a chance to avoid demolition

The News TribuneSeptember 16, 2013 

In danger of collapse, Tacoma’s Luzon Building was torn down in 2009.

STAFF FILE, 2009

If approved, a proposed ordinance before the Tacoma City Council will get some humdrum number in the municipal code. But it easily could be titled “The Luzon Building Memorial Law.”

Many Tacomans are still bitter over the demolition in 2009 of the Luzon, an 118-year-old historic building on Pacific Avenue. A succession of developers bought the building, which had become a downtown eyesore, intending to give it a new life. Their efforts came to naught, and the Luzon deteriorated so much that it became a hazard in danger of collapsing onto South 13th Street. The city had little choice but to have it demolished.

Since then, fears of “another Luzon” have focused on the 120-year-old Old City Hall, arguably the most visible symbol of historic Tacoma, one that graced scores of postcards sent out all over the world to tout the City of Destiny.

Like the Luzon, Old City Hall was bought by a developer with big plans for rehabbing it. But the Seattle owners hoping to turn it into a condominium building haven’t been able to get the capital needed for the $12 million project they envision. They say they’re still optimistic, buoyed by the improving business climate and news that State Farm will be leasing office space downtown.

The building has a lot of things that need to be fixed, but the city’s main concern is repairing the roof before the rainy season. The city designated the building as “dangerous” in July, which gives it the authority to move on repairing the roof and eventually be compensated for the work with a lien on the property. The owners seem amenable to that.

The ordinance the council will consider Tuesday would allow the city to intervene earlier – before a historic building is declared dangerous and, perhaps, too far gone to salvage.

The council should approve the proposal. Tacoma has had notable successes in saving historic structures, including the Pantages and Rialto theaters, Union Station (now a federal courthouse), Albers Mill (now rental lofts), the Murray Morgan Bridge and the Victorian-era warehouse district that became the University of Washington Tacoma campus.

Passing the proposed ordinance could help add other historic buildings to that list and avoid the Luzon’s sad fate.

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