The Tacoma City Council voted 8-0 Tuesday to buy Old City Hall, a 122-year-old landmark on Commerce Street.
The city will pay $4 million for the structure, plus additional closing costs. The sale could close within 30 days.
In March, an appraiser hired by the city valued it at $1.6 million. City officials said the building is a priceless piece of the city’s history, so they were willing to pay more.
The money will come from a fund for historic preservation and economic development, which can’t be used to pay for other items such as police officer salaries or pothole repairs.
Many who attended the council meeting Tuesday night urged the city to act fast.
One man, Seth Lundgaard, said that he supported the deal but that he hoped the City Council was asking questions about why the city did not use eminent domain to save Old City Hall.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax said there were at least two problems with seizing the building: eminent domain can require a long court process, and the outcome of that process could not be predicted. While the city had an appraisal for $1.6 million, Stratford Co. principal George Webb had one for $3.8 million.
The city would have had to spend money on the legal defense of the building’s value, including on expert testimony to support a dollar amount closer to the city’s estimate.
“We want to control the destiny of that property to ensure it doesn’t get into the hands of someone else, and we wanted to protect it immediately,” Broadnax said.
Completed in 1893, the building served as City Hall through 1959.
It was designed as a gateway to Tacoma, said City Councilman David Boe, an architect. Many of the bricks used as ballast by ships of the era form its 8-foot-thick foundation, he said.
Few office buildings the size of Old City Hall “are clad in a unique Roman brick with a unique terra cotta face,” Boe said. “I can’t imagine trying to replace them — and that’s one of the concerns.”
The Stratford Co. bought the building in 2005 for $3.8 million. Just a few years later, the housing bubble burst, and any renovation plans for the historic building were put on hold.
In 2010, the building received a “derelict” designation from a city inspector, and the following year it was listed to the Washington Trust’s most endangered properties list, according to Historic Tacoma.
Then in 2013, Tacoma and the property owner signed a deal that required Stratford to remedy several issues with the building, not the least of which was a leaky roof that worried historic preservationists.
City officials have said that they are not sure what they will do with the building, other than making around $150,000 to $200,000 in immediate repairs.