Plans for Elks hotel might shift

TACOMA - Tax and aesthetic issues may persuade the new owners of downtown Tacoma's historic former Elks temple to shift hotel rooms now planned for the temple to a new building next door.

Portland hotelier Mike McMenamin said this week that moving the hotel rooms out of the temple itself is one of several plans being considered for the temple’s redevelopment.

“We’re looking at several possibilities with our architects and consultants. Moving the hotel rooms out of the temple is one of those possibilities,” he said. “We’ve made no decisions yet.”

McMenamin and his brother Brian, owners of an Oregon-based chain of hotels and brew pubs, bought the temple last fall with plans to create a multi-story entertainment and hospitality complex in the seven-story structure near Old City Hall.

Their purchase of the historic but dilapidated structure was part of a grand plan conceived by Tacoma developer Grace Pleasants and her development partner, Rick Moses, to save the long-neglected building.

Pleasants and Moses acquired both the temple and the vacant lot north of the lodge where they plan to build a mixed-use structure with a public garage on the lower levels supporting a retail space on the Broadway level topped by five floors of apartments. They immediately sold the adjacent lodge itself to the McMenamins.

The hoteliers’ initial plans called for restoring the temple’s theater as an entertainment venue, turning a mid-level floor into a brew-pub and a grand lodge room on the upper floors into 30 to 40 hotel rooms.

As the hoteliers have begun more specific investigation into the building’s adaptive reuse, they’ve encountered challenges in creating those hotel rooms.

Building hotel rooms in that area would obliterate much or all of the high-ceilinged grand assembly room with its historic ornamentation and leave some hotel rooms without an outside window. The hotel company had considered a large central skylight for those rooms.

The McMenamins want to preserve and restore as much of the building’s interior as possible for both aesthetic and practical, financial reasons. They will be seeking a 20 percent federal historic tax credit on the building’s restoration, and keeping as many of the building’s historic features intact as possible ensures that the project would pass federal muster.

Thus was born the idea of keeping the grand lodge room intact as an event space and shifting the hotel rooms to Pleasants’ and Moses’ adjacent building. The two buildings would be linked at the hotel level.

Michael Sullivan, a historic structures consultant working for the McMenamins, said keeping the lodge room intact would make winning those tax credits a sure thing. But Sullivan said keeping the hotel rooms inside the temple wouldn’t necessarily be fatal to the effort to win federal tax credit approval.

In addition to better preserving the temple, shifting the hotel rooms could allow the McMenamins to build more than twice as many rooms.

But the plan could create complications for Pleasants and Moses. Two additional floors could require stouter construction of the building and larger supporting structures in the city-built garage below.

Pleasants and Moses met with Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson on Thursday to bring him up to date on the possibility of shifting plans, said the city’s project manager, Ellie Walkowiak.

The city, she said, is willing to work with the developers, but the city has made it plain it won’t shoulder any more costs if garage costs go up to handle the additional stories.

“We’ve made it very clear that any additional costs will be the developers’ responsibilities,” said Walkowiak.

The Tacoma City Council last week approved an initial contract for preliminary design work on the 300-car garage to be built for the city. Parking revenues are expected to pay the costs of that garage, which won’t be built if Pleasants and Moses aren’t able to finance their part of the structure.

Meanwhile, the project’s timetable remains unaltered. The city is scheduled to meet with the developers and the hoteliers April 15 to peruse their financing plans. The McMenamins have targeted St. Patrick’s Day 2012 for their grand opening.

That timetable means a decision will have to be made where the hotel rooms will go has to be made within the next few weeks, Walkowiak said.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663