Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Improvements Coming for the Historic Winthrop Hotel & the Annual Urban Studies Lecture at UW Tacoma
It is Historic Preservation Month and one of Tacoma’s historic buildings, the Winthrop Hotel, has a new owner which promises a host of improvements and restorations for the interior and exterior of the property.
The Winthrop was purchased from the local development company Prium by a California based company called Redwood Housing Partners LLC.
The Winthrop has been a hot topic of conversation over the past 10 years and even before then.
The rise and fall of Prium has been well documented, but needless to say the plans for restoring the Winthrop with luxury condos never materialized. Part of that plan was initially the displacement of the current residents to new low income apartments to be built at another location.
That idea was met with significant resistance from many affordable housing advocates and community activists concerned with gentrification and displacement; not to mention the residents themselves.
What ended up happening was nothing. The building continued being operated as low income apartments and in the midst of Prium’s financial floundering and eventual bankruptcy, the building fell into even worse disrepair with extensive deferred maintenance piling up over time.
According to reports from The News Tribune the new owners paid $8.5 million for the 1925 property, with a commitment of up to $6.8 million in improvements that have already been permitted, with even more permits in the works for an undisclosed amount.
Current improvement needs and plans include repair of elevators, extensive window repair, repairing water damage, roofing, and improved AA accessibility – to name just a few. According to reports the company plans to continue to provide low income apartments and at this point has no plans to utilize the crystal ball room or the top floor penthouse.
Often what one finds at the intersection of historic preservation of buildings being used for affordable housing is a broader conversation about maintenance and repair costs and ideal usage that will maximize the quality of life for the residents and the broader community.
In the work I do as a consultant in neighborhood revitalization, I have seen many great examples of creative uses of historic properties to provide both affordable housing as well as broader community services – both private and public.
One can imagine a scenario at the Winthrop that would include repairs, cleaning, and design upgrades for retail storefront uses. There are several public spaces within the Winthrop that could be re-imagined for uses that would serve the broader downtown community, as well as the residents – certainly the ball room is at the top of the list.
Upgrades to benefit the residents themselves have already been announced including a technology area and fitness center. These kinds of mixed and public uses of a property can go a long way towards combating the stigma that many people have about low income housing. Of course – attentive, committed, and collaborative management is always a key in creating a healthy and safe environment for residents and in creating broader community trust.
I am always an advocate for local ownership whenever possible, but in this case it seems the most committed investor was from the outside. We will have to wait and see whether they can combat the concerns (often warranted) that come when an owner is outside of the community.
Will they be good neighbors? Will they be able to invest (not just monetarily) adequately despite the proximity issue? Will they find a way to have an attentive and active presence? The answers to those questions remain to be seen, but in the short term they are willing to invest in significant improvements in the property itself, which benefits residents and the broader community as a whole.
If this kind of thing interests you, and I hope it does. You might want to check out a lecture that is happening tonight at 6 pm at William W. Phillip Hall on the UW Tacoma Campus located at 1918 Pacific Avenue.
As part of the UW Tacoma’s Annual Urban Studies Lecture Series, Dr. Edward Goetz from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota will be delivering a lecture based on his new book entitled New Deal Ruins: Race, Economic Justice, and Public Housing.
Dr. Goetz is the Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and co-Director of the University-Metropolitan Consortium. He is a leading national expert on housing policy and planning, neighborhood revitalization, and the politics of urban and regional planning.
In his lecture tonight, Dr. Goetz will offer critical analysis of the nationwide effort to dismantle public housing, and will show how it is related to pressures for gentrification and the enduring influence of race in American cities.
The work of neighborhood revitalization is complex. Here we are with the news of a historic property whose current primary usage is low income housing. Just down the street in the same downtown neighborhood will be a robust discussion about what one expert is saying about issues that have and certainly will influence the future of the Winthrop and the future development and revitalization of downtown Tacoma as a whole.
Seems like a good way to spend a Tuesday evening in Tacoma during Historic Preservation month, don’t you think? I hope some of you can take the time to engage in the learning and exchange of ideas – adding your voice to the public discourse on these important topics.
Tonight’s lecture is FREE, but registration is required. Register now!