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Approval of Hotel Plans in Tacoma's Downtown Brewery District Will Require a Creative
 Architect and Some Out-of-the-Box Thinking, a Typical Freeway Hotel Not Wanted

By John Gillie, The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 14, 2007 - If Tacoma's downtown Brewery District is to become the home of a 160-room hotel where the former Columbia-Heidelberg Brewery now stands, it will take a creative architect, a flexible owner and some out-of-the-box thinking from preservationists to get the job done.

That's the message that emerged from an initial exchange Wednesday night between Tacoma's Landmarks Preservation Commission and the developer and owners of the new hotel.

Hotel Concepts of Seattle rolled out its embryonic plans for a seven- or eight-story Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express on the site at 2120 S. C St.

The group, which for now includes Gig Harbor investors who own part of the old brewery, wants to demolish the brewery's oldest buildings on the northern two-thirds of the brewery block. The group has applied to the City of Tacoma for a demolition permit. The '50s addition to the brewery, now under other ownership, would remain for now.

If the hotel is to gain the commission's favor, it will have to:

--Blend with the scale and massing of the brewery area and the nearby historic district.

--Be designed with a facade appropriate to its historic setting, not to a freeway interchange.

--Possibly incorporate some of the iconic features of the brewery or at least include hints of its brewery-site history in its design.

At the same time, the developers said their needs include:

--Constructing the hotel within a budget that allows it to charge the modest rates typical of a Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express.

--Complying in general with the design restrictions of the hotel chain.

Hotel Concepts principal Han Kim distributed a preliminary drawing of the proposed hotel, though he said the plans are still in the early conceptual stages.

That early drawing drew less-than-favorable reviews from commission members.

"What I've seen doesn't impress me," said one member, saying the drawing reminded him too much of a typical freeway hotel.

Kim said the final design needn't look like the initial concept.

Other commission members said the hotel scale and materials should blend thoughtfully with the brick warehouses of the nearby historic district and the University of Washington Tacoma.

Several commission members said they don't want another hotel like downtown's relatively new Marriott Courtyard, a building whose suburban-style, upper-story architecture has been criticized as inappropriate for its downtown setting.

Kim asked that commission members not hold their experience with the Marriott project against him.

After the briefing, Kim said he's not bound by Holiday Inn to a cookie-cutter design.

Historic Tacoma President Sharon Winters in post-meeting discussions with the hotel developers suggested that they consider preserving in the new structure some of the iconic features of the brewery, such as the Heidelberg neon sign or the water tower. She also suggested using brick in the building structure to mirror the brick in the nearby historic district.

Kim said brick possibly could be incorporated into the new building, but that financial constraints and Holiday Inn rules might prevent the sign from becoming a part of it.

Winters, a former Landmarks Commission member, said she doubts that the city will deny the developer's request for a demolition permit, but added that meeting the hotel design criteria would require some creative thinking.

The brewery site is part of the Union Station Conservation District, which puts demolition and any new construction under the eye of the Landmarks Commission. The commission has less power than it would have if the brewery were in the adjacent Union Station Historic District, but its recommendations could influence decisions made by the City of Tacoma.

Hotel Concepts first wants to raze the collection of brewery buildings, which were built at times ranging from the early '30s to the '50s.

A prior survey of the district that was commissioned by the city noted that while the site and its functions played a key role in Tacoma's development, the existing buildings have been altered and added onto so many times that they aren't particularly historically significant.

The commission briefing Wednesday night was the prelude to more formal hearings with the group on the demolition and new building design issues that still are to come.

Hotel Concepts specializes in developing modestly priced hotel properties.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663 Posted on the Biz Buzz blog at 8:57 a.m. Thursday


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