Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tumwater Acquires Historic Tower

Above: Brambles hang from an archway window of Tumwater's historic Old Brewhouse. City of Tumwater councilmembers entered into an agreement with owner George Heidgerken and his company, Falls Development LLC, to take ownership of the six story tower that is the visual symbol of Tumwater. Photo taken in October 2014.

By Janine Gates

Tumwater city councilmembers approved a letter of agreement between the city and Falls Development LLC at a public hearing held Tuesday evening to acquire the six story, historic tower that is the symbol of Tumwater. 

The tower is currently owned by developer George Heidgerken and his company, Falls Development, LLC.

The acquisition commits the city to the rehabilitation of the Old Brewhouse structure with an estimated cost of $5.6 million. The acquisition includes easements to access the property and construct trails.

The city will now embark upon a historic preservation strategy that will include finding funding grants and partners to protect the building, and create trails. 

Rushing through the public process, the draft letter of agreement was publicly available and posted to the city’s website on Friday afternoon. Corrections to the letter of agreement were made at the hearing, including sections quoted by Little Hollywood in its story posted April 1.

Details were not reviewed by councilmembers in a work session or council meeting prior to Tuesday evening, leading them to ask questions and learn new information during the public hearing.

Jim Cary of Cardinal Architecture presented information about the tower which is an unreinforced masonry structure. He said it works well when dry, but when wet, and in the process of freezing and thawing, the mortar is loosened. The tower is highly exposed to the elements.

A temporary preservation plan estimated to cost $425,000 would provide immediate protection due to the building’s rapidly deteriorating condition. Cary recommended skipping that step and moving on to the $1.6 million dollar phase that provides more permanent protection, puts a roof on the structure, provides ventilation to keep the building dry inside, repairs the mortar, and cleans up and removes hazardous elements.

This work and financial amount is included in the final $5.6 million dollar cost that prepares the tower for an intensive seismic retrofit plan.

Construction management is not included in the cost.

Comparisons of the historic tower to the Space Needle and the Smith Tower in Seattle, Crusader castles, castles on the Rhine, and the Statue of Liberty were eloquently and persuasively made throughout the evening.

Several members of the public spoke to the proposed letter of agreement, some in favor, some not.  

More than one person was suspicious of the city working with Heidgerken, a developer with a history of committing environmental offenses, even on this property. 

All considered the tower to be a regional asset and a regional responsibility. All councilmembers spoke to the issues.

Councilmember Joan Cathey abstained from the final vote, saying the draft agreement letter was vague. She said she counted five places where it says the city will have “future negotiations,” with the developer.

“I’m not saying I’m against it, but it’s a leap…I don’t think the city is ready to take on this project…I don’t feel totally good about it. I have concerns. We’re financially stepping out farther out on a limb than we ever have before,” said Cathey.

She also wondered why there was a rush to sign the letter of agreement.

Answer: Once the tower is in the city’s hands, the city is eager to take advantage of this current cycle of state heritage grant funding. Applications are due May 19. If the city doesn’t meet the deadline, or does meet the deadline and doesn’t get a grant, then they will have to wait another two years to apply.

Councilmember Nicole Hill questioned a point in the letter that states that the city will pursue funding for a pedestrian bridge across the river to the property. She thought, as did several members of the public, that that idea was taken off the table as unfeasible in the Planned Action land use scenarios currently under consideration by the council. Another public hearing for that process is April 19.

Assistant city administrator and brewery project manager Heidi Behrends Cerniway said the city didn’t include the bridge in the Planned Action environmental impact statement because it was not detrimental, adding that it is not an entirely impossible concept further in the process. Whether or not the answer was satisfactory, Hill voted for the purchase of the tower.

Councilmember Ed Hildreth was absent. Mayor Pete Kmet said Hildreth told him he would vote against it. There is no provision in Tumwater rules that allow voting by correspondence or proxy. A telephone vote requires full capacity to hear the meeting, so Hildreth’s opinion was not counted.

Under Tumwater’s type of council structure, the mayor does not vote. Mayor Kmet said that nothing we do is without risk and if he could vote, he would vote yes.

Staff said the structure could ultimately be a museum, brew pub, offices, or an outlook, depending on the adjacent activities in the other buildings that are currently owned by Falls Development LLC.

Calling the finer points in the letter of agreement with Falls Development “incentives,” the letter of agreement is seen by some as a giveaway to Heidgerken and his company. The agreement offers Heidgerken the right of first refusal for the actual use of the building.

Heidgerken has owned the property for several years. To help move him along, the letter of agreement says the city will negotiate future agreements to share proportionate costs of construction for the utilities and access road necessary to rehabilitate the Old Brewhouse.

It is also offering to reward him with one million dollars for infrastructure improvements if he files a complete building permit application for the warehouse building by January 1, 2019 and obtains a certificate of occupancy by January 1, 2021.

During public comment, Donovan Cathey spoke, saying he grew up in Olympia. His father and grandfather retired from the Brewery.

He said he wanted to see the tower stay but urged the council not to make a decision that evening, expressing concerns that partnerships may not pan out. He said the agreement was full of contradictions and inconsistencies. 

“…Reconsider transferring liability from the owner to the city. Is it really the city’s responsibility to take on that liability? If the private sector thought it should be done, they would have….”

Cathey said he represents the Tumwater firefighters union and a higher city priority is making repairs to two fire stations.

Rob Kirkwood, president of the Old Brewhouse Foundation, says the process to obtain the tower has been a rollercoaster ride.

“Today it feels like we’re on top,” he said. He said the city is making progress, and while the Foundation supports Tumwater acquiring the tower, it has concerns.

Describing the area’s history and use for thousands of years, he said the area deserves a high level of protection beyond what maximizing the return on financial investment can provide. He called upon the council to sign the agreement and form an interjurisdictional group to finance and manage the facility.

Kirkwood said the Foundation has been recruiting volunteers and has received offers for donated crane services from Snell Crane, engineering services from McSquared, and possibly window restoration work.

Several spoke to the environmental assets of the property which will be ruined if Heidgerken gets his way and is able to build a 1,000 vehicle parking garage into the hillside behind the brewery.

Gretchen Christopher Matzen says she grew up on Governor Stevens Avenue and learned to swim in the Deschutes River near the brewery. She said the brewery needs the backing of the trees, and called the view breathtaking. She questioned the lack of details in the agreement and suspects that Heidgerken will take advantage of the city’s preservation of the iconic tower to promote his own development.

“I’m wondering why the developer couldn’t afford to preserve it himself,” she said.

Heidgerken was not present at the hearing.

Jon Potter, representing Falls Development, said that the property was not purchased with the idea that this was a business opportunity. He says Heidgerken lives in Chehalis and is on site every day and that a developer, and characterizing Heidgerken as one, is a misnomer.

“If you can’t have the lending industries support your ideas, your vision, you can’t develop…The property has to pencil out….Lending institutions need to see how they are going to get paid back by lending money for a project…obviously, we can’t demonstrate that today….”

He said that a public-private partnership would create a joint vision to restore the historic complex to its original grandeur. He painted a pretty picture: 

“…That’s the vision of George Heidgerken…that’s the goal… and it’s a tremendous tribute to what the city has done....There’s an opportunity to represent the entire craft brewing industry… in the State of Washington. And through the city’s efforts, the opportunity is to create a craft brewing center....The tower is emblematic of that effort. It is the cornerstone for that to happen. So there's an opportunity to go beyond just the restoration....It's much bigger than just the City of Tumwater, more than the region. It's a statewide initiative,” said Potter.

At that point, Councilmember Oliva jumped in, asking if Heidgerken is willing to be the host of a craft brewing and distilling center.

“That was something I had not heard before,” said Oliva.

“Absolutely. Anything that can be done to support the funding that is absolutely necessary to restore the structure is on the table....Wouldn’t it be neat if you could put those buildings back into use for what they were originally designed for? Then you’d have national recognition,” said Potter. 

Judging by the clucking in the audience, maybe that was going too far.

After all, at one point in the hearing, Heidi Behrends Cerniway said she was out at the property just that day.

“It is still salvageable, but it won’t be like that forever. From last year, it’s changed significantly.”

For more photos and information about the  Old Brewhouse, Tumwater, George Heidgerken, the stop work order, groundwater monitoring, and the proposed planned action for the property, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words in the search engine.

For more information from the City of Tumwater, go to their website at

Above: A new window of opportunity has been opened for the Old Brewhouse Tower. Photo taken October 2014.