Alki Homestead Inn owner Tom Lin says he cannot rebuild without a special permit, and cannot obtain that permit without financing in place, a huge obstacle in this economic climate. He is pictured in the fire-damaged dining room.
Alki Homestead Inn owner’s plans delayed by Catch-22
Many of the West Seattle fans of the Homestead Alki Inn’s fried chicken and folksy ambiance who spot its owner, Tom Lin, down on Alki, ask him when their beloved landmark will return. The restaurant closed its doors following the Jan. 16, 2009 electrical fire there. Lin wanted to discuss his property’s current status, and his frustrations in moving forward with his plans, with the West Seattle Herald.
“If it could have been repaired, I would have repaired it already with insurance money and my own money,” said Lin, who lives near the Alki Inn. He also owns the Pioneer Coffee and Slices buildings, and the building just north of Pioneer Coffee.
“The Homestead Inn is 80 percent gone, about 50 percent from the fire, plus 30 percent from decades and decades of delayed maintenance,” he said. “The Seattle Landmark Preservation Board took a look at the building inside and out on December 4, 11 months after the fire. We gave the Department of Planning and Development our engineering study and contractor report and they are aware of the building’s condition. Because the building has to be rebuilt, and can’t be restored, the DPD will have to issue me a demolition permit. And they will not issue one until they see my new plans and also see that I have financing in place to rebuild.”
Because of the recession, finding financing for millions of dollars just for a restaurant, albeit an historic one, is impossible, so Lin sees himself in a classic Catch-22.
"The banks would run away with a tail between their legs," he said, adding, "The cash flow generated by the restaurant would not be able to service the debt if the reconstruction was the Homestead only."
Lin said that the Preservation Board first gives an approval of demolition, then the DPD issues the permit.
“The banks aren’t lending money and the DPD does not want an empty lot, which is understandable,” he said. “As tight as the credit is a lot of buildings are sitting vacant. This goes back to the issue of the whole credit market. Banks are holding their money. All the construction is put on hold. Everyone’s suffering basically because the whole economy is not doing well. The best way to achieve my vision is to expand on the property.
“I want strategic partners to come in and invest 30 to 40 percent (total). The restaurant’s second floor would be restored to a lounge. I would like to see a small inn, 18 rooms, plus retail on the first floor around the parking lot to the back, so when you are looking at the property from the street you would mainly see the Homestead, the anchor.”
Lin said the Alki Homestead lot is 15,000 square feet, and he would like the new development to be 25,000 square feet.
“Because it is a historic landmark property, we would maintain the character of the old Fir Lodge,” he explained. “We would be losing about 25 percent of usable space, as a condo developer would view it. If you’re not interested in bringing back the Homestead then I’m not interesting in your partnership. I have had multiple offers to buy and have turned them down. They don’t care about the Homestead. They just look at the square footage and want to get the maximum out of it.
“I know the importance of the Homestead to everyone,” he said. “This place can be successful as a restaurant again.”
Tom Lin told the Herald he welcomes ideas and can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org