The Alki Homestead may be able to qualify for a 20% tax credit if it is certified by the Washington State Archaeology Dept. and placed on the National Historic Register. Plans for a meeting to move the process forward are being made.
Alki Homestead enters a new phase; New energy and discussions hope to get the building restored
The historic Alki Homestead, lodged in the collective memory of West Seattle, has been sitting essentially dormant since a fire did $2.5 million in damage to the building in January of 2009. It's been the subject of demonstrations and press conferences hoping to preserve it, engineering studies as to its condition, architectural designs, and a great deal of public curiosity.
It has also been delayed by a public process that while designed to be democratic and fair has created a bottleneck for projects of this size and complexity.
Now the stalled project is about to enter a new and potentially more significant phase. Approximately two months ago Homestead owner Tom Lin was made aware of the potential to gain a federal income tax credit by gaining certification of being part of the National Historic Register. Lin met with Allyson Brooks, Ph.D. Agency Director and State Historic Preservation Officer for Washington, and Nicholas Vann, Historical Architect and Tax Act Program Director, both of whom work for the Washington State Dept. of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. They inspected the Homestead and indicated they felt the project was worth pursuing.
To that end on June 18 they brought in a national expert Dr. Harrison Goodall of Conservation Services llc whose bio states "has thirty-nine years of experience with historic structures." As a consultant he has provided "preservation services relating to historic structures with National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, state historic preservation offices, universities, historic sites, museums, preservation groups, architects, engineers, and home owners. Performed condition assessments and prepared associated reports for over 1600 historic structures in 38 states and in Canada. He has worked at over 54 national parks and 47 national forests with 24 NHL buildings and at 7 U.S. World Heritage Sites."
Goodall, Brooks and Vann all performed a walk through of the building with owner Lin in preparation for the next step: a meeting they are planning with Historic Seattle 4Culture, Southwest Seattle Historical Society and The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. The date for that meeting has not been set but they are hoping to set it soon.
Lin in an exclusive interview with the West Seattle Herald explained that it's a three step process he is pursuing.
"They will be setting up a meeting with Karen Gordon of the Landmark Preservation Board and the historic preservation organizations because they want to work on a level where everyone is on the same wavelength. In the past everyone had the best intentions but couldn't come together to move the process forward. We need to get the political issues out of the way. Next if we come to consensus is to get the experts together so they can hash out what needs to be done. Then I have to make a decision, and ultimately as the owner it's mine to make which route we want to take and who I want to use."
To make this happen will require a bank loan. Lin estimates the cost of restoration at approximately $3.5 million. That would include major renovation, potential earthquake retrofitting and ADA access work. But the tax credits he could get through national certification would come to 20% meaning the cost would drop to $2.8 million. Still, for the building to be a viable business, with that much debt service a banquet/meeting facility would likely need to part of the plan on the second floor which is non historic.
Those tax credits work as explained by Nicholas Vann like this. "A building owner can spend say, $1 million to upgrade the mechanical aspects of a historic structure and can get a 20% Federal Income Tax Credit and that can be taken in a year or over 20 years. It's administered by the National Parks Service. This program was started in the late 1970s and they work with State Historic Preservation offices. The process for review is pretty involved with a lot of consultation between our office and the applicant and the Parks Service. After it's completed if it is deemed that it meets the standards as set by the Deparment of the Interior for Historic Preservation the National Parks Service will certify it for rehabilitation and the applicant can then apply to the IRS for the tax credit."
Vann explained that $800 million in private investment has gone through the program since 1977. "That's about 260 total projects," said Vann.
While this can be a lengthy process it may go more quickly.
"We're encouraging Tom to work with us to select a method through which to undergo the rehab. There are some requirements. The work being proposed and executed has to meet those standards. They are guiding principles for work done on historic properties." Vann mentioned those include preserving, "character defining features, and some of the necessary code upgrades that require a building permit. We work to mitigate those code requirements with the historic fabric."
After the first site visits by the State, they send all the tax credit information to the owner and a three part application proceeds. "Each part takes 30 days" said Vann, "at the state level and 30 days at the Federal level. From this point forward we will encourage him to hire a historic preservation consultant (...) I try to push forward as fast as I can. For Tom being a first time applicant there might be a learning curve but hopefully we can move forward at an efficient rate."
Vann is optimistic about the prospects. "I've seen several buildings in Washington State that were in much more dire state than the Alki Homestead. In my opinion it doesn't really offer an incredibly challenging rehabilitation."
Goodall, according to Lin, said there may be ways and methods of restoring the building less drastic and costly than those proposed thus far, including a potential to build a form fitting foundation incrementally. Such a process would mean the log by log removal method might be avoided saving a great deal of time and money.
But the issue of how to get through the local preservation review process remains.
In 1997, the Homestead was declared a City of Seattle landmark which means any work done must be reviewed first by the Architectural Review Committee, then approved by the Landmark Preservation Board. This process only allows 30 minutes for each applicant, once a month regardless of the size of the project, meaning a $300 project gets the same amount of time as a $3 million project.
Additionally, because the members of the committee are volunteers, the membership can change, meaning an explanation offered once, must be repeated, slowing the process further.
Thus far no change in this process or way around it is available.