The Alki Homestead/Fir Lodge built in 1905 is getting closer to a clear decision on its fate. A general contractor has been chosen and bids are being sought on log restoration. If the cost is manageable the project will likely proceed. If not, the project will remain in limbo.

Alki Homestead nearing pivotal decision; RAFN Company chosen to oversee process

Restoration cost must be close to $2 million or another path might be an option

A private meeting in August on the potential fate of the historic Alki Homestead led to an onsite visit in September from most of those who were present and some important decisions.

As the West Seattle Herald reported on Aug. 28, the meeting included Nicholas Vann (Historic Architect) Allyson Brooks Phd. (State Historic Preservation Officer) both with the Washington State Dept. of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Karen Gordon (Historic Preservation Officer, City of Seattle Dept. of Neighborhoods), Kathleen Brooker (Director, Historic Seattle), and Jennifer Meisner (Director, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation) and previously unannounced Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen and his assistant Ed Murray. Reid Severson, a financial intern accompanied Lin to the meeting.

The onsite visit to the Homestead on Sept. 27 included Lin, structural engineer Todd Perbix (whose firm Perbix-Bykonen has done an extensive study of the building) and Steven Pfeiffer, Engineering and Technical Codes Manager of the Seattle Department of Planning and Development plus Gordon, Brooks and Vann. The group agreed on the basic framework of what needed to happen and to meet again in mid October. "The City was very helpful in setting the guidelines going forward and Karen Gordon was instrumental in letting us know what the Board can live with," said Lin. Lin also praised the DPD for their setting of the parameters for restoration. "It's no longer a moving target," he said.

In the first meeting, Lin was asked to look for a general contractor and he contacted the RAFN Company. "We chose RAFN," said owner Tom Lin, "because of their work in restoring the Cadillac Hotel in Pioneer Square."

A site visit was made by Steve Stroming Senior Project Manager of the RAFN Company on Oct. 16 to look over the building. At a second onsite meeting on Oct. 20 between Lin, Perbix, Stroming and log building expert Mark Fritch it was agreed to get a firm bid for restoration.

Fritch, whose great grandfather actually built the Homestead, expressed his belief that there are too many unknown factors, which would likely drive up the cost to develop a firm bid. "Fritch will deliver a bid based on the requirements," said Lin but he expected it to be high due to the uncertainty.

RAFN is now in the process of getting other expert log builders to bid on the project.

The group will meet again on Nov. 5 to get a second and third bid for the log work only.

"Once we get the cost, we will see if it can be done or not," said Lin, "after that we can decide which route to take."

For Lin the cost has to be under $2 million (or close to it) and, since the cost of the land at the moment is approximately $1.5 million the total project value would be $3.5 million. He said he will go forward with the restoration if that financial target can be met.

If it exceeds that total he said, "I will see how much money I can raise myself, from personal loans. Banks won't lend at that point because the numbers won't work." Lin means that for the Homestead to be restored, and made into a viable restaurant, banquet, meeting facility it has to be able to pay off a loan at a reasonable rate, from the business it generates. "I've already spoken to the bank."

Within that financial range it becomes feasible because Lin would finally get a $400,000 insurance settlement (predicated on the building's restoration) and would most likely get a %20 tax credit by gaining certification of being part of the National Historic Register. On a $2 million dollar project, that's another $400,000 saved. That certification would go ahead, if approved, by the Washington State Department of Archaeology and, the federal Department of the Interior. Given all this it means that the total loan would be $1.2 million but, "even at that number the banks are unwilling to lend." The restaurant as it originally existed doesn't have the cash flow history to support that loan amount.

There is another financial path Lin suggested however.

He said he'd love to see the City of Seattle guarantee the loan. That's a path he suggests that might make the banks more willing to provide the financing. "That's an alternative. Isn't that what they are doing for the stadium? So why shouldn't they do it for this project? If they think the building is worth it shouldn't they guarantee the loan? if worse came to worst they could have the building. A guarantee of the loan doesn't cost them a penny. If they did it and the interest rate was lower, it makes the project even more feasible."

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.