City Council says yes to more historic preservation

All in all, it was a good night for historic preservation in Aberdeen Wednesday night, with several unanimous decisions by the Aberdeen City Council. Council and the public also seemed enthused about a proposed October gala for the Electric Building downtown.

Most importantly perhaps, the council voted unanimously to list the the Morck Hotel and the Hulscher private residence on the city’s Historic Register, but not without objections from two former city residents over the dilapidated and vacant former hotel.

The Historic Preservation Commission was also expanded from five to seven members, a deadline extension to turn in the city’s historic preservation plan was granted, and a presentation about a proposed Electric Building gala in October was delivered after the meeting. And at one point, Mayor Bill Simpson and Morck co-owner Chester Trabucco had a tense moment.

The first verbal fireworks came during the public comment section of the meeting. Glen Ramiskey, former head of the local International Longshore and Warehouse Union, owns the building that housed the former liquor store at 216 W. Heron, along with his wife Andrea, and shares a “quarter block” with the Morck. He described his property as “well-maintained,” not like the “methamphetamine playground” next door and cautioned the council about approval.

Ramiskey, who now lives in San Francisco, said paint, plywood and a new roof might not be enough to save the Morck and added “maybe demolition is the answer.” He worried whether it is in good enough shape “to resurrect.”

Architect Mike Miller, a representative of the Morck, and Aberdeen native son, jumped up next to defend the building. “The sidewalks are sinking, but the building is straight,” he said, noting the strength of the concrete floors and concrete structure. The offices of his firm, RiceFergusMiller, are in an old Sears building in Bremerton made of concrete, and that building was filled with “rodents and pigeons” when they renovated it, he said. Today it is a renovated building and has “put $5 million into the city (of Bremerton),” Miller said.

The Morck is “worth saving … if you want to have a city of proud buildings,” Miller added.

Chester Trabucco, another one of the Morck’s co-owners, also attended the meeting and said he had been prepared to give a presentation but somehow missed a chance to speak publicly. After a post council meeting presentation about a proposed gala for the downtown Electric Building, Trabucco said the Morck will be pressure-washed Tuesday and that painting of the building will take about “two straight weeks.”

Trabucco sparred with Mayor Bill Simpson after he distributed “Morck Hotel Investment Information” for new market tax credits to a reporter and Community Development Director Lisa Scott. The mayor noted it looked the same as one done several years ago before a tanking economy delayed ambitious plans for the historic hotel’s revival.

“Same cover” Simpson remarked. Trabucco admitted the cover was the same but said that they decided to share the financial numbers with the city. Several years ago the city loaned investors $300,000 to get the project kick started and that money has never been repaid. The mayor referred to it as he turned away from the brief conversation with Trabucco and headed to his office.

“You’ll get it back,” Trabucco called after him.

The Electric Building at the corner of Heron Street and Broadway is already on the city’s historic register and the owners, Kevin Moore and Michelle Beerbower, along with a group of supporters, are planning a gala to raise money to pursue national historic register status and new market tax credits and loans that historic buildings can be eligible for.

The Electric Building’s presentation was given by Scott, the city’s development director, and Brian Little, chairman of the Planning Commission. Both noted they are acting as volunteers in asking the city, and then the Grays Harbor PUD, for $2,500 each, to fund a gala to be held Oct. 19. Little gave a slide show of the Electric Building which is 100 years old this year. Tickets to a portion of the Electric Building Centennial Gala “Light Up The Night” will go for a suggested donation of $100 per couple, funneled through Aberdeen Revitalization Movement, Little said. Plans include a soiree possibly at the nearby Grand Heron’s renovated restaurant area upstairs, vacant since 2007, Little said.

Council President Kathi Hoder and her opponent for Ward 5, Elaine Redner said they support the gala.

Council Member Tim Alstrom offered to look into whether the $2,500 could be found in $20,000 in reserve from the hotel and motel fund. Scott said the idea is to keep momentum for historic preservation going, with short visible and achievable steps so people can clearly see accomplishments. Little’s catchy interpretation: “Care in the air. Feet on the street. Wallets in the pocket,” a recipe he sees for restoring the city.