Fred and Ginger Come to Town

A revitalized Elks Temple will deliver business downtown and put money in artists’ pockets.

Never has the word “fun” been heard so often in the City Council chambers as it was on December 8 when Mike McMenamin presented his company’s plans for the old Elks Temple that currently sits vacant on the hillside between Broadway and Stadium.

The Elks Temple, left, alongside the proposed development. Courtesy of Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects.

Sporting a relaxed demeanor and a cotton-white beard, the man who, with his brother, has transformed more than sixty spaces around the Northwest into unique and artfully adorned bars, restaurants, hotels and concert halls showed a packed house of interested citizens photos of past projects and the proposed floor plans for the six-story, ninety-three-year-old beaux arts structure, which he plans to transform into an entertainment emporium. Included in the plans are two large music venues – one with a planned capacity of 500, another 750 – that would likely host some of the same bands that play at the McMenamins’ Portland property, the Crystal Ballroom.

“In one night there could be twenty different things going on,” McMenamin said. “You could just take a stroll around and find a lot of fun surprises throughout.”

When McMenamin was finished, developers Grace Pleasants and Rick Moses presented their plans for a new building to be erected in tandem with the renovation of the Elks Temple. Currently named Elks on Broadway, the proposed mixed-use building, which Moses views as the Fred Astaire to the Elks Temple’s Ginger Rogers, will include street-level retail space, a hotel and industrial lofts for rent as well as a rooftop bar, which will, of course, be run by McMenamins, the company owned by the McMenamin brothers. While the funding has yet to be locked in, Moses says the process to secure the necessary cash through federal loans and bonds is under way, indicating a summer 2012 opening for both structures. 

If completed, the cooperative project will certainly transform the complexion of business in downtown Tacoma. Less obvious, but no less significant, is how it will change the city’s cultural landscape.

According to McMenamin, the Portland-based company will be looking to local artists to help create the murals and artistic landscapes for which McMenamins properties are famous. Word is that they are already in talks with local arts groups to identify potential artists. “We will find the right artists,” McMenamin said, adding, “If anyone is interested, they can just call our offices and let us know.”

Artists who are not chosen could still benefit from McMenamins. According to the presenters, the project will create 125 full-time jobs, including one full-time music booker. This is the kind of fun Tacoma needs desperately. •

See more in the January 2011 issue   →