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Point Ruston project emerging from the deep freeze

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on June 27, 2011 at 2:25 pm with No Comments »
June 27, 2011 2:30 pm

Construction on the first major building in a billion-dollar mixed use development on the site of the old Asarco copper smelter will begin anew next month after a three-year-hiatus.

The building, the Copperline, was originally planned as a luxury condominium. Instead it will house 173 apartment units.

The developer of the ambitious Point Ruston project, Mike Cohen, said this week that Bank of America has agreed to provide financing to finish the building on the north end of Tacoma’s Ruston Way waterfront near Point Defiance Park.

Cohen halted construction work on the new building in mid-year 2008 when markets for condos began to soften, and the nation’s banks lurched from crisis to crisis.

“We were fortunate that we stopped when we did,” said Cohen. The developer put the project on hold after construction crews had built the lower three levels on enclosed parking and commercial space. The building has has sat incomplete since then.

The apartments in the building will range from 3,000-square-foot penthouses to studios. The average unit, Cohen said, will be about 1,000 square feet.

While final rental rates have not been set, Cohen said, he expects the units will rent for about $1.60 per square foot per month.

The building will also include some 22,000-square feet of retail space.

Completing the building will take about 10 months, he predicted.

Meanwhile construction crews are continuing to build new infrastructure on the site including storm sewers and roads. Those roads will provide motorists a new route between Ruston Way and the Ruston business district. The development’s main arterial will replace an decades-old tunnel that passes under part of the old smelter site.

That tunnel tentatively is scheduled to close beginning July 13.

The Point Ruston property was the site of the Asarco copper mill. That mill closed in 1986, but the mill owners and environmental officials spend nearly two decades demolishing buildings and cleaning up the site.

Ultimately, the Point Ruston development is designed to include a commercial district where a Silver Cloud Hotel and a multiplex movie theater are planned. That commercial hub of Point Ruston will also house spaces for retaurants, retail shops and offices. A dozen or more residential buildings are also planned for the waterfront site.

Cohen, like several other Tacoma developers, decided to complete the Copperline as apartments because the condo market is still ailing.

Nearby, a major condominium project, still unfinished, is now being marketed to developers. Construction halted on that project, The Commencement, when the bank that provided construction funds encountered financial problems.

The Commencement overlooks the Point Ruston site. The real estate broker handling the Commencement has predicted that building will be completed as apartments, not as condominiums.

Another condo project in Tacoma , the Midtown Lofts, opened to the public last weekend as apartments. The Midtown Lofts’s construction had halted short of completion two years ago because of financing issues. New private finance allowed its completion this year.

Cohen said he’s pleased the Point Ruston project is once again moving forward.

“This isn’t the way we had planned it,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been in a coma or in hibernation for the last three years.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663

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