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Building Post Hall in downtown Tacoma

The old Post Office's transformation may be almost complete

The scale of music shows in Tacoma will soon become more grand when Post Hall opens in the old downtown Tacoma post office. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

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In the fall of 2012, I was given a tour through the cavernous insides of the old Tacoma Post Office building downtown. You know the one: weathered and storied, hunkered down on A Street, still with a functioning Post Office on the main floor, but with several other floors that languished, unused. At that time, a company called Power Property Consultants had bought the building, with big ideas about renovating it and turning it into a monumental structure for housing arts endeavors. Already, the Tacoma School of the Arts had made its home on the second floor, but the rest of the building was still waiting to find its purpose.

In early 2013, the gears started turning and plans being made for the future of the alluring third floor. With roughly a dozen office spaces, as well as two large courtrooms, there was a lot of room for something to go there. It was decided that one courtroom would be preserved, while the one on the other end of the floor would be renovated and transformed into an event space. Athena Hitson, former head of The Space - the aptly named Opera Alley events space that was home to everything from weddings and arts exhibits to music events such as Squeak and Squawk - was tapped to helm the enterprise.

"Power Property Consultants wanted to give me a walk-through of the old Post Office," says Hitson. "I only knew about the first floor, like most people. I didn't know that the third floor was still useable. ... The whole idea was that someone would come in and own the space, but they didn't think that they would get that person, because that's really specific. To have someone come in and make the space their own and rent it out and to have it be their business - not everybody has that on their resume. You know?

"I eventually met with Pat Rhoades, who owns the Post Office," says Hitson, "and the first words out of his mouth - and I didn't even know he was the owner, at this point - he said, ‘What do you want to be, young lady?' And I said, ‘Blank check?' He said, ‘Yeah.' So, I said, ‘OK, I want to design the place, because you obviously have to remodel it. I want you to pay me to design it, and I want to be the proprietor.' ... I told them everything I did for the past ten years, and they said, ‘Where do we sign up?' It was this old school way of doing a deal, like handshake and ‘Let's go!'"

From then on, Hitson became the proprietor of what would then be called Post Hall - the second courtroom, as we mentioned, now turning into an events space. But, what was initially conceived as a renovation project that would take maybe five months to complete, has now stretched on to almost a year since plans were finalized last May. As it happens, renovating such an old space, doing it by the letter, making sure every conceivable snag is taken care of and every "I" is dotted can take quite a bit of time.

"It's been this trial and error," says Hitson. "But, it's been exciting for everyone that's on the crew to bring it to fruition. ... Now, we're waiting on another permit from the city. Permitting is one of the biggest things that we're dealing with, right now. ... Nowhere else does the kind of permitting that Tacoma wants. Tacoma is serious with their permitting (laughs)."

Making sure that the people invested in making Post Hall a reality do their due diligence in following the bureaucratic rigmarole of permits is essential, and it's something they're clearly taking seriously. Some fine venues for arts and entertainment (the Warehouse, the Peabody Waldorf, etc.) have been shut down due to one little oversight - usually lack of sprinklers, incidentally, which tend to cost such an exorbitant amount of money too install that small-time venue owners simply have to fold. With the backing that Post Hall has, they have no reason to skip any detail, and the time they've taken to get things right is promising.

So, when will Post Hall be open? Is there any way to speculate? Well, it turns out that there is a ticking clock for Hitson.

"We do already have a wedding booked for April 4th, so it has to be done by April 4th," says Hitson. "But, I'm hoping to have something in March."

Stay tuned, Tacoma. Once Post Hall opens its doors to the public, the Weekly Volcano will be there.

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