Friday, December 29, 2006

Darkness Before the Dawn?

Here's a view of Tollefson Plaza after dark--and a reminder that the activation of this public space is on the front burner for 2007. Watch this space for more details coming in January.

The Downtown Tacoma BIA, its directors and staff wish you a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

More on Dock St. Construction

Earlier this month, this blog broke information about upcoming construction on Dock St. that will permanently eliminate 100 on-street angle parking spaces there.

The City of Tacoma is now providing two new resources for employees and residents who may be impacted by the project: a map of alternative parking lots and notice for an upcoming open house where employees and residents can ask questions, speak with the City staff, and learn more about the Dock St. .project and plans for the Thea Foss Waterway.

The event will take place on Wednesday, January 24th from 5:00-7:30 p.m. at the Museum of Glass.

Two Events for the New Year

Here's advance notice for two events to add to your calendar for January:

Economic Development Through Historic Preservation
Rehabilitation of historic buildings in Pierce County from 2000 to 2004 annually generated $28.7 million in sales of products and services, supported 325 jobs, and added $11.1 million in wages to the economy. Statewide, rehabilitation of historic structures resulted in annual sales of $221 million, supporting 2,320 jobs producing $87 million in labor income. These are just two of the findings in the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation's (DAHP) recently released study, "The Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation in Washington State."

Representatives of participating preservation organizations and a local developer will be available to local media to discuss the study next Tuesday, January 2nd, beginning at 1:00 p.m. in the Passages Building (708 Broadway) lobby.

The event is co-sponsored by Historic Tacoma (a private not-for-profit grassroots organization dedicated to preserving Tacoma's architectural legacy through education and advocacy), the
City of Tacoma's Historic Preservation Program, the Governor's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

Opening Celebration for Court 17
Members of the public are invited to get a glimpse of Tacoma's newest housing complex at the opening celebration of Court 17 on the University of Washington Tacoma campus. Court 17 is a public/private development consisting of a five-story, 128-unit apartment building and a three-story, 309-car parking garage.

The grand-opening ceremony is Wednesday, January 17th, beginning at 2:30 p.m. at the intersection of 17th and Market streets. Participants are invited to tour the Court 17 apartments and enjoy refreshments; the event is free and open to the public.

The market-rate apartments are owned and operated by Lorig & Associates; the garage is owned and operated by the university. The garage portion of the project was funded with $3 million provided for Phase 2 of campus construction, a $1 million low-interest loan from the City of Tacoma, $400,000 from other UW Tacoma funds and $3.1 million in bank financing. Both the garage and apartment complex were designed by Mithun Architects. The parking garage was constructed by Berschauer Phillips, and the housing complex was built by Walsh Construction Co.

The project is expected to help fuel the dramatic economic revitalization taking place around the UW Tacoma campus and draw people into the community to support amenities that benefit students, staff, faculty and the neighborhood.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Missed the Streetcar?

Only about half the invited participants attended the kick-off meeting of the Streetcar Advisory Committee this past Monday evening, so we are posting the minutes from that meeting for public review.

These minutes are one of several that the BIA hopes to post online on its revamped website after the first of the year--next comes minutes from the Parking Advisory Committee, downtown's stakeholder group reviewing parking issues. Keep checking for more details...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Streetcar Proposal Leaves the Station

Yesterday, the BIA participated in the inaugural meeting of an advisory committee of Tacoma residents, transit planners, and City Hall staff tasked with determining the feasibility of creating a historic streetcar system in Tacoma. On June 27, the Tacoma City Council unanimously passed a resolution directing city staff to convene such a group.

The group will be meeting monthly in order to wrestle with some substantial issues, among them just what a "streetcar" really is--in many communities that currently have streetcars, downtown's LINK light rail would fit the description, but that's not a foregone conclusion in this effort by any means. The study is also expected to shed light on costs associated with the idea, which promises to be the biggest obstacle to building a line. According to information presented to the committee, streetcar lines in other cities range between $22.2 million per mile in Atlanta to $46 million per mile in Denver.

The feasibility study resulted from advocacy by a grassroots group, Tacoma Streetcar, which has proposed three lines connecting the Proctor District with S. Tacoma Way. That group's founder, Morgan Alexander, is a member of the present committee.

The advisory committee is expected to meet through April of next year, before presenting its findings to City Council.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Stormy Weather

Tacoma's urban center escaped with only minor damages last night as an historic windstorm struck Washington and Oregon with winds in excess of 40 mph (gusts to 60 mph). In Pierce County, the storm caused two fatalities, knocked out power to more than 200,000 residents, and covered roads and property with tree branches.

Downtown's taller buildings provided a great deal of shelter from the winds, so that damage was limited to areas where building patterns help to create a wind tunnel. One such area is 12th between "A" & Pacific (running between the Post Office and the Wells Fargo Plaza tower).

Despite decades of growth, this tree (above right) at the southeast corner of the Post Office lost a large branch.

The sign at left, bolted into the sidewalk south of the former Tacoma Art Museum building, was ripped right out of its concrete footings.

The BIA's investment in durable banners and hanging arms paid off--only four banners had to be replaced today due to wind damage.

Winds bent several of the decorative Holiday Stars installed in November; a few (like the one at 11th & Pacific) will probably remain askew until scheduled removal in late January.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

100 Dock St. Parking Spaces About to Disappear

Work will begin in late January or early February on a project to widen Dock St. from S. 11th to S. 15th. The project will rebuild the roadway to add curb/gutter/sidewalk and improve utility service to parcels being developed along the Thea Foss Waterway.

The project will permanently displace about 100 angled parking spaces currently used by downtown employees at no cost. The BIA is encouraging employers to begin working right now with impacted employees to identify alternate parking spots or to explore use of transit.

Dock St. will remain open during construction, but traffic will be restricted with flaggers controlling access through the project area. Access will remain open to local businesses for customers as well as for deliveries.

For more details about the Dock St. project and related parking impacts, please contact Karrie Spitzer at the City of Tacoma.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

City Manager Proposes New Downtown Strategy in 2007

Building upon comments he’s made in past weeks to downtown stakeholder groups, Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson yesterday asked City Councilmembers for authorization to begin a new strategic planning effort for downtown after the New Year.

Anderson outlined his expectations for the effort in a presentation to the Council’s Economic Development Committee. He cited pressure from development and the need to better respond to increasing opportunities as the impetus for amending the City’s five-year-old blueprint for the urban center: Destination Downtown. Anderson was quick to clarify that he wants to define better strategies for achieving goals set out in that document rather than starting a whole new downtown plan from scratch.

The City Manager outlined three primary goals for the effort, for which $200,000 has been set aside in the 2007 budget:

  • Protect the City’s residential neighborhoods;
  • Protect critical areas;
  • Densify downtown and other business districts.

Anderson also outlined the steps he foresees in the process of pursuing these three goals:

  1. Define a larger boundary for downtown than that encompassed in Destination Downtown;
  2. Recognize the neighborhoods that comprise the larger downtown area;
  3. Direct development to infill properties that are currently underutilized or vacant (e.g., the Winthrop Hotel and the former Elks’ Temple);
  4. Connect neighborhoods with an enhanced circulation system (elements to include streetcars, a true parking system, and expanded transit services);
  5. Incent development that furthers the three goals.

In the public comment period that followed Anderson’s presentation, the BIA spoke in favor of the effort, which builds upon discussions about improving downtown transportation services that began with the Committee’s trip to Portland earlier this year. The Committee adopted a “do pass” resolution supporting the expanded boundaries and embracing the three goals; this recommendations now moves to a vote of the full Council before year’s end.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Now Open: Commencement Bank

C.R. Roberts' interview with Commencement Bank President and CEO Hal Russell--commemorating the financial institution's opening in downtown Tacoma--brings out some points that show just how far downtown has come in the past decade.

Commencement Bank is a high tech enterprise, Russell says, noting that "much of the banking that people used to do has become electronic, computerized. It’s online." For those of us who remember the initial efforts 8-9 years ago to position downtown Tacoma as a high tech center, it's nice to see this commitment to technology. Of course, the bank strives to be equally high touch.

Even better is Russell's statement about why he located in downtown. "I want this to be the best place for my folks to work," Russell told Roberts. "I want this to be a wonderful place for customers." In pursuing these goals, Russell considered fourteen locations--all downtown. Since one of the BIA's primary purposes since its inception in 1988 was to make downtown a great place to work and shop, this is great to hear.

Commencement Bank is open today at 1145 Broadway. Stop in or give them a call at (253) 284-1800.

Friday, December 08, 2006

No Windfall for Sound Transit

Yesterday Sound Transit rejected alternative proposals by downtown stakeholders for routing extension of Sounder commuter rail service to Lakewood through the Dome District. The regional agency turned down the proposals at least in part because they were too expensive.

Yesterday was a good day for Sound Transit since the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the agency's authority to continue collecting $2.7 billion in car-tab taxes through 2028 despite passage of Tim Eyman's Initiative 776 (I-776) four years ago. The rumor is already circulating that this ruling constitutes a "windfall" for the regional transit agency, and that some of this "found money" might be directed to underwrite the alternative Sounder routing.

Not so. The State Supreme Court simply re-affirmed Sound Transit's ability to collect Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) until 2028 to pay off the bonds sold to finance the light rail project. Because of I-695 and I-776, the agency no longer has the ability to even ask the voters if they would like to raise MVET to finance new projects like the one proposed by downtown stakeholders. Most likely, any re-routing of Sounder will take a strong financial commitment from local sources--of which there are very few...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Track Closed Ahead?

Proposed alternative routes for extension of Sounder commuter rail service to Lakewood are too expensive to warrant further consideration, according to reports presented today to Sound Transit's board of directors. The agency's review indicates that the propsoed new alternatives would add $200 million to the project budget and push the project timeline out two years.

Local architect Jim Merritt and other stakeholders offered alternatives to Sound Transit officials, including one that would begin at Freighthouse Square, travel south behind Brown & Haley's candy factory, drop into a covered trench along S. 27th St., then cross under Pacific Ave. and surface on S. Tacoma Way across from the Tacoma Rescue Mission. The alternative route, local proponents claim, would spare several businesses and preserve key traffic routes.

For now, Sound Transit will move forward with its current plan--known as Modified Alternative Two with Hood Street Loop--but remains open to community input on business impacts, mitigation and viable alternatives.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Night at City Council

Members of the Tacoma City Council treated downtown stakeholders well last night on two key votes involving rate increases and renovation of the Winthrop Hotel:

  • The Council sustained long-standing policy on solid waste rates, benefiting downtown condo owners and small businesses in particular by voting 6-3 against a Substitute Ordinance that would have indefinitely extended customer subsidization and then accepting the recommendation to end subsidization by 2011 by voting unanimously in favor of that rate proposal;
  • The Council also adopted Substitute Resolution 37050 directing the City Manager to negotiate a development agreement with Prium Companies that may include a loan of $1,000,000 in UDAG repayment funds to assist with the project.

Both measures were supported by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Second Shift Bikes Coming Back?

Downtown patrols were weakened about two years ago when the "cops on bikes" dedicated to the BIA were pulled by the Tacoma Police Department because of staffing difficulties.

Tacoma, like other metropolitan police departments, has been suffering from a relative shortage of new recruits and transfers into the officer corps. This fact led to the transfer of all four TPD officers from downtown to beats in other sectors where calls for service were up and staffing was thin.

Downtown's "cops on bikes" have been a source of pride--the program was purported to be the first anywhere in the nation--but their presence is essential to safe performance of the BIA bicycle patrols, the folks in yellow and black who also patrol downtown on bicycles. The BIA patrols are not commissioned, nor do they carry weapons, and their safety and effectiveness depend upon immediate access to police back-up.

With the help of (then) new City Manager Eric Anderson, the BIA was able to restore two officers to day shift patrol within the BIA. Problems continued to fester, though, on the evening (swing) shift, and restoration of TPD patrol became a community priority.

Last Thursday, members of the BIA Board of Directors agreed to look into a new patrol configuration--one TPD officer riding with 2-6 BIA bicycles at one time. One of the two day shift officers (currently Jim Pincham and Marty Price) would move to swing shift if this configuration is adopted.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Broadway Center Turns Up the Lights!

Tacoma's 60th Annual Holiday Tree Lighting (yesterday evening) was a resounding success!

Hundreds of Tacomans turned out to celebrate the start of the season in a new venue--the recently remodeled lobby of the Pantages Center and the grassy knoll adjacent to it. The lights came up on the 55-foot tree (donated by Fort Lewis) without a hitch, as documented in a great graphic on Kevin Freitas' blog today. Luminaries in attendance included Mayor Bill Baarsma (along with the entire City Council on a brief break in budget discussions), Lt. Gen. James Dubik (Commander, I Corps & Fort Lewis), and Pierce County Councilmember Tim Farrell.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Solid Waste of Time?

At its December 5th meeting, the Tacoma City Council is considering rates for public utilities. The adopted goal of the City is to have customers pay what it costs the utility to provide the service, an arrangement called "cost of service."

Gary Brackett, appointee to the Environmental Services Commission (ESC) and Manager for Business & Trade at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, has examined two rate options currently before the City Council for consideration. Brackett compared the rate recommended by the ESC to a rate requested by some members of the Council that abandons the cost of service goal so as to lower costs for some residential customers.

Under the rate plan recommended by the ESC, cost of service rates would be achieved for all customers in 2010. Most downtown businesses, multi-family units and smaller firms use Front End Loader (FEL) containers to accommodate space limitations. This plan requires that rates for front load containers decrease during that period:

ECS Recommendation/Front End Loader (FEL)
(multi-family, small business, space-limited downtown businesses)
The rate amount currently charged for the 4 cubic yard front load container is $361.20. Cost of service for the 4 cubic yard front load container in 2007 is $289.97 per month. The proposed 2007 rate under the plan recommended by the ESC is $350.05. This recommended rate is still $61.08 above cost of service. The rate is proposed to be reduced by 3% per year until 2010, when the cost of service rate of $318.61 is reached. In 2011, the cost of service rate for this container service is $332.82, a 4% increase from 2010.

ECS Recommendation/Residential
(single-family, duplexes only)
The cost of service rate for the 30 gallon residential barrel in 2007 is $35.58 per month. The proposed 2007 rate recommended by the ESC is $30.05, a 7% increase from 2006. This recommended rate is $5.53 per month less than cost of service. Under the plan, the rate is increased by 7% per year until in 2010, when the cost of service rate of $36.63 is reached. In 2011, the cost of service rate for this container service is $38.00, a 4% increase from 2010.

Alternative Plan
An alternative plan has been proposed in which rates for front load containers would be held at current levels rather than being decreased by 3% per year. The additional revenue generated from doing this would be applied to subsidize the residential rates to reduce the increase from 7% to 6.2%. There would be no significant change to other commercial rates.

Alternative Plan/Front End Loader
In the alternative plan for the 4 cubic yard front load container, the rate would be held at $361.20 from 2007 through 2011. In 2007 this rate is $71.32 above the cost of service rate of $289.97 and $11.15 above the rate supported by the ESC. In 2011, it is $28.38 above the cost of service. By holding the rate at the 2006 level, reaching the cost of service is delayed beyond the planning horizon of 2011.

Alternative Plan/Residential
The residential 30 gallon barrel rate for 2007 would be $29.90 under the alternative plan, a 15 cent per month decrease from the other plan recommended by the ESC. In 2011, the 30 gallon barrel rate would be $37.45, 65 cents per month less that the $38.00 rate in the recommended by the ESC in the five-year plan.

This is an example of the differences between the plan recommended by the ESC--in which cost of service is reached for all customers in 2010--and the alternate proposed plan--where rates above cost of service are held constant with the revenues generated from this change used to offset the higher, residential rates increases.

The numbers provided above are specific for the container size indicated as an illustration. Other front load and residential containers will be impacted by different amounts.

This issue could represent a significant rate hike for some downtown properties. Be sure to let Councilmembers know which rate makes the most sense.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Provident Change?

According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, LinMar Management Inc. recently purchased the Security Building in downtown Tacoma for $6.1 million. LinMar has changed the name of the building, located across the street from the North Park Plaza parking garage, to the Provident Building, the building's original name when it opened as the home of Provident Life & Trust Co. in 1903.

To Market, To Market

The issue of The Business Examiner being delivered to subscribers today includes the Downtown Tacoma Commercial & Residential Real Estate Map co-sponsored by the BIA, BOMA, City of Tacoma, LandAmerica Commercial Services and Prium Companies.

This new publication highlights commercial and residential properties for sale or for lease throughout the greater downtown area. In addition to distribution throughout Pierce and Thurston counties via the Examiner, copies will be distributed across the Puget Sound region in the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. The BIA and other sponsors will have additional copies for ratepayers and customers, as well.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Downtown Infrastructure Milestones

One of the philosophical underpinnings of urban revitalization--often unexamined by most people--is the idea that communities should build greater density upon infrastructure already in place. In the real world, the problem is that antiquated infrastructure often cannot support greater density--at least, not to modern standards.

Tacoma's downtown infrastructure is getting a necessary rebuild in several areas; two such projects were updated for the public this week:
  • After a long period of controversy, the Broadway Ave. Local Improvement District was approved by the Tacoma City Council in April, providing the venue for property owners to get together to pay for reconstruction, repair and renewal of sidewalks, ornamental street lighting and landscaping and construction of surface water, wastewater and water main utility replacement. The project goes out to bid next month and, after construction (slated to begin next April) is completed, the City believes it won't have to dig this area up again for a decade or more.
  • The 'D' St. Overpass, the $22.5 million road project that will unite the Dome District with the Thea Foss Waterway by raising the roadway over the railroad tracks that loop around the south end of the waterway, recently completed its first phase of construction.

Monday, November 20, 2006

No Stamp of Approval Yet

Reporter Kris Sherman reports in The News Tribune today that the U.S. Postal Service is moving ahead on plans to sell its historic downtown building--advertisements for relocation facilities should be published by the end of the month. The Postal Service hopes to find a new 6,475-square-foot home downtown and would move most processing into a 10,000-square-foot facility in Fife, also establishing a full-fledged post office there for the first time in the suburban city’s 49-year history.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber weighed in on this issue last October at its quarterly City Center Luncheon, where USPS spokesman Ernie Swanson previewed the multi-year process for the sale. The Chamber also submitted a letter asking for a commitment to maintaining a storefront post office downtown--a condition that seems to have been honored thus far by USPS. That letter also expressed concerns that USPS consider the mail processing needs--both at the corporate and merchant levels--of businesses in the city center.

Developers have expressed great interest in the post office building and, especially, its ancillary parking lot, the lynchpin in the Haub family's long-standing plans for a new downtown office tower.

'Tis the Season (Reprise')

Kathleen Merryman offers a nice column in this morning's edition of The News Tribune about the tree that is, of course, the focal point for the 60th annual Holiday Tree Lighting set to take place next week in front of the Pantages Center. Especially nice is her observation that "[a]s the downtown has blossomed, [the tree] has seemed to wear its decorations with increasing elan."

Like most things with a long and distinguished history, the Holiday Tree Lighting is something old school that now has the opportunity to morph into something really hot. This year--for the first time--the event is being staged right after work on a weeknight rather than on a weekend evening. The change was suggested in recognition of the changing demographics of downtown--fewer families with young children, more singles and empty nesters. Organizers also hope that the timing change will keep downtown employees around for a while after work; merchants will be open extra long hours to handle the additional traffic.

Sixty years ago, downtown was the center of civic life for Tacoma--that's still true today. Downtown was an active, energetic business location--despite many years of struggle, this is probably more true today than it's been in the past three decades. Downtown in 1946 was not a growing residential neighborhood--that's a bellwether change with hundreds of new living units currently being built and occupied. One of the most important drivers for continued progress is the sense that there's a "there" here--creating and maintaining a sense of community--and events like the tree lighting are both a reflection of and a support for that sense.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More for November 30th

November 16th may be the most eventful evening in downtown Tacoma until...November 30th!

That's the evening that the lights come on for the 60th year on the Holiday Tree donated to Tacoma by Fort Lewis. There will be numerous activities associated with this annual event from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. Now here's something to enjoy right after that--and you'll only have to move a few blocks up the hill:

Local historian Michael Sullivan will speak to Historic Tacoma from 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. at the downtown Tacoma Public Library (1102 Tacoma Ave. S.). Sullivan will speak on "Improbable Tacoma: Unlikely Events and Remarkable Characters Behind the Shape of Tacoma Today." Michael is a founding member of Historic Tacoma, heads Artifacts Consulting, and teaches at the University of Washington Tacoma. He previously served as President of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and, before that, as the Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Tacoma.

About Last Night...

There's no official crowd estimate, but there were visibly lots of people out last night enjoying the November 16th event. The Three Mo' Tenors presentation at the Pantages Center was the evening's signature event, but many venues--like Vin Grotto, The Matador and Pacific Grill--were near or at capacity for long stretches of the evening.

We'd like to hear from readers--where did you enjoy November 16th? What's your opinion as to the best venues, and why? Who wasn't open that you'd like to see next year?

To all that participated in whatever way, thanks for helping put more feet on the street!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More About Clearwire...

Clearwire's launch in the Seattle metro area garnered lots of media attention including articles in The News Tribune, the Business Examiner Online, and the Seattle Times in addition to prominent play on evening television news shows.

Launch of the service yesterday marked the availability of wireless broadband Internet access throughout Tacoma and the metropolitan area of Pierce County. Other areas may gain service from a new partnership between CenturyTel and the Rainier Communications Commission, although the planned launch date for pilot service to Steilacoom seems to have slipped.

Perry Satterlee, Clearwire's co-president, grew up in Tacoma's North End, and his father worked for many years in an office in the Washington Building. Satterlee insisted on holding a small launch event yesterday morning in The Vault to commemorate that fact and to thank many individuals who helped ease the company's entrance into this marketplace.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Fresh Breeze--Is It Wireless?

When the sun is shining and a breeze is blowing gently through the trees, wouldn't it be lovely to be able to pack up your laptop and finish work at an outdoor café or park? That's the promise of wireless Internet access, or at least the idyll many people make of it. Let's extend the fantasy one step further--why not make the service free of charge?

What's the reality of ubiquitous broadband Internet access, and how much of this daydream is really possible?

Consumers soon will be able to get what some are calling "personal broadband," or high-speed Internet access everywhere they go. Wireless broadband networks are starting to be pieced together in a more visible way, with service providers such as Sprint Nextel and Clearwire building towers, Intel manufacturing chips, Samsung and Motorola supplying devices. About 56 million Americans--28 percent of the country’s population--have devices enabled for wireless Internet access.

At the same time, mobile consumer and business applications are flourishing. Mobile and wireless technology is being used in supply-chain management, sale force automation, inventory management, facilities management, point-of-care administration, law enforcement, and scientific data collection applications. Mobility is causing yet another paradigm shift equivalent to when people went from using stand-alone personal computers to accessing the Internet.

Wireless broadband Internet access is moving into Tacoma in a big way this month. Clearwire is launching their service tomorrow, which requires a modem and a monthly fee for very reliable service over a proprietary frequency. Free service is promised from an emerging partnership between the Rainier Communications Commission and CenturyTel, with the pilot project launching in Steilacoom soon, but further details are still pending...

According to a report published in September by the Federal Trade Commission, there are several problems with the business models currently underwriting munciipal networks, including questionable economic feasibility. According to the report, computer users can generally only access the Internet with a high-speed wireless connection if they are within 300 feet of an antenna--that means up to about 30 antennas per square mile, a considerable investment.

Local media have been generous with their praise for the RCC pilot project but generally dismissive of Clearwire's service. We're clearly still a long way from the warm weather idyll, but how far are we from unwiring our growing downtown?

Monday, November 13, 2006

City Seeks Volunteer for Landmarks Preservation Commission

The City of Tacoma's Landmarks Preservation Commission is currently seeking applications for an "at large" position open to residents of Tacoma interested in historic preservation issues.

The Commission oversees the establishment and regulation of landmarks, landmark sites and historic districts. Commission meetings are held at 5:00 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month.

The Commission is comprised of eleven citizen volunteers who serve three-year terms. Members are recommended for appointment by the Council Appointments Committee and confirmed by the City Council.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Sounding Out Sounder Options

Members and guests of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber on Monday explored design issues related to future development of the Tacoma Dome District and the growth of downtown's transportation infrastructure.

Earlier this year, two community groups--the Hillside Development Council and the Dome District Development Group--invited the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Southwest Washington to study the impacts of Sound Transit's projected extension of Sounder service with a focus on the segment from Freighthouse Square to “M” St. The architects organized into design teams to work, independently, on various alternative solutions.

The current alternative proposed by Sound Transit goes directly west from Freighthouse Square, curving at grade across Pacific Ave., aligning with the north side of Wakefield Dr., then connecting to existing rail between Tacoma Ave. and Yakima Ave. Architects and the community groups have concluded that this alternative would close businesses, isolate the Tacoma Rescue Mission, create dead-end streets in an area targeted for a multimillion-dollar redevelopment, box in Brown & Haley’s planned expansion, block off and reroute historic Highway 99 and drop Pacific Avenue into a 14-foot-deep gully underneath a railroad overpass.

The AIA teams developed new project alternatives that would, in their view, better support the following goals:
  • Improve arterial traffic flow and linkages
  • Preserve historic Highway 99 as a community asset
  • Minimize business closures and relocations
  • Minimize train and vehicle conflicts
  • Create new commercial development opportunities

One alternative developed by the architects curves south behind Brown & Haley headquarters, drops into a covered trench along S. 27th St. as it crosses under Pacific Ave. and reappears across South Tacoma Way from the Tacoma Rescue Mission, preserving South Tacoma Way as well as access to the mission and neighboring businesses.

That alternative and one other are part of a high-level analysis now being conducted by Sound Transit and to be reported to the agency's finance committee at its December 7th meeting.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sound Transit Will Explore Dome Alternatives

Yesterday Sound Transit directed its staff to conduct a high-level analysis of alternative alignments for the Sounder Tacoma-to-Lakewood routings recommended by the American Institute of Architects, with findings due to the agency's finance committee at its December 7th meeting.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber will offer a presentation by the AIA's design team at the group's City Center Luncheon on Monday.

Housing May Drive Tomorrow's Downtown

Denser and more diversified housing may be the driving factor in downtown Tacoma's growth during the next 35 years, Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson told housing developers this afternoon.

Anderson began his informal comments by distributing a new map of downtown as it may be redrawn following an upcoming public process. The new boundaries reflect those proposed earlier this year by Ryan Petty, director for the City's Community & Economic Development Department and presented in September at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber's City Center Luncheon.

The City Manager told developers that the downtown needs to be denser--infilling surface parking lots and other undeveloped or underdeveloped parcels--and that buildings need to rise higher. Anderson also envisions a more economically diverse downtown; "the mix of income levels makes for more vitality in an urban environment," he observed.

Parking is the one area, Anderson noted, where the City can participate with developers to support growth in downtown housing--by offering parking as an incentive. In response to questions, however, he added that this support assumes the development of "a sustainable parking revenue system," and that means pay stations on the street. Anderson did allow that all of the revenue from pay stations should be returned to the district from which they are collected to fund needed improvements, like a proposed new street car system or streetscape amenities.

Downtown stakeholders need to get involved in discussions over downtown growth and circulation that will be ramping up early in 2007, Anderson said. Those discussions will help shape downtown's development from now until 2040. He was speaking to the Urban Housing Group, an informal assembly of housing developers.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Prium May Buy Winthrop Hotel

Local developer Prium Companies has just announced an agreement with A.F. Evans Development to purchase the Winthrop Hotel. Prium is a Tacoma-based real estate development conglomerate with projects in 26 cities statewide.

"We have executed a purchase and sale agreement with AF Evans that we anticipate to close by the end of the year," says Peter Ansara, Prium's Chief Operating Officer in a release issued this morning. "We are in the process of studying the potential for mixed use with a focus of developing a significant portion of the Winthrop to its original hotel state [along with] the potential of condominiums, relocation of the residents and historic preservation..."

A 'Tale of Two Tracks'

Businesses in the Tacoma Dome District of downtown feel that Sound Transit’s preferred commuter rail route through Tacoma to Lakewood would close businesses, isolate the Tacoma Rescue Mission, create dead-end streets in an area targeted for a multimillion-dollar redevelopment, box in Brown & Haley’s planned expansion, block off and reroute historic Highway 99 and drop Pacific Avenue into a 14-foot-deep gully underneath a railroad overpass. At their request, the Tacoma chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has conceived an alternative route that would mitigate these negative impacts.

An editorial in today's edition of The News Tribune argues that Sound Transit should study AIA's rail alternatives. City Councilmember Julie Anderson will be asking Sound Transit’s finance committee today to approve spending $20,000 to $30,000 or so to include a preliminary assessment of two community-based alternatives in study of the agency's "preferred alternative" route.

Interested downtown stakeholders can see the alternatives at this quarter's City Center Luncheon sponsored by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber:
  • Monday, November 6th
  • 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.
  • The Tacoma Club
    Sponsored by Venture Bank
Cost for the event is $25 for members pre-paid and $30 for non-members pre-paid; corporate tables are available at a discounted price. To reserve space at this meeting, please contact Janice at the Chamber, (253) 627-2175.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

'Tis (Already?) the Season

There are still 54 shopping days in the 2006 Holiday Season, and the BIA is helping downtown merchants get the full benefit of this opportunity.

BIA Maintenance crews are installing Holiday Stars again as part of a partnership with the Downtown Merchants Group. This year, 68 stars are being hung in 41 different locations.

18 of those locations need to have their brackets reinstalled on several light poles. Last year, the City of Tacoma replaced those light poles but didn't reinstall the brackets, and this year will not allocate the time to reinstall them; however, the City is providing the strapping materials and brackets for the BIA's use.

During the next couple of days (while the Stars are being installed), the crew will not be doing any pressure washing and will be spending less time on other elements of fall clean-up such as collection and disposal of leaves.

The BIA will also help support the annual Holiday Tree Lighting right after work on Thursday evening, November 30th. This event celebrates the giving season and commemorates a partnership that has linked downtown Tacoma and Fort Lewis since 1946. Join throngs of well-wishers for the performance of the Army's Brass Quintet inside the newly remodeled lobby of the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts (BCPA) at 5:30 p.m., followed by the lighting of the community tree at 6:00 p.m. The event will cap Art at Work Month and coincide with "Live After Five"--a special promotion by downtown merchants.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Centralized Management for Special Events?

The Tacoma City Council's Government Performance and Finance Committee is proposing a new partnership with Metro Parks that would consolidate production of major events city-wide.

Under the proposal related to the committee this morning, the City of Tacoma would create a new Office of Special Events. This department would "develop an efficient, user-friendly event permit system" and provide a centralized operational planning process for new and major special events. Metro Parks believes that this approach would yield a "more effective, strategic approach to festival production in Tacoma" beginning as early as next calendar year.

The proposal is an ambitious one that merits strong consideration. The BIA has previously highlighted the lack of a unified approach to events in downtown Tacoma--a gap in the overall fabric of services that, if filled, might help bring "more feet on the street" downtown. Still, the proposal recommends higher fees for non-profits wanting to field events--an idea sure to draw fire from those sources--and many citizens will question whether a board of City and Metro Parks staffers (as currently proposed) is really the right body to decide which special events happen or don't happen in public spaces.

By the way, this proposal would impact major public events like Showcase Tacoma, community festivals and neighborhood events but not "free speech" events or ongoing activities such as sidewalk vending (if we ever have any vendors, that is)...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Your Sketchy Ideas Wanted

The controversy around the Museum District's "wall of shame" continues.

Councilmember Julie Anderson's reasoned op-ed piece in The News Tribune recently set forth some excellent "guiding principles" for moving the public debate forward:
  • The success of the museum is crucial to the City of Tacoma. Any design solution should strive to increase the institution’s visitorship.
  • The volunteers and donors of Save Our Station and Century Park deserve a “date certain” for a design and construction of the park.
  • Pedestrian barriers are not desirable and should be used only when logically linked to public safety or adopted public urban design goals.
Today blogger Kevin Freitas has asked readers to participate in a new public process:
  • Download a simple map of the area of the donor wall and Century Park;
  • Sketch your ideas on paper or use something like MS Paint or PowerPoint on your computer;
  • E-mail your sketch and brief description to Kevin.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Market St. Closed...for a While

The City of Tacoma has authorized the full closure of the intersection at Market St. and S. 13th St. from 6:00 p.m. tonight through 3:00 p.m. on Monday, October 23rd. This closure will allow for the construction of cement concrete crosswalks on the Market sides of the intersection (the crosswalks on the 13th Street sides will be constructed next week). No vehicular traffic, including emergency vehicles, will be allowed through the intersection during the closure.

Advanced warning of the closure and detour routes will be signed per the traffic control plan submitted by Woodworth & Company and reviewed by the City. Woodworth has already provided notifications to area businesses earlier this week.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Plaza Management Coming Up?

As noted here in earlier posts, a committee representing various private interests and local governments is working to initiate day-to-day management of Tollefson (Pacific) Plaza as recommended by Project for Public Spaces. The committee enjoys participation from the BIA, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, City of Tacoma, Municipal Parks, Tacoma Arts Museum, Courtyard by Marriot Hotel, University of Washington - Tacoma and other partners.

Over the next two weeks, participants hope to finalize a business plan and budget for a non-profit entity patterned after Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square. The entity would manage day-to-day events and activities in the Plaza so as to promote more use (upping the number of "feet on the street"). Participants are also finalizing commitments for about $60,000 in seed funding to underwrite the organization's first year of operation.

In November, the committee hopes to present an agreement for consideration by the City of Tacoma. Plaza management could begin as early as the first of 2007.

Interested in helping? Contact Joanne Buselmeier.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Update on the Winthrop Hotel

Dave Seago, editorial page editor for The News Tribune, just posted this report of today's early morning meeting of Tim Quigg's Winthrop Hotel boosters. This Thursday is the deadline for the Quigg group to put up a $1 million payment if the deal is to proceed.

Less Stalling, More Action on Parking

Dan Voelpel's column this weekend in The News Tribune echoed concerns expressed here last week: "Tacoma City Hall [has] no [parking] "system" at all--despite city ownership of three parking garages, management of roughly 1,700 on-street parking spaces and enforcement authority over both." Maybe it's not surprising--Voelpel accompanied us on the Tacoma City Council's visit to Portland a few days ago, where the comparison between the two cities' programs was...well, there was no comparison.

Portland Commissioner Sam Adams told the visiting group that gathering broad stakeholder input, informed by strong analysis of current trends, should lead to development of a strategic plan that can guide not just planning but overall resource development and allocation. "Give people alternatives," he urged, "not out of political correctness, but because it really is the best way to go..."

Like Sam Adams, Rick Williams (executive director for the Lloyd District Transportation Management Association) stressed the need to look at transportation assets as key pieces of a city's economic development toolbox--a tool, not just a "nice to" part of the urban landscape. In the Lloyd District, Williams has been able to offer capacity to new development through better use of existing facilities instead of having to raise money to build new parking complexes, many of which will stand empty or underutilized in off-peak hours.

Rising costs for land, ever more challenging environmental considerations and burgeoning traffic congestion all dictate that "access" may be the key to future development in Portland and elsewhere. Tacoma needs to initiate broad community dialogue around access for its growing downtown--if it wants to remain competitive...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Room with a View

Last May, we celebrated the groundbreaking of the $5.1 million remodeling project to downtown's Pantages Theater. Tomorrow, we can celebrate the grand re-opening of that venue. To mark the event, all of the Pantages' resident performing groups will come together for a showcase evening called “A Taste of the Arts” beginning at 8:00 p.m.

Inside, even the water fountains are gold-plated. Patrons of performances and other visitors will enjoy a great new gathering area, gorgeously redecorated, and other improvements recounted here and here in more detail than our limited space will allow. Most important to readers of this blog, perhaps, the remodel allows a sweeping vista of the intersection of 9th, Broadway, and St. Helens through enlarged window spaces.

More eyes on the street (ala' Jane Jacobs) can't hurt downtown, either. Let's hope that our collective efforts to curb disorder around the neighboring Winthrop Hotel will help make the Pantages more appealing to those patrons.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Three Things That Matter

The old axiom in real estate circles is that only three elements matter when evaluating properties: location, location, and location.

As several downtown stakeholders learned in Portland last week, some of Tacoma's neighboring cities in the Northwest and elsewhere are changing the definition of what "location" means, or maybe they're just closer to the realities of the current marketplace. Rising costs for land, ever more challenging environmental considerations and burgeoning traffic congestion all dictate that "access" may be the key to future development.

There's a real challenge here for Tacoma's downtown, which is finally (by all accounts) revitalized but lacks a clear direction for its next steps. Like Portland, we need three things to realize success--strong infrastructure assets, capable leadership, and a common vision that enables the whole community to work more effectively on common concerns. Will we continue to be "politically correct" and nod to greater transit use but really do little to bring it about, or will we begin to manage transportation as a development tool like Portland is doing? Will we continue to tax the City's general fund to build parking, or will we offer developers capacity through other means?

Two years ago, the Washington State Legislature granted Business Improvement Areas the right to add "transportation services" to their suite of downtown services. Since then, Seattle and Spokane have begun programs to emulate Portland and provide centralized management for employer-led efforts to manage transportation demand. Will Tacoma follow suit?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Get a Life (Downtown)!

Tacoma's downtown skyline is changing daily with the development of chic condominiums, stylish townhomes and trendy apartments, and the annual Tour of Urban Living will be a great chance to get inside 25 of these properties and become part of the action.

The 2006 Tour of Urban Living takes place October 14th and 15th from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. This free, self-guided tour promises to highlight the best that downtown Tacoma has to offer: Tacoma's world-class museum row, fabulous eateries, revitalized waterfront, eclectic shops, and the free Link light rail.

But this year's Tour won't just be a gathering of potential residents and admirers. It will be kicked off with a celebration of the people who already live downtown via a special, invitation-only event called the Block Tie Affair, from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. on October 12th in the Tacoma Club. This will be the first-ever opportunity for all of those who have already chosen to live downtown to meet face-to-face while enjoying appetizers, entertainment and a premium view of Tacoma. Attendees will also receive "Downtown Ambassador" buttons to wear during the Tour of Urban Living to serve as a resource for potential downtown residents.

The Block Tie Affair is sponsored by the downtown Tacoma development community, the Downtown Merchants Group and the City of Tacoma.

The Tour of Urban Living is sponsored by participating properties, the Click! Network, The News Tribune and the BIA.

Maps of the Tour of Urban Living are currently available online, and in the City of Tacoma's Community and Economic Development Department, 747 Market St., 9th floor. Tour maps will also be available on both days of the event at an information booth inside the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, 1515 Commerce St.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Is Portland's Parking System the Ticket for Tacoma? (II)

Portland (OR) has $5.8 billion in infrastructure facilities dedicated to transportation, but the Rose City's best assets are ones Tacoma can not only emulate, but duplicate--strong leaders committed to a common vision for how those assets may be best deployed.

Members of Tacoma's City Council on Friday heard from two of Portland's top transportation leaders during their visit to examine that system: Sam Adams and Rick Williams.

Sam Adams
Under Portland's unique structure of government, wherein each elected official is a full-time professional serving with a specific portfolio, Commissioner Sam Adams is responsible for transportation, sewers--and arts & culture. The local transportation system, as he describes it, is innovative but badly mismatched with funding; Oregon's gas tax has not increased since 1991.

Adams calls pay stations, which Portland has deployed in three urban neighborhoods, a "counterintuitive demand factor"--it seems illogical that putting barriers in front of customers and clients would stimulate, not injure, business traffic and profits. While parking congestion is the sign of a viable neighborhood, Adams contends, too much congestion means lost revenue, so forcing turnover brings more dollars into a business district. "It's a real step off the gangplank for businesses," he admits, "...[but] if you study it well and use it where there's enough demand, you'll see the turnover--[and] more money coming into businesses."

Neighborhood benefit funding, Adams contends, turns the potential negative (what he calls the "gotcha" style of enforcement) into a positive--97% of users at Portland's SmartMeters are self-policing. Merchants can set up a validation program using "smart cards" that can be funded out of neighborhood parking benefit program funds. The Rose City--like Old Pasadena--gives half the revenues beyond expenses of the program to merchants for marketing and beautification, as well as to increase off street parking, boosting their district's competitiveness. Shoppers seem to like the flexibility of the system, particularly that they can purchase time, not just lease a specific space.

Parking "gets the least amount of attention [of any transportation element] but requires the greatest amount of visioning," Adams notes, but offers opportunities for enhancement because "it's subject to numerical analysis." New technology makes parking provision "easier, flexible, more cost effective," he observes. Deployment of meters, Adams advises, should always be coupled with subsidized employee transit options and neighborhood permits, and promotion is critical.

Gathering broad stakeholder input, informed by strong analysis of current trends, should lead to development of a strategic plan that can guide not just planning but overall resource development and allocation. People don't worry about transportation planning elements like "trip avoidance", but they want to be places where there are lots of things to do--and that's how to make parking and transit use work.

"Give people alternatives, not out of political correctness, but because it really is the best way to go..."

Rick Williams
The Lloyd Center District lies across the Willamette River from downtown Portland and is easily accessible by MAX light rail, the Vintage Trolley, and several Tri-Met bus routes. Within this district is the Lloyd Center (regional shopping mall), the Rose Quarter (which includes the 12,000-seat Memorial Coliseum and 40,000-square foot Exhibit Hall, as well as the Rose Garden, a 20,000-seat multi-purpose arena), and the Oregon Convention Center.

When plans completed in 1994 projected 20,000 new jobs and 4,000 housing units coming into this district, analysis of the impacts based upon existing levels of transit use (10% of commuters using transit, known as the area's "mode split") showed that growth would close down Portland's freeways at peak hours. Rick Williams, executive director for the Lloyd District Transportation Management Association (TMA), a non-profit business association representing large and small employers, came to the rescue.

The TMA helped Lloyd District employers move from 10-21% mode split over three years; the district's current goal is an ambitious 42%. The TMA committed to buy 6000 bus passes (with a volume discount), arranged with Tri-Met (Portland's transit provider) to establish a new bus route, and accepted meters to limit parking with new funds directed to the TMA. Today the Lloyd District has won an exemption from Oregon's version of Washington's Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) law.

Every employee taken out of a parking stall leads to capacity for four customers or clients, Williams contends. Like Sam Adams, he stresses the need to look at transportation assets as key pieces of a city's economic development toolbox--a tool, not just a "nice to" part of the urban landscape. In the Lloyd District, Williams has been able to offer capacity to new development through better use of existing facilities instead of having to raise money to build new parking complexes, many of which will stand empty or underutilized in off-peak hours.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Is Portland's Parking System the Ticket for Tacoma? (I)

This post is being logged very late in the evening after a whirlwind day in Portland (OR) with the Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee. Accompanying Councilmembers Bill Evans, Jake Fey, Connie Ladenburg, Tom Stenger and Rick Talbert were City staff members Martha Anderson, Dana Brown, Mike Elmer, Kurtis Kingsolver, Bruce Marshall, and Ryan Petty, Downtown Merchants Group leader Marty Campbell, as well as your author and David Graybill, Mike Weinman and Katie Rose from the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.

The group's purpose was to learn how Oregon's biggest city funds and operates its downtown parking system. Portland is recognized as a national leader in innovative transportation solutions, and its Office of Transportation maintains $5.8 billion in infrastructure facilities from streets and structures to traffic signals and street lights. .

Ellis McCoy, Portlands Parking Operations Manager, began with an overview of the city’s current parking system:
  • Broad stakeholder input was sought during developemmnt of Portland's Center City Plan, the Central City Transportation Management Plan, and the subsequent Meter District Policy, and a portion of net revenues from parking operations are directed back into local improvements;
  • In the three meter districts, (Central City, Lloyd District, Markham Hill), Portland has 1200 pay stations under management serving 8400 spaces (about 2200 of these just in the greater downtown);
    Stakeholders develop neighborhood transportation plans with the help of staff, then Council reviews and approves the plans, subsequently establishing a district with a management entity;
  • Pay stations replaced single space meters largely to increase the number of methods available for payment;
  • Cale Parking (Portland's vendor) provides online management of parking, including transactions as they occur on the street; the firm developed the current payment system through discussion with stakeholders and now deploys wireless Internet connections with a “pay to display” system;
  • Rates range from $1.25/hr. in downtown and $1.00/hr. in Markham to $0.75/hr. in the Lloyd District; one use for the downtown's revenue is debt service on bonds for the new light rail segment currently under construction.

Ramon Corona discussed permit programs resulting from a cost-of-service review of parking operations (annually reviewed)--purposes include residential uses, construction, delivery, non-profits and public safety. Their new technology allows Portland officials much better tracking than their counterparts in Tacoma for assessment of the real cost for permits.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Steal This Blog!

Blogs are a vital part of downtown Tacoma's social fabric and have a political impact that can help effect change. At least that's the premise promoted by Todd Matthews today in his article on blogging.

Kevin Freitas is (rightly) given prominent focus, but the BIA Blog is mentioned along with others. There's also some interesting discussion on the relative "clout" of bloggers with comments from civic leaders like Chester Trabucco and Tom Stenger. In all, Matthews continues the interesting work cited here in a former post.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Need Parking? Visit Portland

This Friday, the Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee will be meeting with the City of Portland's Bureau of Transportation System Management staff, as well as representatives from the Lloyd Center Transportation Management Association (TMA). This author and other representatives from the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and the Parking Advisory Committee will accompany the elected leaders and City staff on the trip.

Portland's downtown parking system has a much more robust array of revenue sources and provides better management overall than Tacoma's system, at least for now. The group is headed south to learn how Portland's system works and to consider how Tacoma's system might be improved.

Watch this blog on Friday for posts from Portland!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Winthrop Clean-up Begins

Two narcotics search warrants were served at the Winthrop this morning at 8:00 a.m. in two different apartments. Numerous arrests were made with evictions expected to follow. Among the arrestees were several drug dealers and users, and a sex offender staying at one of the apartments with several young women. Warrant arrests were also made, according to Tacoma Police Department (TPD) One Sector Commander Lieutenant Corey Darlington.

The sweep was led by the TPD Special Investigations Unit, and in particular case agent Officer Chris Martin, who initiated and coordinated the investigation. Police also cited the continued assistance of community member Laura Hanan, who has consistently documented illegal activity by many of the individuals arrested today.

"Those two people [among the group arrested today] have been bringing many undesirable people into this neighborhood and it is great that they are both where they belong--in jail," states Hanan. "I'm sure law abiding residents of the Winthrop also appreciate not being intimidated by these two creeps anymore as well."

The clean-up of the Winthrop Hotel continues...

Towers on the Foss

The Tacoma Planning Commission is still accepting public input on a proposal to allow Simon Johnson LLC to build four 16-story buildings on the north side of the Murray Morgan Bridge. The project proposes at least 350 apartments and condominiums, retail space, and a grocery store with four towers that would sit atop a five-story parking garage.

The proposal was adopted by the Tacoma City Council on November 16, 2004, upon a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission, but subsequent review by the Department of Ecology suggested the need for re-evaluation of the proposal to address view impacts from public and residential properties if the proposed height amendment went into effect. Homeowners in the Perkins Building have complained that the project would block their current views of the Thea Foss Waterway and Commencement Bay.

Among others, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber has weighed in with support for the change. Height limits act primarily to constrain the real estate market from achieving the "highest and best" intensity of development and from providing the living or working environment sought by prospective residential or office occupants. Likewise, by effectively restricting supply, these limits have the economic effect of raising the price of space (of course, other regulatory variables also come into play--setbacks and coverage, as well as the parking ratio).

"Height limits can either deter investment or push some of it to other locations, depending on the strength of the market and the regulatory regimes that prevail in alternative locations," advises Richard Ward, CEO of Development Strategies, Inc. "At the same time, by restricting supply and creating monopoly values for existing property owners, height restrictions enable landlords to command higher space rents, providing the location enjoys other benefits sought by the market."

Ward observes that height restrictions may have either positive or negative impacts depending on the relative strength of the local real estate market. Keeping a lid on heights may create "relatively squat buildings abutting each other and filling the city blocks, property line to property line, usually with a public alley for services, utility lines, and deliveries when there are multiple owners, lots, and buildings on the block [that] results in a strong, pedestrian friendly street front, provided the public sidewalks are generously proportioned." At the same time, as a consequence of the height ceiling and a lower overall building density than would be achieved without it, development tends to spread out (i.e., "sprawl").

The Planning Commission is currently conducting the re-evaluation and is expected to make a recommendation to the City Council later in 2006. The Commission is scheduled to continue the discussion of the issue at its October 18th and November 1st meetings and will conduct a public hearing on the issue December 6th (this timeline, however, is subject to change).

Monday, October 02, 2006

Winthrop Hotel Effort Gathers Steam

Since most of our readers are unlikely to attend the ongoing meetings held at 6:00 a.m. on the Winthrop Hotel project by Tim Quigg's group of local investors, Derek Young of plans to put up a new web site that will offer regular progress reports on the project--when that venue comes online, we will offer a link.

As a service to downtown stakeholders and others, today we'll summarize progress on the efforts by Quigg and his team to renovate Tacoma's answer to Spokane's Davenport Hotel. About 35 investors and other professionals met this morning; each individual was asked to relate how they were helping the effort gather steam. Among the responses:

  • Chester Trabucco, Tom Absher (Absher Construction) and others are developing a pro forma for the hotel renovation based upon plans being developed by Brian Fitzgerald of Thomas Cook Fitzgerald Architecture;
  • Principals will be meeting tomorrow with representatives from the Tacoma-Pierce County Affordable Housing Consortium to help delineate a plan--with assistance from real estate expert J.J. McCament--for relocating the Winthrop's current low income tenants;
  • Erik Bjornson and others are creating a legacy fund, with half the money reserved to buy artwork and antiques to grace the new hotels public spaces;
  • The City of Tacoma is establishing a Project Review Team to speed permitting for the projects resulting from this activity.

The group's pro forma currently anticipates 7500 SF of retail space, 40 condominium units and 130 hotel rooms, including a Presidential Suite on the 11th floor.

This project offers an exciting opportunity for the advocates for more affordable housing downtown to create a "win/win" that will help both low income residents and business interests.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Another Viewpoint on the 'Wall of Shame'

Much--perhaps too much--has been already written about what some are now calling the Washington History Museum's "wall of shame" and its opposition by downtown stakeholders, led by blogger Kevin Freitas (who first broke the issue).

City of Tacoma officials issued a stop-work order earlier this week on a brick wall under construction which WSHS intended to commemorate those who helped save Union Station from demolition in the early 1990s. The wall would partially block the view of the Chihuly Bridge of Glass from Pacific Ave. and virtually preclude any hope of someday opening direct pedestrian access.

We're pleased to see how much the recommendations from Project for Public Spaces' workshop (which we co-sponsored) has informed debate on this issue--one more reason to remain confident that the final report will not become "shelf art" anytime soon. Participants in that event--like Erik Bjornson, who is heading up one of the implementation committees--will continue to carry forward the effort begun this past May.

We're not so pleased to see the ongoing lack of communication that seems to plague so much in downtown. Museum officials sought and received a building permit and approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission without any objection from City officials. This is reminiscent of the lack of coordination between the City and Sound Transit that will lead to yet another tearing up of Pacific Ave. in the near future. Isn't it time we started doing better?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Cutting Downtown's Wires--How Close?

Dan Voelpel's column today announces that members of the Rainier Communications Commission have recommended CenturyTel to build a wireless broadband network in Pierce County with equipment provider SkyPilot. Dan--who has long been a proponent for free wireless Internet access in Tacoma--tells his readers that they "won’t have to imagine for long.
...[t]he Wi-Fi quilt--among the largest in the country when finished--will start unfurling over Pierce County as soon as November."

CenturyTel is proposing a multi-million dollar investment in Pierce County. First, the company will build pilot projects in several of the member jurisdictions--smaller suburban cities--of the RCC. Following an evaluation of these projects, CenturyTel will begin work on a county-wide wireless network, primarily as a backup for public safety that crosses jurisdictional boundaries. Residents and businesses will receive free service during a 60-day test period in the pilot project areas, which may include downtown Tacoma.

A limited-capacity, free Wi-Fi service is planned for full deployment with higher capacity Internet services offered to citizens throughout the county at a competitive price. This is the model already being explored by Oakland County, MI--and it's a good one.

The BIA is excited about the prospect of wireless Internet access throughout downtown Tacoma, especially for great public spaces like the Plaza, but there are still some hurdles to clear. We're completing an update of our earlier white paper on wireless Internet prepared for the Tacoma Technology Consortium and we've been asked to participate in a focus group for the RCC next month. Despite winning the competition for a request for proposals, CenturyTel may find it harder than Dan thinks to build out a system, because:
  • CenturyTel is a newcomer to the market--their only experience with Wi-Fi is deployment of a mesh network in Vail, CO, now under construction;
  • Participating jurisdictions must make available the use of streetlights, utility poles and other tall structures (“vertical mounting assets”)--closely guarded assets with a high market value, and especially problematic in Tacoma where they are not controlled by the City [Note: this idea may not even be working in Vail, according to this news story];
  • Local public safety officials remain skeptical of the security of any wireless network.
Nevertheless, there are many good features of the CenturyTel proposal. A mesh network is pretty much the only way, other than owning your own frequency like Clearwire, to operate a system that's reliable--and reliability, not security, is really the selling point for most users. Both Clearwire and CenturyTel are expected to launch local services this November, and either will provide significant new benefits to those who want to experience downtown's great public spaces.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Opportunities Abound to Get Involved

Local governments and agencies want to hear from downtown businesses about a number of planned actions on the near horizon. Here are two opportunities to stand and deliver your opinion:
  • This Friday, September 29th, beginning at 9:00 a.m. at the Swiss Tavern (19th & Jefferson), consultants for the University of Washington - Tacoma will review the economic impacts of closing Market St. & 19th St. There has been previous discussion concerning moving traffic from Market to Pacific Ave. and Tacoma Ave.; other impacts may include removal of dozens of parking spaces and changes in traffic circulation. If you are interested in attending, be sure to RSVP to Marty Campbell with the Downtown Merchants Group, (253) 376-3774.
  • Sound Transit is studying options for new routes to connect Tacoma Dome Station to 'M' St. , allowing expanded Sounder service from Tacoma to Lakewood. A feasibility study is underway on a section of track and street crossings in the 'D' to 'M' St. corridor. The agency has sponsored a Community Open House on Thursday, October 5th from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. in the Phoenix Room at Freighthouse Square (440 E 25th St.).

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Yeast of These: Rise of Tacoma's Creative Class

32 invitees from all sectors of the Pierce County community joined a team led by author and George Mason University public policy professor Richard Florida last week for the world's first Creative Cities Leadership Seminar, an event designed to supercharge the region's economic development efforts.

Accounts offered by Florida and The News Tribune columnist Dan Voelpel agree that the event was a successful one. Sponsored by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, the seminar brought together a truly diverse group of local leaders and emerging leaders, encouraging them to find common causes. This group will spend the next year developing and pushing a series of initiatives designed to boost the appeal of Tacoma-Pierce County as a center for creativity.

They plan to do this via a series of projects, which include the following:
  • Events aimed at catalyzing nightlife and social centers in Tacoma-Pierce County;
  • An initiative to leverage local green-technology and building companies to cultivate a niche green-technology sector;
  • Stimulating economic growth and diversity by encouraging an ethnic eateries district;
  • Forming a committee that will encourage local community and business organizations to adopt proactive acceptance policies for people from all walks of life;
  • Creating an arts and culture center aimed at facilitating people seeking professional careers in the arts; and
  • Establishing a communications team that will keep the public informed of efforts as they move forward, encourage central focus and stimulate community input.

Florida's contends that attracting and retaining high-quality talent, technology and broad tolerance--rather than massive infrastructure projects such as sports stadiums, convention centers and shopping developments--has become the key to urban prosperity.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Four Stars in Our Eyes

Downtown Tacoma is having such a great week--with significant new hope for long-delayed renovation of the controversial Winthrop Hotel and new owners for the long-neglected Elks' Temple--that we might be excused if we dream a little...

Todd Matthews has a great article today in the Tacoma Daily Index on the Davenport Hotel in Spokane, its restoration, and the relevancy of that story to Tacoma's Winthrop. Todd has been doing a great job of making the City of Tacoma's newspaper of record something more than a wrapping for legal notices, and this article is no exception; it includes original interview material with folks involved with the Davenport's rebirth as a four-star hotel.

"If Spokane can do it, certainly Tacoma can do it," said Tom McArthur during a telephone interview with Matthews. McArthur, a former newspaper reporter who fell in love with the hotel nearly a decade ago, now serves as its communications director. He sees similarities between the two hotels--both were neglected over the years, ignored by locals, and were touchstone reminders of each city's downtown blight.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Temple to Progress?

In 1998, Tacoma’s city center was plagued with dilapidated buildings in key, visible locations. Then the BIA undertook a campaign to to clean up key dilapidated properties in downtown Tacoma. The organization identified the nine most egregious properties (tagging them the "Neglected Nine"), contacted each of the property owners, provided expert teams to examine each building and offered a status report recommending appropriate action(s); subsequently, the BIA prepared marketing materials to assist real estate professionals in promoting each building for sale or lease. At the same time, the BIA filed formal complaints with the City of Tacoma to begin enforcement proceedings on all nine buildings. One of the nine buildings was the former Elks Temple, an eyesore at one of the gateways to downtown.

After years of effort, the Elks Lodge will change hands as part of a deal expected to wrap up this week with Williams & Dame Development. The Portland-based firm specializes in renovation and redevelopment of underused and undeveloped land. Williams & Dame has been creating visionary residential and mixed-use developments for more than two decades with projects in Portland's Pearl District and Los Angeles' South Park District, among others.

Saved By the Sell (For Now)

Members of the Tacoma City Council were spared more difficult deliberations with the announcement late yesterday that A.F. Evans Development had signed a letter of intent giving developers Tim Quigg and Chester Trabucco 30 days to decide whether to purchase the building from the Oakland-based non-profit developer. The Council's subsequent adoption of Resolution 36969 was by then an almost foregone conclusion.

Councilmembers nevertheless played out the suspense and ended up voting along previously drawn lines supporting or opposing Evans: Councilmembers Jake Fey, Rick Talbert, Sprio Manthou, and Mayor Bill Baarsma voted against the loan resolution while Councilmembers Tom Stenger, Bill Evans, Connie Ladenburg, Julie Anderson, and Deputy Mayor Mike Lonergan supported it. Ladenburg was the swing vote, ultimately coming down in support of the deal.

That's not the end of the story, though--not by a long shot. While Quigg and Trabucco are expected Friday to put $250,000 toward a $6.1 million purchase price for the Winthrop, the clock is ticking on the big dollar fundraising needed to make their dream of turning the Winthrop into a four-star, historic hotel into a reality.

The annnouncement of the entry of Coast Hotels as one of their partners shows that Quigg and Trabucco are rapidly gaining traction. Coast properties include the Benson Hotel in Portland and the Paramount hotels in Portland and Seattle.

Expect more twists and turns in this continuing drama--and harder decisions to come for members of the City Council.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Another Delay for Winthrop Vote?

Postponed for one week on September 11th, the Tacoma City Council's controversial vote for a $1 million loan guarantee to A.F. Evans Development may be delayed again this evening.

At their Study Session this afternoon, Councilmembers were presented with five additional (and to various degrees, daunting) uncertainties and issues engendered by the Oakland-based non-profit developer's request. As a package, the five documents just presented to City leaders comprise more than adequate reason for further delay.

Brother, Can You Spare the Time?

If you're tired of being delayed by panhandlers, donate a few minutes of your time to the Tacoma City Council tonight.

Councilmembers will hear testimony about panhandling during a public hearing which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers in the Tacoma Municipal Building. The hearing is being held to gather public input on a new ordinance that will, in general, prohibit:
  1. Panhandling directed at traffic;
  2. "Coercive" panhandling;
  3. Panhandling at places where citizens are particularly isolated and vulnerable.
The proposal comes after citizen complaints about panhandling throughout the city, from freeway off-ramps to downtown streets. Revisions were made to an earlier draft ordinance after receiving input from a variety of stakeholders, including the BIA's Security Advisory Committee. The city already has language on the books regarding panhandling, but it doesn't go as far as the proposed ordinance.

Panhandling is defined as "solicitations for immediate employment, goods, services, financial aid or monetary gifts to the occupants of vehicles on public roadways" and would be prohibited under the proposed ordinance when the activity:
  • Distracts drivers;
  • Obstructs or impedes the orderly flow of traffic;
  • Causes traffic congestion;
  • Creates traffic and safety hazards that pose a danger to the solicitors;
  • Creates traffic and safety hazards that pose a danger to the persons solicited; or
  • Creates traffic and safety hazards that pose a danger to the traveling public in general
If you plan to attend tonight and testify, please contact Assistant City Attorney Kim Gerhardt at (253) 591-5917.

Monday, September 18, 2006

13th St. Closure

Work begins today on S. 13th St. from Tacoma Ave. to Commerce St. The Public Works Engineering Division has awarded the contract to Woodworth & Company to grind and overlay the street, install required ADA ramps at every intersection and create curb bulb outs will at Market and at Broadway. No work will occur on Tacoma Ave. or Commerce St.--only the roads in between.

13th St. will be closed from Tacoma Ave. down to Commerce St. from now through November 17th. Market and Broadway will remain open in a north/south direction across 13th, but no turns will be allowed onto 13th; Court ‘C’ will become a two-way street accessible from 11th St. (but not 13th) so that persons parking in the lower level of the Tacoma Center Market St. garage can access that facility.

Project contacts are as follows:

Mike Bradley
Woodworth & Co.
Project Manager

Justin Davis
City of Tacoma