Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Bigger Picture

As stated in a previous post, the BIA will be offering business and property owners--and other community members--opportunities to engage in defining downtown’s “Next Steps” this year via a campaign to develop a strategic plan for the future of our assessment district. The outcome of this process is hoped to be enhanced service delivery downtown.

When Tacoma’s downtown BIA was originally formed in 1988, the city center was in bad shape: drug dealers, panhandlers and prostitutes seemed to be lurking on every corner, trash and graffiti dominated many common areas, and businesses were moving out. Although controversial at the onset, the BIA’s “clean and safe” programs soon helped bring about a turnaround.

When the district was renewed in 1998, the BIA’s focus had shifted somewhat to include a broader range of services. The BIA sponsored a retail recruitment program, helped create the first online property website in the nation, and increased funding for marketing. The district’s efforts helped downtown reach a “tipping point” over the past several years, during which time the number of derelict buildings dropped while occupancy—and values—increased dramatically.

Earlier this year, the BIA commissioned the firm of Lachman & Laing to conduct a series of interviews with key downtown stakeholders that reviewed security operations and recommended ways to maintain a “clean & safe” environment. In May, the BIA partnered with the City of Tacoma, the Foss Waterway Development Authority and others to host a half-day workshop by the Project for Public Spaces to help stakeholders create an effective action plan for bringing greater life into downtown’s common areas.

During the next three months, the BIA will continue to sponsor a series of themed events to help envision downtown’s next decade of progress and define the steps needed to get there:

Housing Growth
Downtown continues to boom with new housing units. In September, the BIA will initiate discussion on how to continue that growth and what role the district should play in supporting its continuation;

Retail Transformations
The BIA has been a primary partner for the City of Tacoma in stimulating retail activity downtown, implementing several activities recommended by consultant Paula Rees. In October, a renewed discussion will engage merchants, retail brokers, developers and city officials in implementation;

Office Occupancy
While the Tacoma-Pierce County community and the Puget Sound region have grown tremendously over the past several years, office occupancy in downtown has remained flat over the same period. In November, the BIA will initiate a discussion on how to strategically spur growth.

Interested in participating in one or more of these discussions?


  1. The focus of the BIA has been very good. It has implemented many successful principles from
    Fixing Broken Windows.

    This book decribes how cities such as New York has been able to rehabilitate themselves by focusing on the reduction of disorder, graffiti and smaller crimes (and yes broken windows).

    I am glad to see that the BIA is also working to focus on some of the principles Jane Jacobs described in the
    Death and Life of Great American Cities

    Two great books with specific recipes on how to rehabilitate Tacoma.

  2. Anonymous6:46 PM

    I like the pro-active approach.

    The first issue is determining the goals to accomplish for downtown.

    What are the goals for downtown and how will we be able to measure the outcome to see if we are making progress?

    Without definable goals being set, any discussion of proposed methodology will be fruitless.

    The difficult thing is that many of the goals are subjective.

    Here are some objective goals for downtown that the BIA and others may want to consider setting, although there are certainly others:

    1) Increase the retail occupancy rate.

    2) Increase the amount of retail sales dowtown.

    3) Increase the foot traffic downtown.

    4) Increase the hours that retail outlets are able to stay open for business and be able to make ends meet. (Successful downtowns often are able to function much later and (gasp) even on weekends).

    5) Increase office occupancy rate downtown.

  3. Anonymous9:37 AM

    I think it's great what Paul Ellis and the BIA are doing - keep it up!

    I have to disagree with the comment about the downtown office market being flat. My experience leads me to believe otherwise.

    There are many instances where the Tacoma rent rates meet or exceed those found in downtown Seattle- an indication to me an overvalued market with room for growth. Some recent searches for clients also revealed there is not much quality or Class A office space available too. Now, if you are looking for something slightly old or run down, that's another question. There seems to be plenty of that around in Tacoma.

    As I see Seattle, Bellevue and other nearby cities building up their stock of Class A office space- I see zero being built in Tacoma (CBD). If we want to attract the "creative class" I keep hearing about, this is the type of space Tacoma needs more of.

  4. Anonymous9:01 PM

    I would love to see the BIA lead projects that promoted activities and projects designed to attract those people who are not particularly interested in urban renewal. While drawing in those with either a vested interest or a personal enthusiasm for these topics (principles of Jane Jacobs, PPS, et. al.), what can ANYONE do right now to make a change? What are ways that can influence positive change that don't require attending a workshop, reading a book (reading is hard...believe you me!), or even going somewhere at a particular time?

    How can this herculean effort achieve critical mass...where people participate not because they care, but because it's fun and easy?

  5. Anonymous12:02 AM

    what can ANYONE do right now to make a change? What are ways that can influence positive change that don't require attending a workshop, reading a book

    A thousand things:

    1) Increase your daily coffee consumption by 10 percent and visit coffee shops like Blackwater, Java Bean and Kick Stand.

    2) Grab a burger and brew downtown.

    3) Just stroll through downtown.

    The act of simply walking through downtown without buying a thing will help significantly. The new BIA motto is "get your feet on the street."

    People are attracted to areas with other people in it and avoid empty restaurants and sidewalks, not the other way around.

    Your presence alone will make downtown more inviting and be perceived as safer.

  6. Anonymous2:22 PM

    Maybe something the BIA should look at is getting the residents in the South Downtown/Hillside/Hilltop (centered around 21st and Yakima) whatever you want to call it neighborhood downtown. The neighborhood is seeing tremendous growth with hundreds of condos and townhomes being built. Access to downtown by foot is not easy. Residents have to walk through uninviting streets surrounded by overgrown brush and now boarded up buildings. If that isn't unwelcoming enough they then have to trek back up the hill. For the people that don't have there legs muscles up to par, it can be battle. If the city would maybe get 19th and 21st Street atleast looking walkable and inviting maybe the residents would be more willing to make the trek.

  7. Anonymous5:12 PM

    I agree with the last two comments. Getting out on the street on a daily basis is the best way to help out. Try to buy something if you can, and if you succeed at finding it. Vary your hours.

    I go downtown whenever, and observe that it is a much more inviting place during the day than after 6. Specifically the corner of 10th and Commerce in the Theater District. I feel perfectly safe there around 2pm, even with the few questionable people around. But after 6 when there are only a few people left, it is a bit on the scary side.

    I do see an improvement though. I used to only come to downtown Tacoma in a group of people with a car. Now I will come walking on my own.