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.