Friday, June 30, 2006

A Walk in the (Pugnetti) Park

You may have wondered about that small spot of green at downtown's "100% corner" at 21st & Pacific. This "pocket" park is named for the late Don Pugnetti, editor of The News Tribune, who died in 1986 after a long bout with cancer.

Nestled against the parking lot for the WA History Museum and just across the street from the University of Washington Tacoma campus and the growing retail district anchored by The Harmon, Pugnetti Park illustrates the advice Project for Public Spaces dispensed in May. If vacant green spots just drew people like magnets, surely this park would be filled--but it's not.

Nonetheless, it's got potential; therefore it's number eight on our ongoing list of great public spaces in downtown.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Chihuly in Pacific Plaza

We're excited to share with you some details about the upcoming Chihuly in Tacoma event. You may already know that internationally reknowned glass artist Dale Chihuly will return to Tacoma (his hometown) from August 8th-13th to work with a rotation of artists creating several of his signature glass series works including Baskets, Seaforms, Venetians, Macchia, and Persians. What you may not know yet is that there will be an exciting mix of venues that weekend filling Pacific Plaza and linking the square to the UWT and museum campuses.

Expect to see an outdoor art gallery, vendor booths, a performance stage and a wine garden in Pacific Plaza proper; a beer garden, hot shop and food sampling court will be in close proximity. This is a great use for this great public space and deserves the community's fullest support--if you'd like to volunteer your time, talent or treasure, contact Amy McBride at the City of Tacoma or Phedra Redifer at Metro Parks.

The Downtown Tacoma BIA will be partnering to help promote this event, and we will continue to work on activiting Pacific Plaza the rest of the year!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Minding the Space

One of the key issues that arose out of last month's workshop with Project for Public Spaces is that of management for Pacific Plaza. Nobody is responsible--or funded--to activate the space with ongoing activities or to promote use of the space by other groups.

PPS is providing examples in its final report (to be released July 20th) of non-profit entities in other communities that may provide models for Pacific Plaza. Pioneer Courthouse Square (Portland, OR) was selected because it has a somewhat similar management entity potential. The organization is small, focused on one place, and uses a variety of events to attract people to use the space during different seasons.

BIA staff member Joanne Buselmeier is leading a committee that is looking at Pioneer Courthouse Square as a potential model and exploring its feasiblilty here. Her team will file a report here and at the event on July 20th.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Stairway to Seven

One keynote of the recent Project for Public Spaces workshop here in Tacoma was the concept called "The Power of Ten"--the idea that if downtown Tacoma had ten places that were fully "activated" then we would have that long-awaited critical mass, "a series of destinations where tourists and residents alike could become immersed in the city for days at a time". In keeping with our goal of maintaining and expanding the community process begun in the workshop, we've been identifying one place each Friday for the past six weeks, and we encourage your comments for or against each suggestion (or to suggest some place we haven't).

This week's place named (our seventh) is the UW Tacoma Grand Stair, the hillclimb through the University of Washington Tacoma campus connecting Pacific Ave. with Jefferson St. This space is one of the most highly trafficked in downtown, linking the campus library with administrative buildings, assembly halls and retail along Pacific. From time to time, various groups use the Stair to assemble for purposes approved by the university.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Release of PPS' Final Report

We've been asked to move up our preview of the final report from Project for Public Spaces before the Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee. That presentation is now set for next Tuesday afternoon, June 27th.

The final document will be released at a luncheon on Thursday, July 20th. At that time, we also hope to report on some efforts already getting underway to implement several of the key recommendations. We will--of course!--be previewing some of those efforts here between now and then...

If you'd like to attend the luncheon, please visit the BIA's website and follow directions there to register for the event.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Flags & Flowers Along the Way

Tacoma's Downtown BIA is making a commitment to improving the urban streetscape. This year's program includes $30,000 (about 4% of the total budget) for common area improvements related to streetscape (and excluding what we will spend this year on banners, another element of an attractive streetscape).

One expenditure is to fund hanging flower baskets throughout the city center. This week, City of Tacoma grounds crews started installing the brackets and hanging baskets all along Pacific Ave.

On a slightly different tangent, but related to common area improvements, funding has just been secured for the roughly $10,000 needed to replace and upgrade fencing along the northeast side of Fireman's Park. This improvement was recommended in the recent Community Policing Through Environmental Design (CPTED) review of the park; it will keep transients from scrambling up the hill from encampments alongside SR-704. Kudos to Hardy Hansen and Robert Luke at the City of Tacoma for pulling it all together!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Downtown Parking Forum

The Parking Advisory Committee, a group organized by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and recognized by the Tacoma City Council, invites business owners, employees, residents and others to join them for a Downtown Parking Forum:

Thursday, June 22nd
4:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Club Zoe (1710 S. Market St.)
Participation is free and open to the public

Participants can come for as long or as little a period of time as they wish during this three-hour event.

Members of the Parking Advisory Committee--representing all types of businesses, downtown residents, non-profit entities and others--will be on hand to talk with attendees one-on-one. Staff representatives from the City of Tacoma, Pierce Transit and Sound Transit will also be attending. Participants may progress from station to station in order to speak with committee members, hear about new technologies, discuss options for parking permits, explore new commute alternatives, and more...

Learn more about the complex topic of downtown parking, voice your kudos or concerns, ask questions--get involved!

A summary of all comments received during this forum will be compiled and presented to members of the Tacoma City Council.

Stay Tuned for More...

Many of our readers have been awaiting this announcement...

TV Tacoma indicates today that their Pacific Plaza story will be edited to run on the July CityScape. The standups for next month's show will be shot at the Farmers Market, so there is a nice connection to point out how creative thinking can breath life into downtown spaces.

Project for Public Spaces is finalizing their final report and we hope to present that document to the public in July, as well. Timing will probably tie to a presentation before the Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee that month.

Friday, June 16, 2006

This Great Space is Worth the Trip

Our recommendation this week for one of the ten great public spaces downtown is a bit remote from the other five we've noted to date, but it's marvelously active.

Growing in the literal shadow of the Tacoma Dome, Freighthouse Square is downtown's retail incubator (although no one would normally give it such a stuffy designation). When Keith Stone renovated the old freight storage buildings in the early 1990s, he was often criticized for setting up this development in a spot so remote from the city center, but today Tacoma Link provides the connection that ties everything together.

How does Freighthouse Square fit Project for Public Spaces' criteria for great public spaces?

First, it's accessible--in fact, Sound Transit has helped weave Freighthouse Square into the heart of downtown Tacoma's multimodal transportation center, the place where parking, transit, light rail and the daily Sounder trains all come together;

Second, people are engaged in activities there--not only does Freighthouse Square have a changing stable of emerging merchants that offer a lively shopping experience, but the management of the Tacoma Dome District uses the center as the staging area for a variety of festive events;

Third, the space is comfortable and has a good image--markedly improved with all of Sound Transit's capital investment in the surrounding area;

Fourth, this is a sociable space; one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit--judging from the lunch crowd on any given week day, this is happening!

Okay, so maybe it's not technically a public space (it's publicly accessible but not publicly owned), but here we have a large space that is active due to good design, a convergence of multiple uses, and management. Could this be a model for our other great spaces?

A Stumble in the Park

In an earlier post ("Rolling Forward on Skateboarding"), we discussed how most participants in the recent Project for Public Spaces workshop seemed to agree that some sort of "official" skateboarding facility downtown is desirable to help direct current activity.

This week, we are already seeing the results of our current lack of attention to this matter. A good deal of damage attributed to skateboarders occured during the past few days, as the pictures here show.

Note how the new railings leading up to the Marriott Hotel (above) have been stripped of paint and how these steps (below) in Pacific Plaza have been chipped by the impact of metal wheels . This is just some of the damage reported to us by BIA Maintenance, City of Tacoma gardening crews and the Tacoma Police Department.

We're told now that "No Skateboarding" signs have been ordered and will be posted in the park, but that's obviously a limited fix at best. The BIA Security Advisory Committee has invited skateboarding advocates to meet with them next month to discuss ways to address this continuing problem.

In the interim, we invite your comments. Tell us about damage you've seen or suggest solutions that can be put into place with some realistic hope of success. Leaving this issue alone will only lead to deterioration of our common urban spaces and degradation of our downtown.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Another Great Public Space (Number 5)

Each Friday, we have been selecting the ten great spaces in downtown Tacoma; our selection criteria are taken from principles that the Project for Public Spaces has found in successful places all over the world:
  1. They are accessible;
  2. People are engaged in activities there;
  3. The space is comfortable and has a good image;
  4. It is a sociable place--one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit.

To date, we have cited four public spaces: Pacific Plaza (the site for our recent placemaking workshop), Theater Square, Fireman's Park, and Wells Fargo Plaza.

Today, we nominate a fifth public space--the relatively new Foss Amphitheater (like last week's nomination, it officially has no name) down on the Thea Foss Waterway near Albers Mill. Looks like a great place to eat and enjoy the sun, hold a concert, etc. It's managed by the Thea Foss Owners Association, which would love to have more folks use it.

Of course, there's lots more to see and do on Tacoma's urban waterfront; Thea's Park and the plaza in front of the Museum of Glass are just two of the other spots open now. And more public space is coming, like the 15th St. Corridor that will be redeveloped in conjunction with the new condo project.

Rescuing Orphans in Toronto

A very entertaining article recently appeared in the Toronto Star about "orphan spaces"—those slices of cityscape, large and small, that have fallen off the map.

To address these urban odds and ends, the Clean and Beautiful City Secretariat (a division of city government) teams of designers, planners, engineers, students and artists and armed them with a tiny budget of $1,500 per ward. "You can make small, very tactical strikes in these neighbourhoods [sic] and, with a lot of sweat equity, actually make something happen," comments Ian Chodikoff, the editor of Canadian Architect magazine (who helped lead the team effort).

Is this a model that Tacoma should emulate? We certainly have an active professional community and funding that could come out of the Neighborhood Innovative Grant Program. My first nomination for such a program would be the space between the Rust Building and North Park Plaza (I assume this space has a name, but don't know what it is)...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Great Corporate Model

At first blush, it's probably no surprise that we like DaVita--after all, it is a Fortune 500 company that has a large and growing corporate presence in downtown Tacoma. We wouldn't be much of a business improvement area if we couldn't get behind that!

But there's even more to this company and its 600+ team members at the Western U.S. billing center here that puts DaVita high on our list of great corporate citizens. In its official statement of mission and values--which, like most large companies, includes laudable but unremarkable values like integrity and service--DaVita includes a rather unique one: fun! "We take our jobs seriously," the corporate statement notes, "but we feel a fun environment delivers better care to our patients while creating a better work environment for our teammates."

One way this value plays out in Tacoma and connects with our core value of putting more feet on ths street is how DaVita (unlike many corporate employment centers) eschewed a company cafeteria--the result is that every day hundreds of employees spill out at lunchtime to walk, eat, shop, visit, and recreate downtown outside their building.

Kudos to DaVita!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Fourth Great Public Space in Downtown Tacoma

This week's suggestion is a space that's widely used but rarely recognized: the Wells Fargo Plaza, the large open space to the west of the landmark 25-story office tower at 1201 Pacific Ave.

Part of the problem is that this space has no separate identity from the building. We might ask UNICO Properties, the owners of both properties, to put a separate moniker on their "to do" list. To UNICO's credit, though, is something that has not been true of any public space we've noted to date--in the best tradition of Project for Public Spaces, UNICO has actively programmed the space with a series of summer concert venues (running this year each Wednesday from July 12 through August 9).