Monday, December 31, 2007

Downtown Tacoma: Filling the Gaps

The Tacoma City Council envisions a broader but denser development pattern, linked by streetcars. Project Destiny looks forward to the Russell Investment Group occupying 1.2 million square feet in a new corporate headquarters, the jewel in a "re-positioned" downtown that is attractive and affordable to other corporate offices, as well. The BIA continues to encourage "more feet on the street" as the district prepares to kick off its third decade of service.

These are all facets of the same goal--to fill in the "dead spots" in downtown's built environment with more housing, shopping, offices and visitor attractions. Despite the very real success of local leaders since the mid-1990s, that remains a challenging assignment.

The superheated (some now are suggesting the term "overheated") downtown housing market of the past few years is finally cooling, but there's no consensus yet on how cold that trend will turn. There are some recent signs that at least a small rally may be developing, but sales have plummeted.

Next week's City Center Luncheon will present a panel discussion that may shed more light on future trends in the market but, for now, John Gillie's comprehensive feature in Sunday's edition of The News Tribune is a good snapshot of the current state of key developments. Gillie's "status check" of downtown projects tells him that 2008 can expect"a more measured pace of development,...more rental units instead of condos,...more office space construction and...more affordable condo conversions."

Tighter credit and slowing absorption of unsold units, Gillie contends, have caused developers "to slow down projects, redesign them to better fit market realities in Tacoma, and to slim the designs to make those projects more affordable in a market where construction costs have climbed steeply."

Friday, December 28, 2007

First Night: Back Again, Right on the Button!

Next Monday, New Year's Eve, will see the return of the First Night celebration to the heart of Tacoma's downtown Theatre District. First Night is an alcohol free celebration of the New Year, and also also a celebration of community, the arts, creativity, and diversity. This year's theme is "Year of the Pirate," and magicians, fire dancers and other acts will energize the streets where Main Stage entertainment, a host of artistic activities and a midnight fireworks display will be provided free to the public.

Purchase of a First Night button provides all-access admission to entertainment spanning seven venues, including:
  • Rhythms of Grammy Award winning recording artists in the Pantages Center;
  • Antics of Nellie the Performing Pig--who dazzled Leno, Letterman and Oprah--as she takes the stage at the Rialto Theater;
  • A scene from "Shakespeare in the Parking Lot" at Sanford & Son;
  • The Club SOTA Instrument Petting Zoo;
  • An opportunity to help create 1,000 cranes at the Asia Pacific Cultural Center.

The buttons also provide a free visit to the Museum of Glass and the Washington State History Museum between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. First Night button holders will also enjoy 15 percent savings while dining at Ravenous, Varsity Grill, India Mahal and Stadium Bistro. Appetizer specials are offered when showing the button at TwoKoi, El Toro or Galanga Thai, and Hello Cupcake is offering a two for one discount.

Buttons may be purchased in advance for $7.00 at Museum of Glass, Leroy Jewelers, Glenna's Clothing and Sanford & Son; on Monday, remaining buttons will be available at the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts box office (with the price then at $8.00). Kids ages 7 and under are admitted free to all venues.

The BIA is providing stepped up security patrols and cleaning to help make the evening brighter. The Tacoma Link light rail hours of operation will be extended until 1:00 a.m. Tuesday to accomodate First Night traffic.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Russell Exodus: How Real a Threat?

Yesterday's feature article in The News Tribune by Dan Voelpel made public an issue that many downtown leaders have struggled with for months--the potential exodus of the Russell Investment Group, its 1100 employees (currently spread over four buildings) and the potential utilization of 1.2 million square feet of office space.

Russell’s major leases in Tacoma expire in 2013--a strategic corporate move to consolidate operations. At that time, the company has three options:
  • Add on to the current 'A' St. headquarters;
  • Build a high-rise office tower elsewhere in Tacoma;
  • Build a high-rise office tower or a low-rise corporate campus elsewhere in the Puget Sound region.
For several months now, City of Tacoma and private leaders have been mobilizing a "full court press" to make one of the first two options the preferred one for Russell. Among the strategies in play are efforts to find Russell a suitable site to construct a new corporate headquarters, new tax-incentive legislation, development of a parking system/streetcar network, greater height limits on skyscrapers, and a campaign to reposition downtown Tacoma as attractive and affordable to other corporate office users. It's also part of the impetus behind the Creative Cities Project, which has aimed to give Tacoma more of an edge in the increasing world competition for knowledge workers.

Friday, December 21, 2007

North End: Are Things Getting Better?

It may be too soon yet to get excited, but there are several indications that public disorder in the north end of downtown is easing.

Efforts begun or realigned as a result of October's 9th & Pacific Community Forum seem to be bearing fruit. Public telephones in the vicinity--which often seem to serve only those who want to break (or at least severely bend) the law--have been removed. The D Town Market--by all accounts a center for disorder--has been closed due to several code violations. Area residents and businesses have noted a visible increase in police patrols--which some link to the assignment of the new Sector One Commander, Lt. Shawn Gustason--and a precipitous drop in the "nuisance traffic" that has come to characterize that area for so many previous months.
"[A] message is sent to bad guys that it's not a smart move to try and get away with nuisance and criminal activity because the community, police, and the BIA are watching and working together to keep the neighborhood safe," observes Laura Hanan, an area resident and activist.
Credit needs to be directed towards Community Liaison Officer Rob Luke, who has helped orchestrate activities like the code review, and his fellow officers. Credit is also due to Safe Streets and the management of the Winthrop and Olympus hotels, all of whom are cooperating to address internal security issues that, too often in the past, have spilled out onto the streets. And credit is deserved by all north end community members, who are acting effectively to organize and take back those streets.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Business Comes to the Commute Redux Table--Big Time

As Downtown Tacoma experiences an overall tightening of parking supply due to office and residential growth, municipal leaders have initiated broad-based community discussions about mobility and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber has empowered a broad stakeholder group—the Transit & Parking Committee. In 2008, City and transit officials are planning to launch a new push to get daily commuters out of their own cars and into alternatives.

Local business leaders are also coming to the table with a new program--Destination Downtown Door-to-Door (DDDD or "D squared"). The program takes its name both from Tacoma’s current urban center plan (“Destination Downtown”) and from a repeated observation by City Manager Eric Anderson (derived from the ongoing series of public forums he has been facilitating around downtown parking and transit issues) that an effective transportation demand program will provide downtown stakeholders with a variety of travel choices “from door to door.”

Between now and May 31, 2009, Destination Downtown Door-to-Door will help eliminate 300 daily commute trips to and from downtown Tacoma. The new program will be coordinated by the Chamber but is a collaborative effort with Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, the City of Tacoma, and individual businesses and property owners. Funding for the program is derived from the Trip Reduction Performance Program (TRPP) of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Destination Downtown Door-to-Door augment the resources of city government and local/regional transit agencies already dedicated to commute trip reduction with currently unavailable or underutilized resources from the private sector. The new program will add to existing commute trip reduction efforts in these ways:

  • Provide incentives and transit subsidies to more downtown employees and residents;
  • Build excitement and awareness through new venues such as monthly “Commuter Club” socials and educational meetings;
  • Engage “buy in” from business leaders at the highest levels;
  • Broaden the appeal of alternatives through use of highly visible promotions and expand marketing efforts to include non-affected employers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tacoma Set to Strengthen Commute Alternatives Push

Continuing growth in downtown Tacoma requires creative new strategies, including Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) as a means to better manage parking demand and build market share for commute alternatives. A big push to encourage downtown workers to leave more of their cars at home is being planned for 2008.

Statewide, CTR programs--mandated for major employers (i.e., those with 100+ at a worksite)--remove approximately 20,000 vehicles from roadways every morning, reduce air pollution by 3,200 tons every year, and save 6.5 million gallons of petroleum annually. More than 1,100 worksites participate in programs. These companies encourage employees to find alternatives to driving alone, such as working from home, using an alternative work schedule, vanpooling, riding the bus, walking or riding a bicycle.

By 2020, Tacoma’s downtown area is expected to add 11,600 jobs (Puget Sound Regional Council estimate). Given current commute patterns, accommodating this growth will require creation of more than 11,000 new parking stalls (at a cost of more than $200 million); increasing transit use by 4% over the same period will save Tacoma more than $9 million.

As the City of Tacoma moves forward on parking & transit recommendations made by the City Manager--as well as the ongoing work of the Transit & Parking Advisory Committee--commute trip reduction efforts are essential to managing demand for parking and increasing mobility. CTR offers other benefits, including:
  • Increased ability to strategically address new regulations from the state and federal levels (i.e., new, higher attainment standards for clean air);
  • Building stakeholder support for new technologies and funding methods (e.g., pay stations);
  • Allowing support for new development without raiding the general fund to build more parking structures;
  • Helping to conserve road surfaces, parking spaces and fuel resources;
  • Improving competitiveness versus other downtowns in the Northwest;
  • Providing a foundation for introduction of new services (e.g., Flexcar);
  • Reducing emission of greenhouse gases to help forestall global warming;
  • Giving downtown workers the precious gift of more time and a better quality of life.

The City of Tacoma already sponsors a CTR program that includes transit and vanpool subsidies which employers can offer as an employee benefit. Another outgrowth of the City's program has been development of a Growth Transportation Efficiency Center (GTEC) plan for downtown to further reduce solo commute trips. Recently, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) approved $300,000 to fund implementation of the plan, which will focus on University of Washington Tacoma students and faculty, new residential development in the north end of downtown, and smaller clustered employers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Code Enforcement Blocks Traffic, Sidewalks at Luzon

A City of Tacoma Streets and Grounds crew will be working at the Luzon Building (1302 Pacific Ave.) this Saturday as part of a code enforcement effort by the Building and Land Use division to secure the building.

Workers will be installing concrete barriers around the building on Saturday from 7:30 a.m. until completion, which is expected by 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. Traffic will be flagged for short periods of time on 13th between Pacific and Commerce, and then on Pacific Avenue as the blocks are brought out to the street to set them. The crew will also be setting up temporary sidewalk closures, one to direct pedestrians across 13th at Commerce for foot traffic down Pacific, and the other at 14th & Pacific on the west side to direct pedestrians across since the walk will be blocked at 13th.

For more details about the project, contact Rich Barber at (253) 591-5497.

Inspection Closes D Town Market

Pursuing stepped up and coordinated inspections--like those that resulted in the closure of McCabe’s American Music Cafe last month--Tacoma Police will announce later today that a similar effort has led to forced closure of the D Town Market at the corner of 9th & Commerce.
City officials forced D Town to close earlier today after inspections revealed several code violations.

D Town has been an above average generator of calls for service to both police and BIA patrols for the past few years. Owners of the Winthrop Hotel evicted D Town from their property in 2005, after which the store moved across the street to its present location.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

City Council Eyes Sidewalk Vending Rules

The Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee will review proposed changes to Tacoma's sidewalk vending ordinance at their meeting this afternoon.

The BIA has worked with City staff to generate a number of changes, including:
  • Reducing the number of businesses and/or property owners who must grant permission for vendors to operate;
  • Simplifying and clarifying design standards for sidewalk vending units;
  • Allowing vending from more than one location;
  • Allowing vendors more opportunity to "cluster" their units;
  • Loosening restrictions on height and prescribed type of vending unit;
  • Adding a 30-day notice requirement for removal of permission by abutting property owners;
  • Maintaining the $500,000 insurance requirement--most other jurisdictions require $1 million or more.

While those involved in the proposal believe that these changes will make it easier for vendors to operate, they do not constitute any "magic bullet" for sidewalk selling. The insurance requirement still poses a barrier for fledgling vendor, and significant issues still remain with requirements placed on food vendors by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. City officials have asked the BIA to consider service as the master vendor, holding licenses for all sidewalk sellers in downtown.

Ultimately, the potential volume of customers on downtown sidewalks will drive the deployment of vendors--"more feet on the street," the focus of so much that the BIA does. The tweaks set out for review today will help lower the cost for those deployments.

Monday, November 26, 2007

City Council Addresses Noise, Curfew, Sounder Routing Tomorrow

Members of the Tacoma City Council will address several issues tomorrow that are of interest to downtown stakeholders.

First, the Council will hear a presentation on alternatives for routing Sounder service through the Dome District--an issue that's generated plenty of controversy during the past few months.

Later, the Council will hold a public hearing on proposed amendments to Title 8 of the Municipal Code that may help control noise. During that same evening meeting, city leaders will consider whether or not to continue the curfew--originally put in place back in 1994--that regulates activities of juveniles from 12:01 to 6:00 a.m.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Demand Remains High for Tacoma Office Space

While lease rates remain largely flat around the South Sound (despite a continuing decrease in available space), demand is highest for spaces in the greater Tacoma area, according to Colliers International's third quarter real estate report.

Downtown Tacoma and Gig Harbor tied for the highest average rental rates for full-service Class C office space; both markets reported rates at about $19 per square foot. Higher-end Class B spaces were going for up to $23.50, with the highest rates found in Fife and Gig Harbor. Puyallup and Sumner posted the highest rates for professional-grade Class A office space at $28.25 per square foot.

One big factor in the rate increase has been an increase in medical offices siting in the area.

Friday, November 16, 2007

'D' St. Overpass Nears Completion

The 'D' St. overpass project--connecting Puyallup Ave. to Dock St. over the Burlington Northern rail right-of-way via a new bridge--is beginning to take its final shape.

The support columns are in place with the bridge deck on top. Half the soil earth walls have been constructed to meet the elevation of the bridge deck and the roadway surface is beginning to be placed on the southern approach from Puyallup Ave. Streetscape improvements have occurred along Puyallup Avenue, including new curbs, utilities, asphalt, sidewalks and trees. MidMountain Contractors, Inc. is currently creating traffic barriers for the overpass in the shape of tugboats to pay homage to the Thea Foss Waterway. Three overlooks will also be constructed to include interpretive panels that describe the history, geography and cultural richness of this area.

For the remaining months of this project, the contractor will work to open the first half of the overpass, two lanes of traffic going north and south, by the end of December or January. Once that has occurred, the contractor will begin final construction of the second half of the overpass, two more lanes, leading to completion.

Once completed, the $24.5 million project will separate train and motor vehicle traffic by raising the roadway over the railroad tracks. The overpass will provide for realignment of the railroad tracks to ease the curve around the end of the Thea Foss Waterway—allowing train traffic to move at a higher speed. Vehicle traffic, which includes trucks carrying freight, no longer will need to wait for the trains that presently close off 'D' St. to traffic. The project also will create a pedestrian connection between the Dome District and the Thea Foss Waterway esplanade and parks.

Can You Hear Me--Not!

One of the concerns noted during the recent 9th & Pacific Community Forum was in regards to nighttime noise impacts; currently, the City of Tacoma has limited options for managing noise pollution.

On Tuesday, November 27th, beginning at approximately 5:30 p.m., the Tacoma City Council will conduct a public hearing on proposed amendments to Title 8 of the Municipal Code that may help control noise.

This hearing will take place in the City Council Chambers on the first floor of the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market St. Those wishing to submit written comments may do so at the public hearing or by submitting them to the City Clerk’s Office at 747 Market Street, Room 220 by 4:00 p.m. on November 27th. For further information or additional questions on the proposed amendments, please contact Charlie Solverson at (253) 591-5017.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is There Light at the End of This Tunnel?

Earlier posts here have examined the continuing controversy around Sound Transit's plans to route Sounder through the south end of downtown Tacoma. The route through the Dome District is part of a larger plan, approved by the region's voters in 1996, to extend commuter rail service to South Tacoma and Lakewood. This extension was originally scheduled to be finished in 2001 but has been delayed now to debut no sooner than 2011 or early 2012. Construction is already under way on the Lakewood Sounder station, and construction will begin early next year on the South Tacoma station.

Despite the delay, Sound Transit continues to face controversy over the 1.2-mile segment between the Tacoma Dome Station and 'M' St. where the agency must build new track. The route decision has struggled through numerous community meetings and various proposals and counter-proposals, culminating in the two latest proposals
  • Crossing Pacific Avenue on an overpass, displacing six businesses, lowering Pacific and several lesser streets;
  • Crossing Pacific at street level, displacing seven businesses, and raise Pacific and several other streets.

Both options would involve closing part of 'A' St. between 25th and 26th.

Sound Transit’s board is due to select a final route through downtown Tacoma on December 13th, and pressure is mounting to move ahead with the decison. Continued delay not only impedes the onset of service to Lakewood but further tarnishes the agency's reputation for delivering projects on time--arguably, a lack of public confidence in the agency may have contributed to the recent failure of the Roads & Transit proposal.

Timing is not the only factor at risk. Track and signal work on the Tacoma Dome to Lakewood extension originally was estimated to cost $148 million; however, because of the debate over the route and construction delays, the cost is expected to rise $65 million to $75 million.

Those opposing the recommended options believe that an extenuated public process will bring out better ideas for what will be a "once in our lifetimes" decision.

Sound Transit will hold an open house Thursday to answer questions about the Sounder route and other proposed service changes. The open house will run from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the Phoenix Room at Freighthouse Square (440 E. 26th St.).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Portland Offers Smarter Parking Via Technology

In an earlier post, the BIA Blog explored how several cities across America are using new technology and new approaches to effect what amounts to a virtual revolution in parking. One of those cities--Portland, OR--is deploying cutting-edge technology to help alleviate its parking problems and the congestion associated with the search for parking spots.

SmartPark, Portland's parking contractor, is preparing to launch a pilot program that will track and relay real-time information about parking locations at three city-managed locations downtown. The new system will use sensors to track use of parking spaces and relay the information to electronic signs on the front of each parking garage, as well as to a temporary sign addressing drivers headed downtown on the Morrison Bridge.

Portland's system is based upon mature technology. Earlier this year, the Federal Highway Administration released a study showing how real-time parking systems benefit downtown businesses. In 2002, the German Ministry of Education and Research released a report demonstrating how real-time parking space information can drastically reduce traffic congestion. Several systems operating in different parts of the United States seem to offer greater customer satisfaction, as well as increased revenues through better utilization of parking facilities.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Three Ways to Improve Transportation Downtown

Getting into and around Tacoma's City Center may get easier in the near future due to three initiatives announced during the past week.

The Transit & Parking Committee organized by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber has released the latest version of its white paper offering stakeholder suggestions on how to improve transportation services downtown. This report augments the recommendations made last week by City Manager Eric Anderson.

The Committee is also working with the Chamber to launch a new program: Destination Downtown Door-to-Door. This program will build momentum—augmenting current CTR programs that already promote use of excellent local and regional transit services—to promote awareness and utilization of commute options. A long-term goal for this project is to establish the organizational foundation for a sustainable transportation management program serving downtown Tacoma’s various stakeholders, envisioned as a cooperative effort between the Chamber, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, the City of Tacoma, and individual businesses and property owners.

One key commute option for downtown employees, residents and visitors--and one that has enjoyed record-breaking success since its deployment--is the Link. One of Link's weaknesses, however, is that it has stopped running by 8:00 p.m., making it a poor choice for students (classes generally run until 9:00) or for patrons of restaurants, bars and/or cultural centers.

Until now, that is. Earlier this week, Sound Transit announced that it is looking to expand the light rail system's hours until 10:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Public comment is needed to secure this service change.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Protestors Promise to "Shut Down" Tacoma's City Center

Next Friday, November 9th, several loosely-organized groups plan to stage a protest regarding the Northwest Detention Center in the Tacoma Tideflats. Beginning around 11:00 a.m. in Tollefson Plaza, activities are expected to continue through the next day (Saturday). Although the official protest will occur at S. 17th and Pacific Ave. as permitted for this activity, information distributed by some groups participating in the event promote “other forms of protest and resistance [to] start when ever and where ever those who plan them decide"--often a code for disruptive, even violent behavior. Some of the groups involved in this activity may have been involved in the protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization a few years ago.

"We plan on shutting down the downtown area of Tacoma to send a very clear message that will be heard by the powers that be, that we do not want this detention facility anywhere near us and our communities,” information posted by protest organizers states. "We plan on sending a very visible, clear message by not allowing business as usual to happen on these days.”

A rumor has begun making the rounds that merchants and others downtown should close for the day and board up windows--this is decidedly not the case. What is recommended by Tacoma Police and other security professionals is for stakeholders to be especially aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious happenings to Tacoma Police at (253) 798-4721 or the BIA at (253) 383-1131. Stakeholders should also report any suspicious items that may be laying around--such as lumber, pipes (especially pipes with bolts inside), chains, or weapons; protest preparation may be hidden downtown up to a week in advance of the scheduled activities.

TPD specifically asks that loose items such as sandwich boards, signs, tables and chairs, be put away during Friday and Saturday to alleviate any opportunity for destruction.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Stakeholder Input on Parking

City Manager Eric Anderson's presentation yesterday to members of the Tacoma City Council really just began the public process to develop a final action plan for City of Tacoma leaders.

The Transit & Parking Committee has reworked its stakeholder recommendations, and the most important findings are as follows:

  • As downtown Tacoma continues to grow and increase in development density, the City needs to maximize the effective deployment of transit services and other commute options, and to maximize coordination between transit services and parking operations;

  • An effective downtown transportation plan should be developed that considers pedestrian, bicycle, carpool, vanpool, bus, rail, Flexcar and parking as coordinated elements of a strategic transportation system;

  • Consistent, robust communication with stakeholders—the users of transit and parking services downtown, as well as equally strong communication between agencies and between City departments—will be critical to successful implementation of such policies; the City, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and downtown stakeholders should institute a Downtown Transit & Parking Panel to foster regular communication and facilitate collaborative decision-making among parking facilities managers, parking enforcement personnel, commute trip reduction specialists, transit providers, security professionals and a broad representation of stakeholders;

  • By 2020, Tacoma’s downtown area is projected to add 11,600 jobs (an estimate from the Puget Sound Regional Council); at the current level (roughly 5%) of transit use, accommodating this growth will require creation of 11,020 new parking stalls--by way of comparison, this is nearly five times the number of spaces currently existing at Tacoma Dome Station--but increasing transit use by just 4% over the same period would save the community more than $9 million.
The Transit & Parking Advisory Committee is also working with the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber to launch a new program: Destination Downtown Door-to-Door. This program will build momentum—augmenting current CTR programs that already promote use of excellent local and regional transit services—to promote awareness and utilization of commute options.

The full set of recommendations will be out later this week.

What City Leaders Heard

Yesterday was a day for stakeholders to sound off on a number of issues that will drive downtown Tacoma's future development. What did members of the Tacoma City Council hear?

City Manager Eric Anderson presented his final set of recommendations regarding future parking and transit needs, including:
  • Streetcars designed to share the streets with cars and bikes and buses, unlike Sound Transit's Link, which is separated from other vehicles;
  • A citywide system of dedicated paths for bicycles and pedestrians;
  • Pay stations levying “market rate” charges to park on the street, with prices varying based on the section of downtown and the time of day;
  • More parking garages spread around the fringes of downtown rather than taking up valuable real estate in the city’s core;
  • Parking revenues directed into a separate enterprise fund, rather than the city's general fund;
  • Elimination of city-mandated parking requirements--or at least a cap on the number of parking spaces required.

Anderson’s report lacked specifics about funding, timing and other details. If the City Council approves of the broad outline, he recommended forming an advisory committee to figure out how to implement the ideas. It could be nine months to a year before anything final comes to the City Council for approval.

Following the transit and parking report, Anderson laid out the costs to Tacoma of cutting off the access between downtown and the Tideflats via the decaying Murray Morgan Bridge--and he made it clear that he expects the state to pay for them.

It used to take a police cruiser five minutes to get from downtown Tacoma to the Tideflats; since the emergency closure of the bridge last week, the length of that journey has increased by seven minutes and by more than three miles. The city has added one fire engine and an extra police officer to limit the bridge closure’s effect on emergency response times, but the extra units will cost the city about $190,000 a month in overtime pay and equipment costs.

Residents and property owners on both sides of a controversial proposal to raise the allowed building height along a portion of the Thea Foss Waterway testified later in the day before the City Council. The proposal would allow a tall, skinny approach dubbed a “tower/podium” building form. Approved by the Tacoma Planning Commission following a lengthy public process, the proposal would allow only one tower in a project to be 180 feet tall; additional towers would get progressively shorter by 20 feet. It also would require an average 100 feet of space between towers to preserve view corridors.

The council is scheduled to hear a first reading of a proposed ordinance November 13th and could finalize action on November 27th.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sound Off! on Downtown Issues Today

This is a big day for advocacy with members of the Tacoma City Council as they consider several critical issues that may have critical impact upon downtown's future development:
  • City Manager Eric Anderson will offer his final recommendations regarding downtown parking and transit at the weekly Study Session today, beginning at 12 Noon; that meeting is also scheduled to include an update from the police and fire departments regarding the impact of the closure of the Murray Morgan Bridge on emergency response times;
  • Tonight's City Council meeting will include a public hearing regarding height limits for new construction on the Thea Foss Waterway--the first test of the Council's intent to pursue their policy decision last year to densify downtown; that portion of the meeting is set to begin at 5:30 p.m.;
  • Later, City Council members will consider a resolution that could enable an option agreement and development agreement with Winthrop Hotel LLC to sell City-owned property at S. 35th St. & Pacific Ave. for the construction of mixed-income housing--the first step in disaggregating the concentrated low income housing project at 9th & Commerce;
  • City Council members are also scheduled to consider a resolution that would approve a development agreement and $1.65 million loan agreement with the Gintz Group LLC to help facilitate the acquisition and renovation of the historic Luzon Building at S. 13th St. & Pacific Ave.

Monday, October 29, 2007

People Who Stay in Glass Hotels...

Next March is the official opening date for Hotel Murano (formerly the Sheraton Tacoma Hotel), decked out with works of (world class) glass from more than forty artists from around the world. Works by native son Dale Chihuly and other notables will help showcase the ongoing multimillion-dollar makeover of downtown’s largest and most distinguished hotel---and the emerging district around it. Hotel Murano even has an art curator, Tessa Papas--how many lodging facilities can make that claim?

It's no secret that the area around the hotel has undergone a stunning transformation in just the past few years. The BIA and other parties are now involved in helping to align this significant new private venture with public and nonprofit investments in Tacoma’s brand as a center for glass art. Hotel Murano's glass art will help tie key locations like the Museum of Glass and its distinctive cone-shaped hot shop, the Tacoma Art Museum’s collection of early Chihuly works, and the Bridge of Glass into one conceptual whole. It's also one more reason to brand Tacoma as one of America's most creative cities.

Featured artists include Chihuly, Hiroshi Yamano of Japan, Richard Whiteley of Australia, Miriam de Fiore of Italy, Karen La Monte of the Czech Republic, Vibeke Skov of Denmark, Janusz Walentynowicz of Poland, and Costas Varotsos of Greece, among others.

Admittedly, March is a long time to wait to experience the excitement; fortunately, Hotel Murano maintains the Looking Glass, a blog celebrating the hotel's renovation and promoting positive happenings throughout downtown.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another Shooting Downtown

Three people were injured--one critically – early Thursday in what Tacoma police describe as a gang-related shooting outside a downtown nightclub. A lone gunman fired into a crowd of 50-60 people milling around the parking lot at closing time at McCabe’s American Music Cafe, injuring three people. McCabe's has been the site of several incidents over the past few years, including a fatal shooting in 2002.

The City of Tacoma has regulatory zoning--unlike many other cities (such as Seattle)--that allows then City great discretion over business' licensing. Well-run businesses are always concerned about their impact upon neighboring properties and the community in general. Tacoma Police and other city officials should examine McCabe's situation carefully--hopefully with the unflinching cooperation of the current owners--and take action to maintain a safe but vital downtown.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More on 9th & Pacific

Participants in last week's 9th & Pacific Community Forum raised a number of issues that needed clarification and/or action:
  • It has been observed by residents and businesses alike that transients and “bad element” people get off the Link (light rail) at the end-of-the-line stop at 9th & Commerce and start being a nuisance after 8:00 p.m. Has Sound Transit given any thought to discontinuing free rides on the Link?
  • Laura Hanan, owner of the Rowland Building on Pacific, asked if BIA could change its late shift to end at 4:00 a.m. (currently, it ends at 3:00 a.m.). BIA committed to look into ending the shift at a later time based upon review of incidents reported between 3:00 and 4:00 during weeks when patrols were out then.
  • Pierce Transit and Sound Transit are negotiating regarding ridership exclusion--individuals who have been expelled from either agency's public transportation will be excluded from both through a communication and identification process. When will this safeguard be (back) in place?
  • Cheryl Gorsuch (co-owner of Sanford & Son, has lived above the store for almost 20 years) reports that after the Link stops running--any night of the week--is when the street disorder becomes visible. She regularly calls 911 or TPD non-emergency number to report suspicious activity. Gorsuch suggested a 50-cent charge for riding the Link, thinking this will eliminate last riders staying in the residential/business end of downtown and keep them nearer the Tacoma Rescue Mission at night. Is this feasible for Sound transit to implement?
  • Though Sound Transit has installed dusk-to-dawn lights on its Link stations, some building owners refuse to do so; consequently, it is pitch black in areas along Commerce at night. Lt. Darlington will revisit building owners along the stretch of Commerce to talk to them about crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) improvements.
  • Sound Transit is currently planning to install video surveillance equipment at all stations; all trains have taped video surveillance. Pierce Transit has CCTV installed throughout the downtown transit center. BIA is working with the City of Tacoma and private property owners to fund cameras at corners where nuisance complaints are high, adding real-time video to enforcement efforts.
  • Lt. Darlington explained that “non-traditional policing” is necessary due to the low number of patrol officers (no more than five at any given time in his sector, which includes downtown, the Tideflats, Northest Tacoma and Hilltop). From time to time, TPD may deploy Special Emphasis Teams (SET) whereby units are focused to one problem area at a time instead of sweeping the whole area. BIA is negotiating with the City of Tacoma to fund one additional dedicated officer, which would allow for more robust swing shift coverage.
This blog will give a progress report on these identified issues as more information becomes available.

Thanks to Kala Dralle, City of Tacoma Community & Economic Development Department, for her notes which are the basis for this post and yesterday's post.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Murray Morgan Bridge Closed

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) announced today that the 94-year old Murray Morgan Bridge has been closed to all vehicular traffic. Traffic--estimated to be about 1,300 vehicles daily--headed across the Thea Foss Waterway is being routed over the nearby SR-509 bridge.

During the past few weeks, WSDOT bridge engineers have been conducting a comprehensive inspection of the bridge. They found additional structural deterioration and determined that the bridge must be closed to vehicular traffic to ensure public safety; pedestrians and bicyclists will still be allowed to use the bridge for the time being.

Opened to traffic in 1913, the bridge was built to provide access from the downtown area to the industrial area in the Tideflats. As early as 1997, the City of Tacoma and WSDOT began discussions about the future of this corridor and whether to replace, rehabilitate or remove this structure. In 2002, WSDOT reduced the bridge from four lanes to two lanes and imposed a 10-ton weight limit to prohibit all heavy vehicles, except emergency response vehicles, from crossing the bridge.

Recap of 9th & Pacific Community Forum (I)

BIA Staff and Tacoma Police updated participants at last week's community forum about how conditions have changed since March 2006 (18 months). A progress report was distributed at the meeting, which showed that many of the 22 problems identified by the New Tacoma Neighborhood Council seem to have been fixed. Only two situations--both concerning crime at the corner of 9th & Commerce--were considered worse than before.

Several items generated comments:
  • Lt. Corey Darlington (District 1 Commander) observed that pay phones owned by tenants and/or property owners should only be placed in a location with continuous security monitoring, lest they become a nuisance; he reported that the phones at the Pantages and Theater on the Square have been removed;
  • An attorney representing homeless and low income residents in Tacoma maintained that pay phones are the only means of communication for his clients and others like them, and he opposed the suggestion that all pay phones should be removed;
  • A representative from Safe Streets announced that both the Winthrop and the Olympus are organizing crime watch activities in their respective buildings;
  • Deanna Neidlinger of Brick CITY took offense at the suggestion that Club Friday kids use intimidation, but BIA indicated that this problem has completely gone away since the report was done;
  • Erica Valley, on site manager for the Winthrop, complained that calling up to residents continues to be a nuisance, and reported that she has asked her tenants to organize and help abate the problem—this effort received acknowledgement.

Assistant Chief Sheehan referred to a draft “Downtown Strategic Plan” created by Lt. Darlington recommending strategies to reduce or eliminate criminal and nuisance behavior in the 9th & Pacific area. It mentions the Martin Luther King Jr. Center as a contributing element to ongoing security problems.

A document showing the volume of BIA security calls for service in early 2006, compared against current incidents, was also shared. It showed a significant drop in calls for service in the area.

Tomorrow: Impact of clubs is debated

Monday, October 22, 2007

Results From Third Round of Downtown Parking & Transit Meetings

City of Tacoma staff have posted answers for the questions posed by members of the downtown community during the third round of parking and transit meetings with City Manager Eric Anderson, held in August and September. Although attendance at the public forums was considerably reduced from that at the beginning of this year, the questions were much more detailed than in the two previous rounds of meetings.

Anderson plans to submit his final recommendations to members of the Tacoma City Council at their Study Session on October 30th.

A set of recommendations from the Transit & Parking Advisory Committee organized by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber is expected to be released prior to that date; it will update stakeholder recommendations regarding parking and transit issues.

Friday, October 19, 2007

On the Horizon: a Parking Revolution?

Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson will present his final recommendations on downtown parking to members of the City Council at their Study Session on October 30th. The Transit & Parking Advisory Committee, a stakeholder group organized by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, will be presenting its final recommendations at roughly that same time.

Meanwhile, several cities across America are using new technology and new approaches to effect what amounts to a virtual revolution in parking. The BIA Blog's sister site On RAMP has the details.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Here, Neighbor--Catch This Brick!

Last evening's 9th & Pacific Public Forum was well-attended and laid a good foundation for future collective effort. The BIA and Tacoma police reported back to the community on the progress made in addressing nuisance behavior in this area--it has been substantial--and stakeholders began some constructive dialog around how to address what still needs to be done.

Inevitably, debate flared up about Brick CITY (spelled correctly to reflect that it stands for Community Impact Through Youth) and its impacts on surrounding businesses and residents. Reporter Scott Fontaine's recap in The News Tribune today fairly reflects the light--and heat--thrown out by participants in the forum.

The BIA has agreed to post results from the event here on this blog, as well as providing an online forum for continuing discussion of the situation in the area.

Also reported by

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Go Local Passport Wraps Tomorrow

The end-of-season Go Local! Passport celebration will take place tomorrow in conjunction with the Tacoma Farmers Market in Theater Square. The five-month project encouraged people to shop locally--thousands of Passports featuring thirty local businesses on a downtown Tacoma map were offered to local shoppers. Participating retailers would stamp the Passport when presented by shoppers and provide value-added offers such as discounts or complimentary services.

The event will run between 12 noon and 2:00 p.m. tomorrow--and it represents the community’s final opportunity to win prizes, with one lucky person taking home the end-of-season grand prize.

The Go Local! Passport idea was conceived by Leadership Tacoma 2007. The Passport was a successful collaboration between the BIA, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Pierce Transit, the Downtown Merchants Group, and Tacoma Farmers Market. Additional thanks are due to Simpson Tacoma Kraft, the gurus, Franciscan Health System, United Way of Pierce County, and Venture Bank for their support.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Luzon at the 'Tipping Point'

Dan Voelpel's column in Sunday's edition of The News Tribune announces what may be a crucial "tipping point" for efforts to restore the Luzon Building, an 1890 Burnham & Root building listed on the national, state, and city registers of historic places.

The current owner--Oakland-based Horizon Partners--is reportedly ready to part with the Luzon for $75,000 and throw in a 14-foot-wide strip of the parking lot next door as a buyer bonus. Horizon currently has one potential buyer expressing interest: the Gintz Group, a Tacoma development company currently restoring the former Mecca Theater building on Broadway.

Several years ago, the listing of this building by the BIA as one of downtown's "Neglected Nine" helped to forestall its complete collapse, but the building is clearly once again at a crossroads now due to significant ongoing deterioration. The effort may hinge upon the City of Tacoma issuing a no-interest loan for $1.65 million.

The loan will be on the agenda for the Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee on October 23rd, and before the full City Council for action on October 30th.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cleaner Water--CAN IT Work?

Several downtown stakeholders have reported the strange, cylindrical objects that appeared this week on the sidewalk outside the post office--since they are gun metal gray, some observers have been worried that these were some kind of terrorist device.

While these devices are indeed enlisted in battle, it's the battle for cleaner water, and the devices are being deployed by the City of Tacoma. Their purpose? To capture discarded cigarette butts. Littered cigarette butts create unsightly litter and can contaminate the ecosystem when washed off streets and sidewalks through the storm system and into local waterways. The program is titled "CAN IT: Keep your butts out of the bay."

From September through November, City crews will place approximately 20 new "butt cans" in strategic locations and will also work with businesses to add cigarette receptacles to areas where their employees or customers routinely smoke. The City will also be distributing educational materials and personal ashtrays to help promote proper disposal of used cigarette butts and keep the related toxins out of the local waterways. Sediment traps in the storm water system will be tested to see if the extra effort reduces levels of certain contaminants associated with cigarette butt litter.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Three Ways to Research Downtown Housing

Tacoma's downtown skyline is changing daily with the development of chic condominiums, stylish townhouses and trendy apartments. As a potential new resident, how does someone research the available choices?

Here are three opportunities available this week:
  1. Meet those who already live downtown at the Block Tie Affair from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. tomorrow night at the Washington State History Museum (1911 Pacific Ave.)--this is an opportunity for downtowners to meet face-to-face while enjoying appetizers and entertainment from local musicians, and the Tacoma Link will continue to operate until 10:00 p.m.;

  2. The annual Tour of Urban Living this weekend can get potential residents inside sixteen urban properties currently for sale or lease; the free, self-guided tour runs from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. both days;

  3. Visit CondoCompare online--this is a relatively new website dedicated to the condominium market across the Northwest; the site allows visitors to compare interesting properties (although it lacks the designation for Tacoma - Downtown that most local customers will no doubt want to see).

Friday, October 05, 2007

Community Forum - 9th & Commerce Area

Yesterday's post on the need for a common strategy around 9th & Commerce has already engendered at least one response.

The New Tacoma Neighborhood Council and the Downtown Merchants Group have taken up the challenge by organizing a community forum where they will be examining the current conditions and their social and economic impacts:
October 17th
6:00 p.m.
Sanford & Son Antiques (734 Broadway) - Library Room

Attendees will be asked to explore both short and long term solutions--the goal will be the elimination of nuisance behavior in the neighborhood.

Please RSVP to:

Marty Campbell
Chair, New Tacoma Neighborhood Council
Phone: (253) 376-3774

Patricia Lecy-Davis
President, Downtown Merchants Group

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Need: One Strategy

Street disorder in approximately a one-block radios around 9th & Commerce continues to fester. It's not the first time that a portion of downtown Tacoma has suffered with a "hot spot" for unsavory behavior--and this community has learned some valuable lessons along the way.

What's different this time is that we have yet to have all parties agree on a concerted strategy for addressing the problem. The flurry of e-mails and meetings that continue to fire demands at various parties are more a cry for help than a proposed course of action--that takes engagement from everyone who wants to be part of the solution. Some would discount the real progress already made by the new ownership at the Winthrop Hotel, disparage the efforts of Tacoma Police and the BIA to manage street activity, or cynically suggest that the Olympus Hotel is unmanageable no matter who is the owner.

It's time to get past all that. We need a renewed commitment from residents, property owners, clubs and bars, Brick CITY, merchants and others to come to the table, honestly explore differences, and form a consensus on how to take back this area from the undesirable elements that currently seem to have a majority some hours of the day. The discussion needs to progress from "we could move forward if only THEY were gone" to "here's how we can help all of US move forward"--and it needs to progress now.

Here's one vote for a common strategy--and one hand up to commit to its implementation. Are there others?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Invitation to the Tour

There's been a young man standing at the intersection of 21st & Pacific all this week with a sign board advertising the website: It's some guerrilla advertising for Metro City Homes, one of the sixteen participating projects in the 2007 Tour of Urban Living.

Tacoma's most popular new and renovated condominiums, town homes and apartments are throwing open their doors and rolling out their red carpets on Saturday and Sunday, October 13 and 14. Potential downtown residents can tour the properties, see the views and get a feel for the downtown Tacoma lifestyle from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Shops, galleries, museums, restaurants, theaters and the Link light rail will all be open to provide a comprehensive urban living experience.

Official event sponsors for the Tour of Urban Living include Click! Network, Rusty George Creative, The News Tribune, the BIA and the featured properties. A map of the self-guided tour, including a list of participating properties and sponsors, is available online or by calling (253) 591-5117.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

'Town Hall' Meeting on Downtown Development

Development in downtown Tacoma is the topic of Pierce County Councilmember Tim Farrell's second "town hall" meeting of the year October 3rd from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Tacoma City Councilmember Rick Talbert will join Farrell (District 4) at the meeting, which will be held in the 505 Broadway showroom at 711 St. Helens. Developers, City of Tacoma and Pierce County economic development staff and other leaders will also participate in this event. The meeting will be informal and interactive and allow for discussion about present and future development projects in Tacoma's urban center.

Respondents to Councilmember Farrell's survey earlier this year said downtown development was an issue they wanted to learn more about--his district contains 100,000 residents, covering most of north and central Tacoma including the downtown corridor and the Hilltop area, a portion of south Tacoma, and Ruston.

Getting the North End's 'Bad Boys' In Order - Reprise'

Two months after we posted about plans put in action to improve the Winthrop and Olympus low-income housing developments--which we characterized as "bad boys" in the north end of downtown--the community is giving a reality check to that activity.

Tuesday, the Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee heard a report from the Prium Companies, current owners of the Winthrop, about replacement low-income housing (part of their loan agreement with the City of Tacoma). The good news is that two replacement sites are being considered by Prium: one at 34th & Pacific (50 units) and another on Tyler (80 units). The bad news may be that the former Browne’s Star Grill in Upper Tacoma was also considered until local opposition killed the idea--hopefully not the beginning of NIMBYism against relocation of the 170 low-income residents from the Winthrop.

Next Monday afternoon, the Tacoma City Council's Neighborhoods & Housing Committee will hear from the Korean Women's Association about their intentions concerning the purchase of the Olympus. A drastic change is needed in how this building is currently managed because of the significant impact this historic building has on surrounding businesses and the general environment of the north end. The meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. in Room 248 of the Tacoma Municipal Building.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Live From New York...

Posting today from New York City, where BIA staff is participating in the 53rd Annual Conference & World Congress of the International Downtown Association. This blog and were discussed during a lively session on blogging and downtown redevelopment this morning.

Hundreds of downtown managers from around the world are gathered here to share best practices and gain from one another's expertise and experiences. Lots of information is changing hands--here are some brief examples:
  • By far the most common use for blogging by downtown organizations at present seems to be retail promotion for downtown merchants--promoting special offers and unique sales to the widest possible constituency;
  • The BIA and other downtown Tacoma stakeholders are currently promoting the idea of letting the market drive parking costs on the street, but two downtowns (Redwood City, CA and Denver, CO) have embarked on an even more radical experiment--eliminating time limits.

Friday, September 14, 2007

New York, Washington (DC), Philadelphia, and...Tacoma?

At today's City Center Luncheon, Tacoma Art Museum director Stephanie Stebich made an interesting observation about Tacoma's position as a center for culture and the arts.

Her observation was that there are only a handful of cities in America where there are three or more significant museums within walking distance of each other--and that those cities include New York (Manhattan), Washington (the federal capital), Philadelphia, Fort Worth and Tacoma. It's a thought-provoking observation.

The three museums in Tacoma are the Museum of Glass, the Washington History Museum, and (of course) Stebich's charge--the Tacoma Art Museum.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

An Intersection of Arts & Parking

What's the connection between the arts and downtown parking? One connection, at least, is that both will be topics for presentation as the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber hosts its quarterly City Center Luncheon next Friday between 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. at the Tacoma Club.

Stephanie Stebich, director of the Tacoma Art Museum, and Amy McBride, Tacoma Arts Program Coordinator, will share the results of a study conducted by Americans for the Arts in cooperation with 156 communities and regions across the nation, showing that communities that support the arts and culture not only enhance their quality of life but also invest in their economic well-being.
Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson will discuss his vision for a new streetcar network — created in conjunction with new strategically-placed commuter parking garages ringing downtown and eliminating parking requirements for new downtown buildings — as part of a far-reaching discussion of the city center's future.

Cost for the event is $25 for members pre-paid and $30 for non-members pre-paid. To reserve space, e-mail

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Run, Don't Walk Downtown This Weekend

KeyBank and the City of Tacoma will host the eighth annual Bank to Bay 10K Run, 5K Run/Walk and 1K Kids' Run this coming Sunday, Sept. 9th, in downtown Tacoma.

For the eighth consecutive year, Bank to Bay will provide $10,000 to the Tacoma Public Schools Help-A-Student Fund, which furnishes necessities such as school supplies, clothing and shoes to students.The USA Track and Field-certified course, which is closed to traffic, begins in the Museum District between South 15th and 17th streets on Pacific Avenue and runs past Old City Hall and along Schuster Parkway to Ruston Way.

Registration opens at 8:00 a.m., the 1K Kids' Run begins at 9:00 a.m., followed by the 10K Run at 9:20 a.m. and the 5K Run/Walk at 9:35 a.m. Registration is $25 for those who sign up before close of business on Saturday and $30 on the day of race.

It's about putting more "feet on the street"--this time, just at a little faster pace!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More 'Safety In Numbers'

The BIA now has once again in stock the popular "Safety In Numbers" cards that are designed for quick reference about who to contact for any security-related inquiry. This is an invaluable reference for any downtown employee or resident, but especially for front desk personnel.

The cards are the size of regular business cards, and come either as a magnet or as a vinyl cling sticker, and they are available (singly or in quantity) for no charge from the BIA office.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Parking & Transit--Round 3

The third round of downtown parking and transit meetings with Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson shifts into full gear this week. Meetings will be held in each of the six downtown neighborhood districts--the Theater District, Dome District, Stadium District, Hilltop, Thea Foss Waterway and the University of Washington Tacoma.

During this series of parking discussions, Anderson will share his proposed recommendations for moving forward with a strategic downtown parking and transit plan and will garner feedback from citizens about his suggestions.

For the meeting schedule, as well as copies of the questions and answers from the first and second round of meetings, visit the City of Tacoma's website.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Glass Roots Will Foster Growth in Local Arts

Downtown stakeholders looking for more after last weekend's Showcase Tacoma event should come out Sunday for the 2007 Glass Roots Festival from 12 Noon until 6:00 p.m. outside Embellish Multispace Salon (Ct. 'D' between 11th and 13th streets). This year's return engagement features live music and drama performances, visual arts and food booths--all presented by local artists and merchants.

Spawned from a meeting and brainstorming session co-sponsored by the BIA in November 2005, Tacoma Arts Community (TACom) is a non-profit group of creative visionaries working to promote, develop and sustain all arts in the greater Tacoma region.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Chapel in the City

What's the role of communities of faith in urban life? The answer to this question often betrays as much prejudice as it does careful thinking and principled dialog.

Eric Jacobsen is one person who's thoughtfully engaged this question, and he's recently moved to Tacoma to assume the pastorate of First Presbyterian Church. Jacobsen is author of the nationally-recognized book Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith (Brazos, 2003), which explores how Christians can have a positive impact in America’s cities, as well as numerous articles exploring connections between the Christian community, the church, and traditional neighborhoods. He has been interviewed by The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and other national media, and he has presented lectures for various secular and religious institutions including Calvin College, the University of Virginia, the Christian Community Development Association, the American Planning Institute, the American Academy of Architects, and the Congress for the New Urbanism.

A recognized New Urbanist, Jacobsen argues that if the movement aspires to be more than just a short-term economic success or a market correction it is going to have to take the church more seriously as a conversation partner in its cultural project. In particular, he maintains that the church can help the New Urbanist movement grapple with some of the powers and forces, which have an impact upon communities in ways that are more profound and enduring than economic factors alone.

Jacobsen will be speaking tonight at 7:00 at King's Books--he's well worth hearing.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Skateboarders: Treat or Threat?

Readers of The News Tribune might be scratching their heads over coverage of skateboarding over the past two days--is skateboarding the latest urban past time or a magnet for crime? It would seem there is evidence for either opinion in recent pages of the paper. The confusion mirrors that of the BIA's ratepayers.

Sunday's coverage examining skateboard parks and the sport in general across Pierce County's urban areas concluded that:

...there’s no question that skate parks in general are a good thing. Earlier generations built ball fields; the parks are their modern equivalent for quirky but highly skilled athletes who are never going to join the high school tennis team.

Monday's feature article about ongoing problems with Sumner's skate park seemed to paint a different picture. That particular skate park is a magnet for fighting, drug use and late-night noise, according to neighbors.

So are skateboarders athletes or thugs on wheels? Discounting the fighting, drug use, and other disorder often associated with skateboards as problems not caused by the regulars themselves but by others who show up after sundown really skirts the issue. Proper design, incorporating Community Policing Through Urban Design (CPTED), is a critical element, but so is some self-policing by those who ride the boards.

Will the responsible skateboarders please stand up?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Parking AND Transit--City Manager Expands the Discussion

Densification of Tacoma's City Center will require a whole new paradigm for parking and transit to offset traffic congestion otherwise created by growth. That's the ambitious scope of the recommendations that City Manager Eric Anderson previewed for members of the Tacoma City Council at yesterday's Study Session.

Anderson gave a progress report on his series of public forums conducted throughout the greater downtown area, emphasizing that none of the recommendations is final at this point. His presentation followed the outline of last week's presentation to the Downtown Merchants Group.

While noting remarkable alignment with the recommendations of the Transit & Parking Advisory Committee, we were clear (when asked by Mayor Bill Baarsma to comment on Anderson's presentation) that there is still some ways to go before the business community can endorse the recommendations. Still, Anderson's apparent grasp of the new transportation paradigm and the openness displayed both by him and by key members of his staff (e.g., Kurtis Kingsolver) are powerful tools that can help forge consensus.

Most of the questions posed by City Councilmembers focused on cost--how much will building an effective transit & parking system cost, and which agencies will bear the expense? Anderson admitted that he has yet to engage local and regional transit providers in this discussion.

Anderson plans one more round of community forums, in addition to using other venues to continue the dialog. He anticipates presenting his final recommendations--presumably accompanied by a budget proposal--back to Council in October.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Renewal Go-Ahead Confirmed

Last Thursday, the BIA Board of Directors confirmed that a majority of ratepayers have returned ballots voting "yes" for renewal of the downtown district as outlined in the prospectus. BIA staff will now prepare the renewal petition for action by the Tacoma City Council.

The BIA only counted responses from private property owners in establishing that the statutory mark of 51% has been attained (actually, it was exceeded), since public entities such as the City of Tacoma, University of Washington Tacoma, and Union Station--which represent more than 30% of the total ratepayer base--can opt out of the assessment.

Expect the renewal petition to be on the City Council docket in early November; in the interim, BIA leaders will be heard at work crafting agreements and finalizing a budget to put the terms of the prospectus into reality beginning May, 2008.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Parking Recommendations Released

A consensus document offering stakeholder recommendations to improve downtown parking is hot off the presses. The twelve-page Improving Downtown Transit & Parking (a ten-page version sans an executive summary was released to the press yesterday) presents the recommendations from the Transit and Parking Advisory Committee, a 12-member group representing a broad variety of stakeholders organized by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.
The Transit & Parking Advisory Committee was the driving factor for increased enforcement of downtown parking policies; as a result, considerable on-street parking has become available to visitors, customers and clients of downtown businesses. The committee’s comprehensive report now recommends not only consistent enforcement, but also flexible parking strategies in response to special events and the selective deployment of parking meters.

The Transit & Parking Advisory Committee has identified general recommendations:
  • Maximize efficiency of current transit & parking operations
    Create a strong transit & parking system business plan
  • Enhance communications about the transit & parking system
  • Implement new technology—and use it effectively
  • Institute a “customer care” program
  • Provide flexibility to respond to special events and changing needs
In addition, the Transit & Parking Advisory Committee offers recommendations for some specific policy “hot buttons”:

Coordination & Collaboration
An effective downtown transportation plan should be developed that considers pedestrian, bicycle, carpool, vanpool, bus, rail, Flexcar and parking as coordinated elements of a strategic transportation system. The Transit & Parking Advisory Committee will continue to work with the Commute Trip Reduction programs of both Tacoma and Pierce County to encourage participation from both large and small employers.

Parking Enforcement
The Transit & Parking Advisory Committee encourages the City of Tacoma to more aggressively pursue enforcement against “chain” parking (now termed “moving to evade”) while at the same time encouraging broader support for use of transit and other commute alternatives by employees of member firms in the downtown Tacoma area. A more robust, employer-based transportation demand management (TDM) program should be pursued to provide effective, customer focused alternatives to parking.

Meters—Charging for On-Street Parking
The Transit & Parking Advisory Committee believes that selectively deploying pay stations or other forms of on-street metering has merit for “inventory control” purposes as well as for establishing a stronger revenue package as security for bonding. In the few areas that have sufficient demand consistently with occupancy significantly above 85 percent, the City could install parking meters and begin charging a very minimal amount.

Expenditure of Funds Gathered from On-Street Metering
The City of Tacoma should direct the funds gathered from metering in a distinct neighborhood or subarea of downtown into amenities that will benefit that specific neighborhood. Funds earned in excess of the real costs of operating the metering system should be expended upon clearly-related public improvements such as a streetcar line and/or streetscape improvements. The Transit & Parking Advisory Committee recommends that a stakeholder group be formed or tasked to direct the investment of these funds in the local neighborhood.

Removal of Off-Street Parking Required for New Construction
Removing the off-street parking requirement may allow developers the flexibility to build the amount of parking that the market requires. This step should only be considered, however, within the context of a more robust transportation demand management program than currently exists.

The document was endorsed yesterday morning by the Chamber; previous endorsements were made by the BIA, the Downtown Merchants Group, and the New Tacoma Neighborhood Council.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Not a Developer’s Market?

John Gillie's feature article in Sunday's edition of The News Tribune provides a nice round robin of development projects across the City Center, but it ultimately leaves some important questions unanswered--indeed, unaddressed.

First, let's review what the article said. Gillie rightly observes how several economic factors are combining to create a slow-down in downtown redevelopment:

...emerging competition, changing market conditions and national tighter financing, a deflating national housing market, a local oversupply of condominiums and new caution even among high-flying developers [has] put the brakes on what was a kind of gold-rush development market in Tacoma.
Gillie then goes on to detail how these factors have played out in a number of projects to either slow down or stop them:
  • Crosswater Condominiums (dead)
  • Hanna Heights (renovated and re-opened)
  • Jay Heights [pictured] (on hold)
  • The Luzon (plans under renovation)
  • Old City Hall Condominiums (stalled)
Meanwhile, Gillie observes, several projects (including The Roberson, The Esplanade, Metropolitan Phase II and The Mecca) are moving along successfully.

As usual, Gillie's tabulation is accurate and even-handed. What's missing from this feature is a sense of what's unique about Tacoma's downtown market. Specifically--with vacancy rates at a historic low, why isn't Tacoma's city center filled with cranes the way that, say, downtown Bellevue is? How has a project like The Esplanade been structured, managed and marketed that gave it a leg up on a project like the Crosswater Condos?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Former Bank of Cal Building Sold

Jay Yi, owner of food packaging products company Inexim, has purchased the former Bank of California building at 1011 Pacific Ave. Yi plans to move his company offices from Puyallup to the third floor of the bank building and lease the architecturally elegant lobby for ceremonial occasions such as corporate events and weddings.

The Union Bank of California moved to the historic Waddell Building at S. 15th & Commerce two years ago. The building has long been recognized as one of the most ornate in Tacoma's financial district--the columned building exterior was constructed of Wilkeson sandstone and granite and the interior is finished with walnut and Travertine masonry and decorative plaster.

While the building is one of the most notable downtown, it's not designated an historic building. It was nominated for designation years ago, but the effort failed under opposition from the owners at that time.

More information and pictures at and The News Tribune.

Monday, July 16, 2007

'Autowalk'--No Longer An Oxymoron

Downtown Tacoma is best known for its theaters, great architecture and the renaissance that has saved buildings and brought civic interest back into the city’s core--a revolution built on the principles of the New Urbanism. Yet many aspects of downtown’s development can be tracked along with the emergence and evolution of the automobile.

In early years, dealerships found a home in warehouse-like buildings with retail sales on the main ground floor and service on secondary levels. As Auto Row developed and cars evolved, so did buildings--from the ornate 1920s Packard dealership to the streamlined 1948 Buick facility, built as Mueller-Harkins and preserved today as USA of Yesterday.

“In the era of Auto Row, there was excitement and activity downtown--shopping, entertainment, enterprise--and a number of car dealers,” recalls Brett Santhuff, President of the American Institute of Architecture Students. “Masses would gather in the streets outside papered showroom windows for the unveiling of new cars. Over a season, dealers would roll out the new models--Buick, Studebaker, Ford, Pontiac, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Plymouth, Hupmobile, Packard, Dodge, Lincoln, Oldsmobile.”

Santhuff is chair for “Autowalk,” a walking tour celebrating Tacoma’s historic auto row, kicking off this Thursday, July 19th, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. The event, free and open to the public, will spotlight the architecture and the dealerships that brought Tacoma into the automotive age. The route will extend from S. 9th St. along Broadway to S. 7th St. and north on St. Helens Ave. to S. 2nd St.. Information booths, route maps, exhibits, and classic cars on display are planned.

The event is co-sponsored by Historic Tacoma and the Tacoma Historical Society with participation by members of the Puget Sound Chapter of the Buick Club of America, other local car clubs, and the LeMay Museum.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Encouraging Sidewalk Vending

The BIA will be involved in a meeting this afternoon with members of the Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee, where discussion will begin on ways to encourage more sidewalk vending in downtown.

Since the Project for Public Spaces workshop in May 2006, a small committee has been formualting recommendations, which will be presented to the EDC today:
  1. Reduce the insurance requirement (the current requirement for $500,000 is too high);
  2. Require vendors to demonstrate permission from the business owner (and property owner, if different) on whose sidewalk they would be vending--rather than having to secure permission from everyone within 100 feet, which may include as many as five separate parties;
  3. Rewrite requirements for the carts--current wording is confusing, even conflicting.
The desired outcome is changing City of Tacoma regulations so that sidewalk vending will be encouraged as a complement to other retail. There currently are no sidewalk vendors operating in downtown Tacoma.

Committee members have also concluded that it will be helpful to review the requirements that the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department places on vendors--they need, at minimum, to be streamlined.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

State Agrees: Not In Tacoma's Back Yard

After years of wrangling, the State of Washington apparently now agrees that Pierce County doesn’t really need any new work-release programs for prison inmates.

Corrections leaders released a preliminary list Monday of potential work-release sites that ranked Washington’s 39 counties in order of need. Pierce County was among eight counties classified as “low need”; nine other counties--including Snohomish, which currently has no work-release sites--were classified as “high need.”

Monday, June 25, 2007

Out of the Dawg House

Demolition began today to replace the existing UW Tacoma facility know as the "Dawg Shed" with a new 20,250 square foot Assembly Hall. The site is east of the library, flanked on the south by the Cherry Parkes building, to the north by the Walsh Gardner building and to the east by Pacific Ave.

Scheduled for completion in 2008, the Assembly Hall will serve as a venue for world-class public lectures, arts events, performances and classes and will provide a student commons area, collaborative study rooms and new retail space along Pacific. Construction will begin in September.