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.