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.

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of using the Haub parcels to build a new HQ for Russell, but I have an unusual and potentially exciting new idea for keeping Russell happy in Tacoma while simultaneously saving several of Tacoma's most-loved but endangered icons. I got the idea when I saw that Old City Hall is back on the market, keeping my favorite end of downtown in seemingly eternal limbo.

    Anyway, the idea: what if the Russell plans shifted away from the Haub parcels to look at the north end of downtown instead? Remember, across from Old City Hall is a parking lot, then the Spanish Steps, then the Elks Ruins, then another parking lot, then David’s/Twisted Cue. Next to Old City Hall is a short, squat building of little apparent value. Also remember, the Winthrop is a short walk away (for now, forget that the walk is down a seedy street more heavily populated by trash cans than people) and the I-705 ramps are right there.

    Now picture this:
    • A shiny tall new HQ building in the parking lot across from Old City Hall.
    • A refurbished Elks for Russell's open-floor-plan trading floors. (Is it big enough? I don’t know, but we do know from the Elks owners that the building is best-suited as open floor plans, which has complicated its reuse.)
    • Another building in the parking lot next to the Elks for more offices. Maybe this one would be not so shiny, more in context with the Elks.
    • A refurbished Old City Hall for yet more offices. (Russell needs a lot of space, right?)
    • Another new building next to Old City Hall, or perhaps a parking garage. (I know garages are hated, but really, it wouldn’t be much downgrade to what’s there.)
    • A fancy historic Hotel Winthrop a block away for visiting big-wigs to stay in, probably also with some fancy condos to make the project pencil out and to potentially be home to the richer Russellites. (Think Four Seasons in Seattle.)
    • An LID for the length of Commerce from the 705 ramp to the Winthrop on 9th. This is a scary, nasty neighborhood that could really use it. Perhaps an LID wouldn't be needed, but the improvements are. Bonus points for extending it up Stadium Way to the high school.
    • A streetcar running from the current Link terminal to somewhere around this big development, and then up Stadium Way and Division to the 6th Ave restaurant district (and hopefully further). Preferably by extending the Link line, though not at Link prices (sadly, I assume no exclusive right-of-way).

    That seems like enough room for Russell, doesn’t it? The City of Tacoma should have ample reason (and political capital) to facilitate this master plan because it saves several historic icons (Old City Hall, Elks, and potentially the Winthrop) plus boosts the seediest part of downtown and helps spark the streetcar’s start. And talk about easy access to the freeways for Russell, another requirement of theirs!

    I'm not against the Haub parcels for Russell either, not in any way. For me, the big question is whether Russell really wants a unique, only-in-Tacoma HQ, or if they would prefer a shiny modern HQ that could be in any big city.