Friday, February 23, 2007

Downtown Vacancies Near Nil--What Next?

According to Colliers International market reports released this week, downtown Tacoma vacancies dipped significantly this quarter, bringing the vacancy rate down to 6.32 percent from 8.19 percent. Class 'A' vacancies have dropped to 3.55 percent. Fourth quarter absorption was recorded at 16,627 square feet, bringing the year-end absorption to 46,990 square feet.

Also last week came confirmation that the real estte needed to make the long-discused Haub Tower possible is coming on the market. Put the two items together and discover the next big piece in the downtown redevelopment puzzle...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

New Transit Center Officer

In order to provide a higher level of security and to help oversee the daily activities at Pierce Transit's Commerce Center, the agency has assigned a full time security officer beginning this week.

This officer will be working Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. His name is Paul Strozewski, and he will be wearing the distinctive tan uniform. He is in direct communication with BIA Security patrols and can be reached at (253) 261-0974.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Easing the Way for "Feet on the Street"

Last Friday, Ko Wibowo from McGranahan Architects and local attorney Erik Bjornson gave a fascinating presentation on the importance of safe, attractive and usable mid-block walkways in downtown Tacoma and how they are critical to the success of the City Center. Wibowo and Bjornson were inspired by last year's Project for Public Spaces workshop to examine downtown's hillclimbs for several months, noting obstacles to pedestrian activity. On Friday, the pair focused their comments on the walkway adjacent to the South Park Plaza garage, which is slated for retrofitting soon.

Combining the best methods for bringing success to a downtown with architectural drawings and illustrations, they discussed problems with the current design of the walkway, lack of use, blind spots, real and perceived safety issues, and the connection between the current problems with the walkways and their design. Some members of the Tacoma press have accurately described the area on Pacific Ave. near the walkway as a "dead zone" even though it is located between two of the largest commercial buildings downtown.

The pair discussed how an optimal design for the walkway adjacent to the garage could make it inviting and functional for pedestrians and comply with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategies. Bjornson and Wibowo suggested that the walkway design needs to be addressed at the same time the garage is being modified to increase the chance that the retail space in the garage and surrounding area can be successful.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tacoma's New Postmaster Will Address Luncheon

Suzanne Chaille, who was appointed Postmaster for Tacoma last month, will address the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber's City Center Luncheon this Friday. Chaille previously served as Postmaster for Auburn since October 2005, and was Officer-In-Charge for Tacoma since August 2006. She succeeds John Lee, who transferred to Beaverton (OR) as Postmaster.

Chaille is expected to update attendees of the U.S. Postal Service's intention to lease a new retail facility downtown and put the federal agency's historic downtown building up for sale.

Chaille began her postal career as a Clerk/Carrier in Alliance, OH in 1973. She subsequently served the U.S. Postal Service in Florida, Arizona, and California. In 1993 she was appointed Postmaster for San Jose (CA) and in 1998 District Manager, Marketing in Atlanta, GA.

Chaille has a BA in Business Administration and a Master’s Degree in Operational Research, both from California State University. She attended a three-year Advanced Business Administration Program at Arizona State University and completed the Executive Leadership program at Duke University. She is currently an Adjunct Professor at DeVry University in Federal Way teaching classes in Financial and Managerial Accounting and Business Finance.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Post Office Will Stay Downtown

Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma told other members of the City Council on Monday that he has met with representatives of the U.S. Postal Service and that, despite recent community concerns to the contrary, the federal agency plans to maintain a postal center downtown .

During Monday's meeting of the Neighborhoods and Housing Committee, Baarsma related that the following course of action would be pursued by the agency:
  • Pursue relocation of the current post office (retail service facility) into leased space downtown (6500 square foot space with parking for 12 vehicles);
  • Relocate the downtown distribution center to Fife and secure a contract post office in the Upper Tacoma Business District;
  • Following these actions, advertise the historic building and adjacent parking lots for sale.
Postal officials seem to have taken lobbying by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and other groups to heart, keeping the service center downtown. The pending sale of the properties is a long-awaited move, providing real estate needed to make the proposed "Haub Tower" a real possibility.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sound Off About Downtown Parking & Transit

Yesterday evening, Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson kicked off the first in a series of public forums where downtown stakeholders can sound off on parking and transit issues.

Anderson's format was simple and inviting--no presentation by City staff, just the opportunity to raise questions which were dutifully recorded by staffers. The City Manager will hold another series of meetings later this year to provide researched responses to the input received during this round of meetings.

Over the next six weeks, Anderson plans to continue the current series of meetings with forums scheduled in the Dome District, the Stadium District, the Hilltop, the Foss Waterway area, and around the University of Washington Tacoma.

While this ground has been covered many times before--most recently by the Parking Advisory Committee organized by stakeholders--the personal commitment of time and interest by the City Manager adds gravitas to this series of meetings. Downtown stakeholders should participate in upcoming meetings and make sure that their concerns are part of the discussion.

BIA staff posed three questions at last night's forum:
  • How can the City (and other downtown stakeholders) foster better communication around parking & transit issues?
  • How can the City effectively incorporate stakeholder (customer) feedback into the parking system?
  • How can the City effectively encourage interagency (i.e., with other agencies) and interdepartmental (i.e., within the City) coordination to move people?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Getting the North End's 'Bad Boys' in Order

As stakeholders struggle to stem public disorder in the Theater District, two major sources of trouble are--quite literally--cleaning house. Owners of the north end's two "bad boys"--the Winthrop Hotel and the Olympus Hotel--are working hard to clean up the reputations of their facilities.

New management at the Winthrop Hotel--Quantum Management President Doug Repman and new Resident Manager, Erica Valley, have aggressively implemented these steps since November:
  • Conducted nighttime surveillance of tenant and guest traffic at the property to identify potential illegal activity and individuals involved;

  • Reviewed all files, employees, and tenancy of the Winthrop to establish control of day-to-day operations;

  • Followed up with eviction and removal of two tenants that had been arrested by the police for drug activities following raids conducted under the previous management;

  • Met personally with Winthrop tenants that had been identified as potentially associated with illegal activities or questionable traffic into the building and provided verbal warning that they would be evicted if they continued to participate in bringing a criminal element into the building;

  • Replaced the security guard, improved security surveillance, and instituted a guest sign-in process in the lobby while the guard is on duty during evening hours, which has significantly reduced visitor traffic into the Winthrop;

  • Issued 3-day nuisance notices, which began the eviction process of identified tenants for association with illegal activity;

  • Established an effective working relationship with the police and the BIA.
In response to cooperative discussions with the police and the BIA, several steps were taken to improve effectiveness:
  • Established a cooperative system to trespass and remove unauthorized people from the building, documented to show cause for subsequent eviction of any associated tenant;

  • Provided security access cards and keys to the police so that officers may get into the building at any time;

  • Established a security guard desk in the lobby and required sign-in of guests to the building when the security guard is on duty;

  • Increased direct communication with and involvement of police officers in interactions with problem tenants, including conducting “knock and talks” of apartments in the building.

With the active engagement of TPD Officers Pincham and Price, these actions directly resulted in 11 removals of suspects for trespass, 3 arrests, and the initiation of 3 evictions during the first two weeks of January alone.

Repman and Valley have been participating in BIA-organized efforts to coordinate business owners and residents in the area of 9th & Commerce to combat the crime and problem street activity. They are in direct and active communication with the police and BIA officers, and with neighboring business owners to track and combat issues on a daily basis.

The Olympus Hotel, too, is getting a management face-lift. Property owner Stephen Morrison and Allied Management have begun working with TPD to address neighborhood complaints and institute stronger management controls.