Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Consultants Seek Input on Downtown Strategic Plan

This week, a team of consultants from AngelouEconomics is conducting interviews, focus groups and visioning sessions with stakeholder groups to develop an economic development strategic plan for downtown Tacoma. The BIA Board of Directors participated in a focus group today. The Austin-based economic development consulting firm has been retained by the City of Tacoma to create a blueprint for increasing investment in downtown and providing more jobs to the region's residents.

The City is also looking for feedback from the entire community through online surveys. There are two brief surveys--one is for residents and another is for business owners.

The development of AngelouEconomics' downtown economic development plan will coincide with the development of the Downtown Comprehensive Plan headed by the City in partnership with VIA Architects and will review the long-range planning and zoning for downtown. The overall vision for downtown will be defined consistently for both plans and will be supported by a combined public outreach effort (interviews, focus groups, visioning sessions, online surveys). By integrating the two plans, the City of Tacoma hopes to ensure a robust and meaningful downtown strategic plan.

Community Fund Makes Sen$e--You Can Say That Again!

A small group of stakeholders celebrated the launch last night of Sound Community Initiatives, an innovative investment fund that promises to help revitalize low-and moderate-income neighborhoods while paying off big for contributors.

Sound Community Initiatives has been dubbed a "double botton line" fund promising healthy investment returns--the first bottom line--as well as jobs, amenities and strengthening of poor communities--the second bottom line. Over the past ten years, similar funds have been used to support more than $2 billion in commercial, retail, residential and mixed-use projects in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore and Miami. Sound Community Initiatives expects to pump as much as $360 million worth of development funding into five Puget Sound counties--including King, Pierce, Thurston, Snohomish and Kitsap. And fund developers expect it to be the first of as many as five such investment pools, with the potential to generate as much as $3.2 billion in development in the five counties. The Puget Sound will be the first region in the Northwest to benefit from such a program, thanks to three years of work by Martin Luther King Housing Development Association director Felix Flannigan and a group of local investors.

Local funds will be managed by Los Angeles-based investment group Kennedy Wilson, which services more than $8 billion worth of commercial and residential property. The firm also manages five real estate funds representing more than $2 billion in assets. Kennedy Wilson officials promise to share their development and investment expertise with local communities in addition to maximizing returns for investors.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Russell Hires Top-notch Public Affairs Rep

Russell Investment Group's announcement last week about hiring Patricia Akiyama to fill the position of Government and Community Relations Director is a welcome one. As community leaders move forward with Project Destiny, she is sure to be a key player for Russell.

Akiyama joins Russell after serving in similar roles for Quadrant Homes and the Weyerhaeuser Company; she also served as chief of staff for U.S. Senator Patty Murray for four years in the late 1990s and was senior staff coordinator for WA House of Representatives Co-speaker Frank Chopp.
Akiyama has a B.A. degree from the University of Oregon (Eugene) and is a graduate of Leadership Tomorrow, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s Alki Political Involvement Institute, and the Program for Senior Managers in Government at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
At Russell, Akiyama will focus on legislative issues, as well as relationship management with local and national lawmakers, administrative agencies, and industry associations.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Ups and Downs of City Center Development

Development in downtown Tacoma often proceeds in fits and starts, as revealed in the following announcements made this week:

  • The Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) is close to reaching an agreement with the State of Washington on purchasing the Rhodes Center--in part for the income it would generate as an office building. THA would retain the Court of Appeals, Labor and Industries, the Auditor’s Office and the Department of Transportation as tenants, and the agency would act more aggressively to fill some of the vacant commercial space. The purchase would include not only the old Rhodes department store building, but also another building on Market Street and the 530-space parking garage.
  • The Foss hotel project sought and won yet another delay from the Foss Waterway Development Authority;
  • Prium Companies now say they need a year’s postponement to buy land for a mixed-use office and residential project near the S. 21st St. bridge;
  • The Foss Harbor high-rise complex, north of the E. 11th St. bridge expects that getting the necessary approvals from the State of Washington could take another 14 months.
The BIA would welcome a new owner for the Rhodes Center. The State of Washington has opted out of paying the BIA assessment for the building.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Transit & Parking Recommendations Presented to City

Members of the Transit & Parking Advisory Committee, a stakeholder group organized by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, shared their most recent recommendations with members of the City of Tacoma's Economic Development Committee this past Tuesday. The committee, currently chaired by Marty Campbell, has successfully pulled together downtown leaders with City and transit agency staff to help identify and implement changes needed to make that complex system work better.

Campbell presented new paradigms for both parking and transit, leading into the committee's most significant recommendations:
  • Develop a downtown transportation plan that considers pedestrian, bicycle, carpool, vanpool, bus, rail, Flexcar and parking as coordinated elements of a strategic transportation system;
  • A more robust, employer-based transportation demand management (TDM) program should be pursued (i.e., Growth Transportation Efficiency Center and 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 City of Tacoma, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and downtown stakeholders should institute a Downtown Transit & Parking Panel (implementation committee) to foster communication, facilitate collaborative decision-making among parking stakeholders, review parking and transit policies, provide a customer perspective and benchmark how well the system is meeting established criteria.

In response to questions from Council members, Campbell explained that the committee's recommendations closely parallel those of City Manager Eric Anderson, and he indicated that the committee is expanding its geographic scope and membership to give it the ability to act as a part of the implementation process.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Green Light or Yellow Light for Downtown Transit?

The Tacoma City Council is poised this evening to move forward on a resolution putting legs underneath City Manager Eric Anderson's parking & "mobility" program--now part of the Project Destiny initiative. Marty Campbell, recently elected chair for the Transit & Parking Advisory Committee, will be offering testimony at the meeting in support of this measure.

Downtown leaders can now be expected to focus attention on the transit portion of the program. One element sure to be discussed is the concept of a "fareless square" for transit riders, patterned after the program that has operated in Portland since 1975 (Seattle has a much smaller fareless zone with hours limited to 6:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.). After more than 32 years of operation, however, Portland's fareless square may be on the verge of severe cut-backs--and for what may be a surprising reason.

In response to recent security concerns, Portland's TriMet has outlined a new security plan as part of a multi-faceted strategy to improve safety at night throughout the transit system; one proposal of this plan would be to limit Fareless Square zone hours to 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Much of the disruptive and threatening behavior that has been witnessed on MAX occurs at night between downtown and the Lloyd District. The proposal is specifically targeted at passenger safety in the downtown core, and to substantially reduce the type of undesirable behavior that impacts system safety.

The Lloyd Transportation Management Association (TMA), which contributes funding to help pay for fareless service to Lloyd District, has sent a letter to TriMet objecting to both the rationale and the timeline for the decision limiting fareless square hours.

What implications might this decision have for a "fareless square" in downtown Tacoma? Will security concerns force Sound Transit--which is now extending Link's evening hours--to curtail free service on light rail?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Commercial RE Outlook Great in 2008, Chamber Told

Friday's sell-out City Center Luncheon presented a panel of positive proponents representing three high quality, signature projects currently under development in the city center:
The luncheon--a quarterly event put on by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber--provided a
virtual tour of each project, as well as providing each panelist a few minutes to prognosticate on the future of downtown real estate. The two photos above show before (left) and after (right) of the Atrium Court project.

Despite media talk about economic recession, panelists were bullish about the prospects for profit in downtown real estate in the coming year. Gintz--whose presentation was sub-titled "Great in 2008"--said "our company has reviewed the prospects for a recession and...we have chosen not to participate!"

Chamber President & CEO regaled the crowd with this pithy saying about the transition Tacoma has gone through vis a' vis downtown redevelopment:

For a couple of decades, we were "America's most tired city";
More recently, we have been "America's most wired city"; and
In the future, we can become "America's most admired city".

The Chamber’s quarterly City Center Luncheons highlight projects in the vanguard of downtown’s revitalization, introduce the people who are leading that process, and help delineate current trends and opportunities. This quarter's meeting was sponsored by Venture Bank.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Light Rail to Run Later Beginning Next Month

Advocacy from downtown stakeholders earlier this year has been heeded by Sound Transit; consequently, Link light rail will begin running extended hours beginning next month.

Trains will begin running February 4th until 10:00 p.m. on weeknights, a two-hour extension of the schedule; trains will have a twenty-minute headway during these hours (longer than the ten-minute headway the rest of the day). This should be great news for students at the University of Washington Tacoma and patrons of downtown restaurants or cultural facilities, and brings new capacity to commute alternatives that will support efforts like Destination Downtown Door-To-Door.

Public announcement of the new schedule for Link will be made at tomorrow's City Center Luncheon.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

S. Park Plaza Remains on Track

The Tacoma City Council approved a settlement agreement last night with the final private owner of property in the South Park Plaza, clearing the way for the Pacific Plaza project to proceed. The $32.5 million renovation is building two new floors of Class 'A' office space and 104 additional city-owned parking spaces, and it will revamp 30,000 square feet of retail space along Pacific Ave.

Dan Putnam, a principal in PCS Structural Solutions--partners in the development with Absher Construction Company--will give an update on the project, including a virtual tour of the completed facility, at this Friday's City Center Luncheon.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Two Key Initiatives To Watch This Year

Despite dark clouds on the economic horizon, downtown Tacoma's redevelopment will continue this year with a key planning effort and a high-visibility project moving forward in the near future.

AngelouEconomics has been hired by the City of Tacoma to develop a comprehensive Downtown Economic Development Strategy, including:
  • Inventory of downtown assets;
  • Economic impact analysis of downtown Tacoma on the city, county, and state economy; and
  • Long-term strategic plan for downtown's economic growth.
The final strategic plan will be incorporated as part of the City's larger Comprehensive Plan.

AngelouEconomics is an economic development consulting firm that advises companies and communities wanting to take advantage of the new economy. They specialize in the site selection needs of the technology industry and of the communities seeking to recruit them. The project is being managed by Katie Bullard.

Later this month, the Broadway LID project is slated to go out for re-bid sans the vaulted sidewalks in the original design specifications. An open house will be held after the bid opening to inform stakeholders of the outcome and to review any possible options with alternate bid items.

Construction of the project is tentatively scheduled to begin in mid-April and continue until late fall of 2009. Once a contractor has been selected by the City, another open house will be held to inform stakeholders of the schedule and identify contacts for the duration of the project.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Another Venue for Go Local!

During a presentation on blogging to the International Downtown Association earlier this year, BIA staff discovered that most downtown district blogging across the country (examples cited include Huntington Beach, CA and Providence, RI) is in support of retail promotion. Since then, the BIA has been working with the Downtown Merchants Group to explore creative new ways to use this blog for that purpose in downtown Tacoma.

This past Holiday season, business leaders in Ypsilanti, MI deployed a multi-faceted campaign to encourage residents to shop locally. More than just telling people about the benefits of buying locally, the Shop Ypsi effort involves downtown shoppers through an effective printed piece partnered with a website that includes a blog where people can post great gift ideas that they've found downtown. The website encourages visitors to take a pledge to do either 80 or 100 percent of their holiday shopping locally; while taking the pledge, they can also post comments on why they shop downtown.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Nationally, Positive Attitudes Towards Downtowns

Positive attitudes toward downtown and increasing funding for downtown improvements are two of the trends anticipated by the Downtown Idea Exchange (DIX) editorial team as they look ahead into 2008.

To prepare the annual outlook report, the DIX team spoke with a wide range of downtown experts from across the country who identified the major challenges and opportunities facing their areas. A dozen key themes emerged, including:

  • Downtowns are making strides in thinking and working on a regional scale;
  • Pro-downtown groups are better coordinating their efforts;
  • Downtown populations are continuing to diversify;
  • Downtowns are striving to be green;
  • Downtowns are seeking to stand out with unique businesses.
The full text of the report, "Current and future downtown trends that matter most''--including details on all twelve trends identified by the DIX team--is now available online.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Downtown Tacoma: Filling in the Gaps (2008)

The current vacancy rate in downtown Tacoma’s Class ‘A’ office space is less than one percent; despite the current slowdown in the economy and resulting impacts to downtown development, some local investors see this high rate of demand as an opportunity. This quarter’s City Center Luncheon presents a panel discussion showcasing projects and prognostications from three local investors:

  • Don Arsenault of Arsenault Realty Advisors (developer of Atrium Court);
  • Ron Gintz of the Gintz Group LLC (developers of the former Mecca Theater and Old City Hall);
  • Dan Putnam of PCS Structural Solutions (principal in Pacific Plaza LLC).

As always, this quarter’s meeting will highlight projects in the vanguard of downtown’s revitalization, introduce the people who are leading that process, and help delineate current trends and opportunities:

Friday, January 11th
11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.
The Tacoma Club
Sponsored by Venture Bank
Attendees will also hear about new efforts to market downtown to developers and tenants, as well as a sneak preview of Destination Downtown Door-To-Door.

Cost for the event is $25 for members pre-paid and $30 for non-members pre-paid; corporate tables are available at a discounted price. To reserve space at this meeting, please contact Janice at the Chamber, (253) 627-2175 or