City Council briefed on Destination Downtown

Three years into the city’s 20-year “Destination Downtown,” a guide for downtown Tacoma’s development, members of the Tacoma Economic Development Department provided the City Council with an overview of accomplishments and detailed plans for the future during yesterday’s study session.

The downtown plan and code known as Destination Downtown went into effect on Jan. 10, 2000 and contains 11 general policies and 30 district policies to guide future development activity.

Destination Downtown includes a simplified zoning code, as well as an emphasis on housing, marketing, parking and a streetscape plan.

Downtown Tacoma’s zoning districts include two downtown residential areas, two downtown mixed-use areas, a downtown commercial core and a warehouse/residential area (see map).

“Housing was a big issue for us in downtown when we started this,” said Juli Wilkerson, director of the Tacoma Economic Development Department.

The city is seeking a balance between commercial and residential
development in the downtown commercial core that will lure and keep people in Tacoma.

Plans for the downtown residential district call for a mix of market-rate and affordable housing.

In the warehouse/residential district, the city is looking to promote a mix of industrial, commercial and residential uses, while respecting the heritage of industrial architecture in the area.

“We want to make a difference in downtown housing,” Wilkerson said.
Some of the progress toward that goal includes the hiring of a full time real estate specialist to assist housing developers and others and working with the University of Washington Tacoma to develop housing on campus.

The city continues to market Tacoma – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally – as a business-friendly city.

“The ‘America’s #1 Wired City’ campaign has gotten our foot in the door,” Wilkerson said, referring to the print and radio ads launched earlier this year that tout the advantages of locating a business in Tacoma.

The next phase of the “America’s #1 Wired City” campaign is set to begin next month, she explained.

Tacoma’s continued redevelopment, including the recent opening of the Museum of Glass, has helped draw largely positive media attention to the city.

A longtime scourge of drivers in downtown Tacoma – parking – is also addressed by Destination Downtown.

Progress to date includes 11th and 13th streets converted to two-way traffic, a parking garage on A Street that added 260 stalls, as well as surface lots under construction under Interstate 705 and at 15th Street and Fawcett Avenue.

Parking enforcement is under review, with consideration of pay stations put on hold until better enforcement is tested.

“An overall streetscape plan is needed,” said Robert Arleth, assistant director of the Tacoma Economic Development Department. “I think that’s going to be an overall help.”

Key strategies for a streetscape plan include enhancing key intersections and the construction of mid-block crosswalks, sidewalk improvements and a blending with Tacoma Link light rail stations and trackways.

“A streetscape plan is especially important with the introduction of light rail,” Wilkerson observed. “I think this is something that is key to the downtown plan.”

As for the future of Destination Downtown, Wilkerson said the city would continue working to fill housing, support its investments and further pursue marketing Tacoma and recruiting people to the city during the next two-to-four years.

“We’re working on a number of things to enhance downtown design,” Arleth noted.

Mayor Bill Baarsma said the top priority should be getting people to come to downtown Tacoma.

“We don’t want to become too popular,” Baarsma joked.

In other business, the City Council tentatively endorsed sites for four planned police substations.

The sites are:
– Central Area: Five privately owned parcels of land at South 16th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

– North East Tacoma: City owned property at Northshore Parkway and High Point Drive.

– South Substation: South 72nd Street and Sheridan Avenue in Wapato Park.

– North End: Shared space with the Boys & Girls Club at Kandle Park at North 26th and Street and North Baltimore Street.

In February, Tacoma voters approved a raise in property taxes to pay for a $34.3 million bond measure for four new substations, as well as a new headquarters for the Tacoma Police Department, to be located at the site of the former Costco at 3639 S. Pine St.

The concept for each substation calls for a one-story building of approximately 4,000 square feet, housing a sector lieutenant and serving as a sector base for field officers and a field emergency operations center.
It’s important to note the council did not vote on any of the locations.

Formal City Council action on the substation sites is set for next month, according to police Capt. James Howatson.

“One of our goals was to be centrally located in each area,” Howatson said.

Although council members tended to agree on site selection, Councilman Bill Evans noted location was not nearly as important as the people to be served by the substations.