City examines Sixth Avenue parking concerns

By most accounts, the Sixth Avenue Business District is a model of what commercial centers should be. Most businesses are individually-owned and offer shoppers a range of services: rare and vintage LPs at Hi-Voltage Records; live music at Jazzbones or Hell’s Kitchen; a cocktail at Six Olives; or a bite to eat at Primo Grill or Il Fiasco.

But business owners, neighborhood residents, and City staffers are concerned about one problem familiar to anyone who has visited the so-called “Ave” on a busy night: parking.

As the district continues to experience what many call a renaissance, pressure for available parking has impacted on-street parking on Sixth Avenue, as well as residential parking on neighborhood side streets.

“We are verging on a saturation point,” says Charlie McManus, co-owner of Primo Grill. McManus, along with other business owners, were at City Hall Tuesday to discuss their concerns with City staff and members of the city’s Economic Development Committee. “As more businesses come to the area, it’s just going to be more of a draw.”

The City recognizes the problem, and is currently collaborating with district representatives to brainstorm ideas.

One plan involves reconfiguring side streets to allow angled parking — a move that might increase the number of parking spots in the neighborhood, but upset some residents who park on those side streets.

Another plan calls for partnering with businesses and churches that might allow parking in their lots at night and during non-business hours.

McManus would like to see the City purchase property at certain areas long the Ave and convert them into paid public parking lots.

According to Curtis Kingsolver in the city’s Public Works Department, planners are still “drawing up the area to look at net parking gains and costs” for these alternatives. A decision won’t be made until City staffers meet with residents and business owners next month to discuss options.

“It’s a problem that shows the health of the district,” said Councilmember Rick Talbert during Tuesday’s meeting. “I can think of other districts that would kill to have this problem. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address it.”

Though Councilmember Bill Evans agreed with the concerns, he pointed out that some of the parking problems might be caused by employees. “A major user of parking spaces on that street are employees,” he said. “As Sixth Avenue prospers, it’s offering hundreds of jobs. Employers have got to come to an arrangement with employees to not park on streets. It’s a tough situation.”

Evans hoped that the final decision wouldn’t strip the area of its vitality.

“I’m happy Sixth Avenue is not only surviving but thriving,” he said. “Whatever we do, we have to preserve the character of the district.”

The Sixth Avenue business district has been a hub of retail and service businesses since the 1930s. Beginning in the 1950s, however, the district suffered an economic decline that lasted through the 1980s when large retailers departed for nearby Tacoma Mall. A business association formed in 1991 to address this decline, and partnered with the City of Tacoma’s Neighborhood Business District Program.