Cosmos development: Good or bad for Tacoma?

An unusually large crowd of 140 people turned out to hear a debate about the proposed Cosmos development at Tacoma City Club’s luncheon yesterday at the Sheraton.

Experts, both pro and con, spoke about the $120 million project that would build more than a million square feet of office space, condos and parking in three towers at the Tacoma Dome.

A key element of the deal is the transfer of seven acres of city-owned land used for Dome parking to the developer in exchange for structured parking within the new buildings.

At the heart of the debate is how the project would affect the city.

While not a simple either/or question, the debate has been distilled into two general camps: Those in favor of the development who contend it will lead to economic revitalization by attracting new businesses, and those against it who say it will drain needed focus away from Tacoma’s downtown area.

Some of those in favor of the Cosmos development include City Councilman Kevin Phelps, who was on the panel, and City Manager Ray Corpuz and his administration.

Detractors include Mayor Bill Baarsma, City Councilman Mike Lonergan, as well as some downtown building owners, architects and business leaders.

“What we need are more tenants,” Phelps said, adding the Cosmos development would help the city capture extra dollars from those who attend events at the Tacoma Dome.

People going to the Tacoma Dome don’t stick around to spend money, instead going elsewhere or home, he said.

The Cosmos development would include commercial and retail space, Phelps noted, that could change that.

Phelps assured those in attendance that the Cosmos development would not come at the expense of the ongoing revitalization of Tacoma’s downtown.

“The city is committed to the downtown area,” he said.

Cosmos senior vice president of development Oscar Del Moro said going ahead with the development would be an investment in the city’s future.

“It (Tacoma) has invested in itself. It has cleaned up itself,” he said. “It’s time to move on.”

Competition for corporate clients comes from smaller surrounding cities like University Place and Federal Way, not bigger cities like Seattle, he said.

Having such a large office complex would be a major asset to the city, he said.

“We’re high on the place,” Del Moro said. “We’d like to stay here.”

Project opponents were not so sure about the timing of the project and its effects, fearing business being drawn away from downtown, as well as dilution of the area by suburban development and the Tacoma Mall, the so-called “mall effect.”

“It’s a question of when, not if, this project occurs,” Tacoma architect Lee Pardini stated.

The Cosmos development is not a tactical matter, in terms of size and location, he explained, but a strategic matter having to do with how the project will affect downtown.

Pardini urged the city to stay the course and continue the revitalization of downtown, which is currently in the works, including the Greater Tacoma Convention Center, condominiums and apartments along the Thea Foss Waterway, the Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Link light rail system.

The proposed Harold E. LeMay museum of antique and classic cars will probably go to the Dome district.

The city has been doing a great job of improving downtown Tacoma, Pardini said, and he doesn’t want the “synergy” ruined by the Cosmos development.

“It’s too early to change our focus,” he said. “We can’t blink right now.”

Ted Johnson, a partner in Simon Johnson, a Tacoma real estate investment and development company, agreed.

“We don’t have a beautiful downtown,” he said. “We don’t have a place where people want to stay.”

Pardini said he feared the Cosmos development would have a negative impact on downtown, which still needs improving.

“Our position is start from the inside and work your way out,” he said.