Developers discuss downtown designs

With a positive outlook on the city’s future, four big time players in the development of downtown Tacoma updated their respective projects and shared their experiences at Thursday night’s City Club of Tacoma dinner program.

Over 100 people – 98 City Club members and 30 guests – packed the Wheelock Student Center at the University of Puget Sound for the presentation, “The Risks and Rewards of Downtown Residential Development.”

On hand were developers Gary Bodenstab, Eric Cederstrand, Lee Pardini and John Wise.

While acknowledging the inherent risks involved with the development of urban housing – if we build it, will people come? – the four were unanimous in focusing on the rewards of their enterprises in Tacoma.

“Tacoma is the hottest city in the Pacific Northwest,” said Cederstrand, vice president of Colliers International and a member of Team Tacoma, a consortium of developers building condominiums and apartments along the Thea Foss Waterway, including the recently opened Thea’s Landing, a complex featuring 188 apartments, 47 condominiums, as well as retail/commercial space.

There is $1 billion worth of public/private construction under way or in the planning stages in Tacoma, Cederstrand said.

“It’s incredible – the power of demand,” he said. “Tacoma is not a risk any more.”

Pardini, one of the owners of Merritt + Pardini Architects, agreed: “I want to assure you, it (Tacoma) has arrived.”

McCarver Village, located at 25th and I streets on a hillside overlooking downtown Tacoma, is one of Pardini’s latest projects.

“It’s a stunning piece of property,” Pardini said of this development, which when completed will include a combination of row houses, town homes, apartment buildings, artists lofts, condominiums and assisted living projects meant to create a village-like atmosphere.

“It’s meant to be a diverse village,” he noted.

He dismissed concerns – which he said have always been around – about whether people would keep returning to live in downtown Tacoma.
“It (urban development) is going to happen,” Pardini said. “You just have to be optimistic and look ahead.”

Cederstrand predicted that within the next five to 10 years, the size of the city will double.

Why the explosion in urban development – and development in general for that matter – in Tacoma?

Wise, developer of the Metropolitan Apartments currently under construction at 245 St. Helens Ave., said the current construction explosion began with the renovation of Union Station and the University of Washington Tacoma moving into its new building.

He also praised city government for strongly encouraging market rate housing in order to keep people in the city after the end of the work day, and thus grow a tax base.

Wise gave high marks to the Tacoma’s tax abatement program and Destination Downtown Partnership, designed as a public-private sector alliance to promote the city’s future development.

“Downtown is becoming desirable,” he said, adding there’s been a steady stream of good news about Tacoma in the media during the last 10 years. “People are interested in what’s going on in downtown.”

He continued: “It’s an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of upscale urban living.”

Wise’s own vision of upscale urban living includes the Metropolitan Apartments currently in Phase 1 of construction, which is about 90 percent complete, he said.

The $9.8 million amenity-rich project will be a 9-story building that has 87 apartments, state of the art wiring for television, phone and computer access, an exercise room, a business conference room and in-house parking.
When completed, Wise said it would be one of the top five apartment complexes on the West Coast.

“We’re passionate about building a better mousetrap,” he said.

Building a better mousetrap also includes improving some already constructed buildings, such as the case with the nearly 100-year-old Perkins Building, located at 1101 A St.

“There’s so much to offer here,” said Bodenstab, CEO of and one of the owners responsible for turning the Perkins Building into a thriving mix of residential, office and retail space. “This is a great city.”

The Perkins Building began renting apartments in late 2001, Bodenstab said.

“Today, I can proudly say we are full,” he stated. “It took about a year.”

Following a brief round of questions from the audience, the four developers were presented with commemorative City Club of Tacoma beverage mugs to end the informative evening.