Developers seek LEED certification, $3 million from City to complete Pacific Plaza project

Tacoma City Council is expected to vote July 29 on a resolution that would appropriate $3 million toward completion of the renovation of Park Plaza South, according to a presentation yesterday at City Hall.

The $35 million project, currently under construction and renamed Pacific Plaza, is a partnership between the City of Tacoma and Pacific Plaza Development LLC. So far, the city has committed $15.3 million toward the project.

But city staff and developers are asking for an additional $2 million to pay for general contract changes that include escalation costs, environmental cleanup, code changes, and operational enhancements, as well as a little over $1 million for proposed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) enhancements that would include a green roof with soil and vegetation, irrigation cistern, and garage lighting and fixture controls that developers hope will give the project a much sought after LEED-platinum certification.

That goal was a surprise to several members of the city council’s community and economic development committee meeting yesterday. For decades, the crumbling, five-story parking garage located near South 13th and Commerce streets has been a downtown eyesore. At one point, a consultant recommended city officials pay to wrap the building in nature murals.

But Pacific Plaza co-developer Dan Putnam told the committee his development team has built environmental sustainability into the project in hopes of setting a standard for new development downtown and drawing interest from potential tenants. “[It] will help us in marketing this building,” he said.

One interesting wrinkle: the team recently discovered a former Turkish spa 15 feet below Pacific Avenue which could be used to collect rainwater and irrigate the rooftop greenspace currently planned for the project. “We may get close to net zero runoff in the building’s storm water system,” said Putnam.

“If you can pull that off, it would be an extraordinary case study,” said Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma.

Co-developer Tom Absher said LEED-platinum certification would help the developers fetch slightly higher lease rates in Tacoma, but less than other nearby metropolitan areas. The project would also represent the first significant, new Class A office space in downtown in years, he added.

If City Council approves a resolution later this month to pay for the additional costs, it would tap several funds. According to interim public works director Mike Slevin, currently the city has collected $700,000 in Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) which is available for the project; $187,000 in Limited Tax General Obligation (LTGO) bond interest earnings; and $220,000 in other funds.

However, it would have to execute a $1.8 million interfund loan against future revenue from the city’s parking system. “The model shows we would be able to pay that back,” said Slevin.

When completed in July 2009, the revamped facility will boast two new floors of office space, one new level of parking, and expanded and improved street-level retail totaling approximately 32,000 square feet. It will provide approximately 500 parking stalls, and feature 24-hour-per-day security features such as key cards, improved lighting, branded floors, and open stairwell.

Despite a sluggish economy and the big question of whether Russell Investment Group will keep its headquarters in downtown Tacoma or move away (the company, which employs approximately 1,300 people and occupies close to 400,000 square feet of office space downtown, says it will make a decision by year’s end), Absher said he has received interest from a variety of parties.

“There is continuous interest,” he said. “We are constantly talking to potential tenants.” Though he wouldn’t specifically name any companies, he told council committee members that he has been contacted by businesses in a variety of sectors, including an office supply company and government service agencies.

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If you are interested in learning more about this project, a similar presentation will be made to Tacoma City Council’s Environment and Public Works Committee Weds., July 9, at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall / 747 Market St. / Room 248. The meeting agenda is available here: