Downtown property owners will vote on LID plan again

A decision on whether to spend millions of dollars on neighborhood improvements in a section of downtown Tacoma will be made by area property owners, according to discussion Tuesday during the city council’s noon study session.

It’s the second time in less than two years that property owners near St. Helens Ave., Broadway, and Market St., between So. 2nd St. and So. 9th St., have voted on an innovative Local Improvement District (LID) that would time much needed utility and infrastructure upgrades with aesthetic improvements.

When polled last year, property owners narrowly rejected a plan to pay $3.9 million for new street lights, landscaping, planters, and painted lanes directing two-way traffic along Broadway. The City would pay for $8.1 million in public utility upgrades. However, in April 2006, City Council voted 6-3 to overrule property owners and form the LID. Since 2004, when the original estimate was completed, the project cost has climbed, and property owners would now pay $5.8 million for their share of improvements.

During yesterday’s meeting, councilmembers considered paying the $1.9 million difference either by tapping the city’s contingency fund or eliminating other infrastructure improvement projects, but feared that such a move would set a precedent for other LIDs.

“The appropriate action is to poll owners again,” said City Manager Eric Anderson. “The results will determine whether to go forward.” He added that City staff would begin contacting property owners this week.

Another poll of property owners concerns developer Ron Gintz, who has supported the LID from the beginning. His family-owned firm, Gintz Group, recently completed improvements to commercial space in a building located at 732 Broadway. It is the firm’s corporate office, and also houses a branding and design company. Later this year, two new businesses — a dentist and a mortgage broker — will move into now-vacant space. Gintz is also in the middle of renovations to the former Mecca Theater, located at 755 Broadway, which will be converted into a movie house and brew pub on street-level, with condominiums upstairs.

Gintz said he has tried to time development of his projects to the LID. He has also mentioned the planned improvements to tenants interested in moving into his projects.

“I have personally stood in our corporate conference room, looked out on Broadway, and shared with each prospective buyer the fact that Broadway will soon handle two-way traffic, we will have pedestrian-scale lighting, new streetscape enhancements, curbs, gutters, and sidewalks,” said Gintz, in an open letter to councilmembers and City Manager Anderson. “It is inconceivable to us that a $1.9 million miscalculation could derail a project that is both visionary and necessary.”