Salishan revitalization set to begin

After three years of planning and preparation, the actual physical work that will herald the rebirth of Tacoma’s Salishan neighborhood is set to begin this spring.

Later this spring, workers will begin the first part of a multi-phase process that will eventually transform the city’s oldest and largest public housing development into a vibrant, mixed-use community.

“We have a real, live project,” said Steve Holt, senior project manager with Lorig Associates, the Seattle-based company that will supervise redevelopment, addressing a crowd of residents, project officials and government leaders that turned out for a Thursday public meeting at the Salishan Family Investment Center.

“It seems like it’s been a long time coming,” said Peter Ansara, executive director of the Tacoma Housing Authority, noting it will be time to “begin shoveling dirt soon.”

In May, bulldozers will begin tearing down homes along Portland Avenue between 44th and 38th streets on the city’s East Side. In August, the area will be excavated to prepare for construction, with the first houses set to be built early next year.

This is just the beginning of Phase 1 of the project and includes 452 units, which are to be completed by 2006.

Plans for the project as a whole call for tearing down the 855 units of the building first constructed as cheap temporary housing for World War II defense workers and replacing them with 1,200 new ones. The rebuilt community will include a mixture of new homes and apartments, as well as amenities like parks, retail space, a health clinic and an education and technology center.

“The revitalization at Salishan will take a long time,” said Tess Colby, director of development of the Tacoma Housing Authority. The entire three-phase project is to be completed by 2010 or 2011.

Startup money for the $200 million project comes from a $35 million grant from the federal Housing and Urban Development awarded in 2000. In April 2001, the grant was executed.

The public meeting, which was attended by several hundred people, gave officials the chance to address a variety of issues related to the massive project which greatly impacts the lives of the 3,000 Salishan residents.

“There’s going to be a great deal of change in this neighborhood over a long period of time,” said Tom Mathews, general manager of Walsh Construction Co., which will build homes.

The relocation of Salishan residents in the Phase 1 construction area is to be completed by April 30.

Construction impacts will be minimized, according to Bill Reid, senior project manager for Walsh Construction Co.

With the planned combination of homes for purchasing and low-income housing, the new Salishan is aiming to create a mixed-income community. No affordable housing will be lost, officials stressed.

“We want to construct as much new affordable housing as possible with the dollars available,” Holt said.

The project is expected to have an economic impact as well, providing jobs and training for Tacoma residents.

Developers and construction officials said they would employ up to 50 Salishan residents as part of Phase 1 in the project and planned to hire as many businesses owned by women and minorities as possible.

Walsh Construction hopes to award contracts for 14 percent of the total Phase 1 budget of $26.2 million to minority-owned businesses and 8 percent to women-owned businesses, at a minimum.

“We’re going to work very hard and diligently on that,” Reid promised.

Charles Miller, a subcontractor hired by Walsh Construction, said a major goal of the project is the maximum participation of businesses owned by women and minorities in Tacoma and Pierce County.

“And that will be my responsibility,” he said, noting he will have an on-site office to help such businesses compete for work.

State Sen. Rosa Franklin (D-Tacoma), who was on hand for the meeting, said, “I’ll be watching that closely.”

For more information on the project, visit