Skyline changing with new buildings, projects

It’s everywhere you look in Tacoma: construction.

From museums to the expansion of buildings to upscale condo projects to a new transportation hub, construction and development projects are changing the face of the city.

More than $672 million has been committed to public and private developments under way or in the works, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.

Private funds account for $315.83 million, while public funds account for $356.5 – for a total of $672.33 million.

That’s an increase from this time last year, when more than $650 million was committed to public and private developments in the city.

“It’s stagnant in a lot of places,” Becky Japhet, marketing coordinator for the Tacoma Economic Development Council said, referring to the recession that has slowed construction in many areas.

“We (Tacoma) really are kind of bucking the tide,” she said.

She offered several reasons for this, including the city’s unique permitting process; positive word of mouth about Tacoma, regionally and nationally; and the fact that many of these construction and development projects were set in motion long before the recession.

Developers can get a commercial permit guaranteed in eight weeks or get their money back, she explained.

Tacoma’s permitting process has the city involved all along the way with commercial projects.

The city is involved in the planning phase and actually partners with the developer or developers so there are no last-minute surprises.

Having been involved from the beginning, the city is already familiar with the project and is assured that things are being done properly.

This allows Tacoma to issue permits within eight weeks, Japhet said, although in most cases it doesn’t take that long to issue a permit.

“You can’t really find that anywhere else,” she said.

The “Tacoma – America’s #1 Wired City” campaign appears to be paying off as well, Japhet noted, with the city garnering a reputation – not just in the state, but across the nation – for doing good business.

“The word is out in the country,” she said. “Our image is changing.”

Japhet said Julie Wilkerson, director of the Tacoma Economic Development Council, was on a recent trip to Florida and mentioned she was from Tacoma and received an enthusiastic reaction from people who replied with the “America’s #1 Wired City” slogan.

“It’s a happening place,” Japhet said of Tacoma, with a synergy between the city and public and private developers. “People understand that.”

While the Pacific Northwest has been hit especially hard by the recession – with Washington having the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation – Tacoma continues to bustle with construction.

“It just goes on and on,” Japhet said, attributing that to the fact that many of the construction and development projects were well under way before the economic slowdown.

Construction in the city looks to continue, as earlier this year Tacoma was designated as a “renewable community” by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, making the city eligible to share in $17 billion in federal tax incentives to stimulate job growth, promote economic development and create affordable housing.

Tacoma will be eligible for wage credits, work opportunity credits, welfare to work credits, tax deductions and capital gains exclusions.

See the list below for a summary of some of the construction and development projects in Tacoma.

PROJECT: Museum of Glass

DESCRIPTION: A 75,000-square-foot building housing galleries, exhibition space, a grand hall, an education studio, a 180-seat theater, amphitheater, museum store and cafe.

LOCATION: 1801 E. Dock Street

COST: $63 million

TIMELINE: Ground was broken in June 2000 on the project. It is set to open this July.

PROJECT: Tacoma Art Museum

DESCRIPTION: A 50,000-square-foot, brushed stainless steel, glass and wood facility with a parking garage for 125 spaces.

LOCATION: Pacific Ave. and Hood St., near Union Station.

COST: $22 million

TIMELINE: Construction began in late Jan. 2001. The new building is set to open in 2003.

PROJECT: Tacoma Convention Center

DESCRIPTION: A 240,000-square-foot project, including an exhibition hall, a ballroom/meeting space and tower.

LOCATION: Corner of South 15th and Commerce streets.

COST: $89.7 million

TIMELINE: Ground was broken in Sept. 2001 on the project. It is set to open in mid-2004.

PROJECT: Tacoma Link light rail

DESCRIPTION: A 1.6-mile line connecting downtown Tacoma and the transit hub at the Tacoma Dome Station.

LOCATION: Between the Tacoma Dome Station and downtown Tacoma.

COST: $66 million

TIMELINE: Construction on the Operations and Maintenance Facility began in Jan. 2001.Tacoma Link is scheduled to be up and running in 2003.

PROJECT: Pacific Towers

DESCRIPTION: A 95-unit luxury condominium project.

LOCATION: 3201 Pacific Ave.

COST: $20 million

TIMELINE: Construction started in January. Pacific Towers will be completed next year.

PROJECT: UW Tacoma, Phase 2B

DESCRIPTION: Expansion of the campus by renovating warehouses along Pacific Ave.

LOCATION: 1900 Commerce St. (campus)

COST: $40.8 million

TIMELINE: The Science and Keystone buildings – Phase 2A – opened in January. Phase 2B is set to begin in August.