South Tacoma Way stretch renamed "Auto Row"

A significant stretch of South Tacoma Way has been officially renamed “Tacoma’s Auto Row.”

On Tuesday, Tacoma City Council approved a resolution sponsored by Councilmember Joe Lonergan officially designating South Tacoma Way, between South 37th Street and South 80th Street, as a commercial district. The move is part of a collaboration started last year between the City of Tacoma and local automobile dealers to better promote the area as a regional auto-buying hub and hopefully increase sales of automobiles. The commercial district designation also allows automobile dealers to submit an application to the Washington State Department of Transportation to place signage along Interstate 5 directing people to the area.

The bulk of Tacoma’s automobile dealers are located on South Tacoma Way because it was the main north-south corridor through Tacoma until Interstate 5 was built in 1960. City of Tacoma staff estimate South Tacoma Way automobile dealers create over 1,000 jobs and generate significant tax revenue for the City.

Prior to council’s vote Tuesday, several people arrived at Tacoma City Hall to speak in support of the resolution. Here are some of their comments:

Mary Byrne, Bruce Titus Automotive Group / Washington State Auto Dealers Association (Past President) — For somebody who was born and raised in Tacoma, I’m very familiar with what South Tacoma used to be. I still call it the lost highway. That was the transportation to and from if you wanted to get anywhere before I-5. For being 26 years in the car business, I’ve watched South Tacoma Way grow [then] drop to stagnant. So we are extremely ecstatic about the ability to call this Tacoma’s Auto Row, to put some freeway signage out, and our ultimate goal is to clean up South Tacoma Way, make it a great business district, not just the small area between [South] 56th [Street], but make it an inviting arena for people to be able to come and shop.

Mohsen Aliabadi, South Tacoma Auto Sales — I’ve been on South Tacoma Way for 30-plus years and I’ve noticed it start from a great place, grow and grow, and then diminish. I think it’s about time for us to put some effort and attention to the row so it can become a real business destination.

Gary Gilchrist, Gilchrist Buick GMC — I appreciate the opportunity of just listening and thinking about a row for the mutual benefit of selling more cars. We don’t want [people] driving by South Tacoma Way anymore. We want them to come down into South Tacoma Way. With the next step of helping us initiate a [Business Improvement Area], and to start improving, beautifying, and making it a destination place, I think we can mutually partner together to benefit both.

Karen Rich, Guardian Security — My husband and I have been in business in the South Tacoma area for 36 years. A portion of our business is automotive locksmithing. We work closely with all of the automotive-oriented businesses in South Tacoma: new car dealers, used car dealers, automotive repair shops, tire shops — anything to do with automotive. In the 1960s, when I-5 opened, South Tacoma Way obviously lost a lot of exposure to the new freeway. For the past 50 years, these businesses that have stayed on South Tacoma Way have had to be really creative in how they did promoting of their businesses. A lot of the dealers, especially the new car dealers, have remodeled and made beautiful dealerships with landscaping and just made it really, really presentable, really, really nice. We hope that our support and your passing of this resolution will help to promote South Tacoma Way as Tacoma’s Auto Row.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland — I would like to just thank Councilmember Lonergan for his leadership on this. He has really been an advocate for our car dealers for a long time. At our council retreat, we talked about some of our strategic objectives, and one of them was to really figure out how we can raise up and invest in the South Tacoma Business District. So this is very consistent with doing that. For the car dealers and businesses who really hung in there when people were leaving, thank you for doing that. I think we owe you the ability to succeed. I’m excited about doing this signage now, especially because we’re going to have Bass Pro Shops open in the South Tacoma area, right off of I-5, highly visible. So we’re going to draw people regionally, and we have an opportunity to direct them to South Tacoma, possibly to buy cars along with all their hunting and sporting goods. We have Joint Base Lewis-McChord. So there are a lot of opportunities along the I-5 corridor to really direct people. I hope that when we do this, we take a perspective that allows us to be creative and unique in how we do it so that our auto row really stands out in Washington State.

Tacoma City Councilmember Joe Lonergan — It’s exciting to be here today. It’s certainly exciting to see some of my friends, who I’ve gotten to know over the last year or so. Thank you for being here and speaking in support of this. This measure will allow us to put some signage on Interstate 5 and perhaps Highway 16, directing people to the South Tacoma Way business row, including the auto dealers and the South Tacoma Way Business District Association area. Certainly, I believe, this will be a rising tide. The plans that I’ve heard for continued investment and beautification, on top of the millions of dollars that have already been spent by our automobile dealers, is an encouraging thing to me. Certainly, a lot of folks are coming to South Tacoma Way for their automotive needs, and there are a lot of ancillary businesses around that will also benefit from the increased traffic, getting people off the freeway and allowing them the opportunity to shop what is a beautiful and historic auto row. It’s about time we designate it as such.

A significant stretch of South Tacoma Way has been officially renamed "Tacoma's Auto Row." (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)
A significant stretch of South Tacoma Way has been officially renamed “Tacoma’s Auto Row.” (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of historic South Tacoma Way and Tacoma’s Auto Row, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at