Eastside Community Center Feasibility Study

A feasibility study for a possible new community center on Tacoma's Eastside outlines the parameters for the possible project - including community needs, possible locations, programming, costs, and possible funding sources. Planning partners including the City of Tacoma, Tacoma School District, Tacoma Housing Authority, and Metro Parks commissioned the study in response to requests from the community, in part following on the shooting death of Eastside youth Billy Ray Shirley.

The study identifies an understanding between the partnering agencies that a well-programmed, economically viable community center is possible when facilities and responsibilities are shared. Out of this understanding developed a "Community Campus" concept that envisions shared facilities - sports fields, parking, rooms - between the future community center and an existing Tacoma middle school.

Programs & Services

The study supports programs for all ages, but identifies a particular need for youth services, which it describes as an "age-group that is significantly underserved in East Tacoma."

Specific considerations for Tacoma's community center include programming for all ages, but specifically for youth, a group described as "significantly underserved in East Tacoma."

  • Families - The center would need to accomodate activities for family members of different ages either together or individually. Drop-in childcare or programming, as well as specialized classes could be developed for younger children. After-school, summer, and weekend programming for school-age children and teens could be offered.
  • Teens - Teen activities could cover many areas of the center, including at special "teen" times, like after school or late night programs.
  • Seniors & Special Needs - These populations can benefit from use of the facilities for a variety of health and fitness, and other programs and uses.
  • Business/Corporate & Special Interest Groups - These groups should be explored for their interest in various uses of the center

Among the general considerations for a community center, the study identifies some key elements.

  • Health and Recreation: gymnasium, outdoor sports, exercise, aquatics
  • Education/Learning: music, parenting, nutrition, college preparation, financial literacy, life-long learning, educational resources
  • Social: multi-generational, serves groups, skill-building, late-night activities, parties, weddings, dances, job fairs, performances
  • Culture and Arts: cooking classes, cultural space to celebrate community diversity, performing arts, recording studio, visual arts, movies
  • Services: community-based nonprofits, health services, tax assistance, financial readiness, senior services, daycare, driver education
  • Drop-in recreation activities are critical to both use and revenue generation
  • Instructional programming should focus primarily on basic skills, with specialized or advanced instruction as a secondary concern
  • Special events will be important for users of the community center, as well as for revenue generation
  • Community rentals of gyms and multi-purpose rooms for larger community gatherings and events can generate additional revenue
  • Social welfare prgrams for specific populations including childcare, senior programming, and others are a common use for community centers



To serve the identified populations and their needs, the study envisions a 58,400 square-foot building, including community center and aquatic center uses. 

In terms of site selection, the various groups had a variety of criteria.

  • East of Portland Avenue - THA preferred a site that would allow Salishan residents pedestrian access without crossing Portland Avenue
  • School sites - many Tacoma Public School sites are either too small or are undergoing renovations, Metro Parks also identified proximity to school sites as a priority
  • Pedestrian/bike/transit accessibility - access by non-driving groups, including teens is an important consideration. The public identified ease of access, specifically via transit, as a priority.
  • Co-location with other public facilities - shared facilities can reduce construction needs, and therefore costs
  • Competitiveness for public and private funding
  • Outdoor recreation space - proximity and connectivity to outdoor spaces 
  • Multi-use - a site with spaces for multiple uses, including gardens, gather spaces, and arts and cultural activities is preferred.
  • Parking - sufficient parking for the variety of uses
  • Safety - sufficient lighting, crosswalks, etc for pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, and others
  • Incubator - the public identified an interest in a location that could have spin-off benefits for other businesses
  • Visible - the community center should be easily recognized and prominent to the public
  • Affordable - existing buildings should be considered to save on construction costs.

Based on these criteria, the study identified several possible sites (pictured right). The First Creek site was recommended based on its capacity to accommodate the proposed building and parking; share uses with the school; and provide safe access for pedestrians, particularly those coming from Salishan. Challenges for the site include the need for further study of impacts on school access and parking, and on pedestrian safety at 56th and Portland Avenue; the need for some wetlands mitigation; and the fact that the site is not central to the larger Eastside, which might mean a need for programming at other sites to meet community needs. Despite these possible challenges, the study found First Creek to be the best option.



Two potential design concepts at the north end of the access drive on the site were developed as part of the study: a one story, "Urban Lodge" concept, and a two story, "City Icons" concept.

The "Urban Lodge" concept would reflect aspects of Northwest arcitecture, with elements of Native American and Japanese building traditions, including simple forms, exposed structure, and wood elements. The incorporation of brick in the structure would connect it to existing First Creek Middle School buildings.

The "City Icons" concept is a little more... conceptual, reflecting three Tacoma architectural icons: Tacoma Art Museum, Museum of Glass, and the LeMay ACM. The shape of structures, and use of metal siding and roofing would visually reference the three museums. 



The study anticipates a rough cost for the community center somewhere in the ballpark of $30 million, give or take a million. That breaks down into about $1 million for creating a campus near First Creek, with the remaining bulk of the costs split roughly 50% for construction of a community center, and 50% for the construction of an aquatic center. The study also looks at potential cost recovery for the community center. A community center that includes an aquatic area would cost significantly more, but would also provide a higher potential rate of return.



Options for raising that $30 million include a range of public and private sources from all of the partnering agencies. 

  • Local park capital bond measure or general obligation bonds
  • Property and sales tax dollars
  • Sale proceeds of surplused Eastside properties (Gault Middle School, pool property, possibly Portland Avenue Community Center)
  • State funding
  • Real estate excise tax
  • Funds from other potential partners, public and private
  • Federal funds from Community Development Block Grants and Economic Development grants
  • Private funding for outdoor spaces from sources such as the Starbucks Neighborhood Park grant program, and other private park funding programs 
  • HUD funding through Capital Fund Education and Training Community Facilities grants
  • Philanthropic sources, launching a capital campaign with the assistance of Metro Parks, Team Billy Ray, and other Eastside supporters and programs

Funding would also need to be identified for ongoing operation of the facility. The report suggests potential sources including existing operating budgets from Metro Parks and City of Tacoma for programming that could be located at the center, a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club for youth and teen services, funds available for extending the length of the school day and increasing access to school facilities through community school grants, lease revenue from tenants, and fees and charges from individuals using the facility.



The study identifies several potential challenges the project in general will need to address.

  • The demographics of the primary service area show a population that has a lower median household income level. This typically reduces the rate of particiaption in sports and cultural activities and limits the fees that can be charged for use of a center.
  • A new Eastside Community Center would need to meet a vast variety of recreation needs and expectations.
  • Funding and responsibilities for the construction and operation of an indoor community center will have to be clearly defined among the partnering agencies.

If plans for the Eastside community center are going to move forward, next steps would include defining the roles for partner agencies, and taking the next steps to assess the viability of various aspects of the project identified in this initial study; the City has a $400,000 state grant for that next phase of work.

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I worked for a non-profit activity based youth program for many years.  I had this area as part of my territory.  I could not give away activities for the youth there because their parents would not be involved.  Sorry, but Tacoma, and this area in particular, are regionally notorious for a lack of parental involvement.  If this project hinges on parental involvement to make it work, save your money.  Harsh but true.  Sorry.

Plus, I have a real question; how is this building going to do anything different than can be accomplished at an already built public school?

March 28, 2014 at 3:55 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Truer words have never been spoken

March 30, 2014 at 4:28 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Terry W.

Right now I’m against it. As an Eastside resident, I hate the location, tucked away down by Salishan, where nobody but that small neighborhood could easily use it. East Tacoma isn’t just a housing project after all. Look again at Stewart Middle School on Pacific or some place more central.

March 28, 2014 at 9:58 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Jesse is absolutely correct.

April 1, 2014 at 9:20 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Pagano has been at Montana State University Billings since 2011, where he has overseen academic programs at the university’s five colleges and a number 200-125 dumps of additional programs and centers, including international studies and outreach, graduate studies, extended campus and information technology and e-learning. He has led daily operations of the university and co-chaired the formation and implementation of the school’s strategic plan.

July 9, 2018 at 2:45 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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