Imagine Tacoma – Paper or Plastic?

It seems that Downtown Tacoma inhabitants (permanent and temporary) continue to clamor for a grocery store to be located in the ‘center’ of the core. Even though a recent UWT article on Walkability notes that there are two grocery stores within one mile of the center of their campus, where would such a new market be apt to locate?

Not in the Downtown Core:
Grocery stores have two basic functional requirements: a large floor plate and a convenient access for large semi-tractor trailer deliveries. These requirements alone remove most of the downtown core for consideration due to narrow lots, topography elevation change, bLINK light-rail disrupting traffic flow, and congested freeway access maneuverability.

But imagine a large grocery store of your persuasion (e.g. MMM, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s) locating within the Dome District:


Maybe between Puyallup Avenue and South 25th along East C Street. This would allow for a large floor plate on a site that could incorporate delivery vehicles within the change in grade. Such a location would be midway between two bLINK Rail Stops and could have an upper floor with a view looking right down the Thea Foss Waterway (and go ahead and imagine it as a mixed-use structure with residential units above).

Parking Viaduct
With the Sounder Rail Extension requiring a rise in elevation where the ground actually is falling away, why not also imagine a large parking garage that has a train running through the middle of it. Such a garage could have access direct from the Tacoma Dome Exit from I-5 and convenient egress out ‘A’ Street. And what a better place to put a parking garage then either side of a railway and underneath a freeway (i.e. put ‘em all in one bucket).

Sounder Viaduct
Why not a duct? Instead of a large earthen dam built through the Dome District, how about a viaduct structure (a 21st century design as a counter-part to the 19th century wood trestle East of ‘G’). This would allow for development to happen close to each side of the rail line and provide access through from one side of the district to the other (think more comb and less ‘damn’).

So as you head home for evening, why not get off at the bLINK at the A Street Stop and pick-up some groceries before you head out into the night via your transportation of choice?

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Grocery stores have two basic functional requirements: a large floor plate and a convenient access for large semi-tractor trailer deliveries. These requirements alone remove most of the downtown core for consideration

Are you suggesting we do what Seattle did 100 years ago and regrade our downtown? Might not be a bad idea!

November 7, 2008 at 11:29 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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crenshaw sepulveda

Having grown up on the east coast I have learned that a neighborhood doesn’t need a giant grocery store to meet the food purchasing needs of a neighborhood.  Stand alone produce markets, bakeries, delis (real delis),fish mongers, and butcher shops (Kosher and non-Kosher) were the norm.  None of these operations require a huge foot print or space for tractor trailers. What they need is foot traffic and superior products to attract the rest of their customers.  A good start for downtown would be something like Dave’s Meats over in the north end.

November 7, 2008 at 11:35 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Hmmm, the Morgan Regrade…. I see your ulterior motive though – It sure would make it better for streetcars…

I agree with Cren – I’d love to have such shops where I could buy a few bags of quality, fresh goods.  I don’t need a trunkload of provisions for a month.  It works in other US cities and Europe (until a mega LeClerc opens on the outskirts).  I don’t know where the foot-traffic will come from, though.

November 7, 2008 at 12:55 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mid and large sized full service groceries are already working in downtown Seattle and Bellevue… The seattle one occupies the basement of a historic building.  This seems like something that could work in Tacoma as well…

more info and photos:

November 7, 2008 at 2:55 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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crenshaw sepulveda

You ever notice how many people are living in downtown Seattle, apart from the homeless.  Sure they can support a full blown supermarket there.  I think we are just barely supporting the few bodegas we have down here with the local residents.  Believe me, I would love to have a full service supermarket a block or two away from me in downtown Tacoma, it just ain’t going to happen.

Trader Joe’s in the Dome district, why not?  Give them a big parking lot and I’m sure they will do well.  Trader Joe’s is a destination and people are willing to drive to it.  What gets me is that University Place landed a Trader Joe’s.  Surely we could have come up with sufficient parking for a Joe’s within the city limits.

November 7, 2008 at 3:14 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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crenshaw: agreed.

I’m trying not to be a downer here. It’s great to imagine all this stuff. We know what we want, but what do the stores want? People. And right now those numbers are slim in downtown and about 4 in the Dome District. The only large retail tenant that would be potentially interested would have a suburban style model of business – which doesn’t excite me.

November 8, 2008 at 12:13 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

Least ye forget, at one time Tacoma had two grocery stores in the downtown core… both being Safeways.

One was on 13th and Market (or so, my research isn’t as deep as it ought to be) and the one in the photo below, at 1146 Pacific Ave.

This photo was taken in 1938, and I found it on the Library’s site.

Notice how it’s small and no way even half as big as Stadium Thriftway?

<span class=“caps”>THAT</span>’s what downtown can support.

On a side note, check out all the neat old buildings. Man, when I get my time machine working, I gotta go back to Tacoma in the Roaring 20s and in the 40s. I would love to have experienced our fair city then.

November 8, 2008 at 12:40 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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crenshaw sepulveda

The old photos on the library’s web site are great.  We forget that we <span class=“caps”>HAD</span> the Tacoma of our dreams back in the 30s and 40s.  You’ll notice, right next to the Safeway, is a hardware store.  There were probably at least two pharmacies downtown at the time as well. A fair number of places to eat were open all night.  We had it all, at one time. I suspect that when this picture was take a whole lot more people were living in the downtown area and it was very convenient to get downtown from the other neighborhoods as evident from the tracks in the street.

November 8, 2008 at 1:11 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

We did have it all, right up to the beginning of the 2nd half of the 20th century.

Then we had 3 major wounds that we still haven’t recovered from:

1) the rise of Suburbia in the 50s

2) I-5 severing the city in half in 1965

3) Opening of the Mall in 1965

To be fair, urban decline certainly isn’t a problem unique to Tacoma… almost all mid-size and bigger US cities were hit by it. And in some cases, very large cities too. Don’t forget about the decline of <span class=“caps”>NYC</span> in the 70s and of course, the continuing decline of Detroit.

Hell, after talking to older family members, even Seattle is a shadow of how awesome it was in the 40s.

Urban decline is a symptom of a much bigger problem.

But luckily, we can still fight it. Look to what Tacoma was before the cancer of the burbs began to metastasis.

November 8, 2008 at 1:22 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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crenshaw sepulveda

Wander by the library’s web site and check out the pictures of Manning’s.  Below is a description of one of the photos:

“Several exposures of after remodeling at Manning’s Market. Facing directly ahead, this photograph taken on July 31, 1950, shows a comprehensive view of Manning’s Market. To the left are the coffee and bakery displays; the deli is in the center and Jackson Brothers Meat Market is on the right. Manning’s could be construed as a one-stop shopping center where fresh meat, breads, and beverages could be obtained. The Jackson Brothers Meat Market were long-time occupants of Manning’s; they specialized in quality meat and sold Swift Co., Carsten’s and Rath’s meat products over the years. The Jackson Brothers Meat Market remained in the Manning’s location at 11th and Commerce until the building was razed in 1972.”

What is sad and difficult about downtown Tacoma is that so much of the infrastructure from the pre-60’s has been torn down.  Much of it remains as vacant or parking lots.  New construction will never serve the small time business like the old construction could.  It is true, over time, all buildings will be razed. That is just the nature of real estate. Tacoma, however, will not benefit from the same infrastructure that remains in place in many downtowns around the country.  We have so little to bring forward from the past in terms of downtown.  Our business and government leadership had such little vision.

November 8, 2008 at 1:45 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

None of this is new to anyone who has studied proper civic planning.

Yes, high rises and skyscrapers have their need and place.

But on the human scale, 6-7 stores (seldom more than 10) with storefronts on the sidewalk work excellently well. Have affordable housing in abundance. Small, unique stores that you’d never find in a mall.

Even the building materials are important. Most modern mid-rises and taller favor a sea of glass on the facade. Now it’s fine and all, but glass is very cold, sleek and modern. What do you commonly find in neat old buildings? Brick and stone, plenty of windows but certainly not a sea of glass. It’s true, a majority of folks will find the warm earthy tones and rough lines & edges of brick and stone to be more appealing than the austerity and sharp lines of glass.

A skyscraper in downtown would be nice, but it’s not our salvation.

With a little foresight and vision, what was torn down in the 60s and 70s can be rebuilt. New, modern buildings can certainly be made to look like a style from 100 years ago. New modern buildings can be designed with the same principles of design and function that had been in use from Roman times all the way into the 40s… and don’t have to be replicas of the past. If parking lots are infilled with buildings designed to attract people and merchants, they will come.

Museums alone don’t attract people downtown. Affordable housing, jobs, convenience and retail attract people downtown. Have any 2 of those, the rest will follow.

November 8, 2008 at 2:29 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Michael D 98409

DT Tacoma residents can’t support a Safeway or a Trader Joe’s.  TJ may be a destination store but again, where is the parking going to be?  How many people want to go shopping and carry the groceries on a light rail train or bLINK it is being called after working all day? (I have no clue what bLINK is. I call it the Light Rail to <span class=“caps”>NOWHERE</span>.

Safeway has a store west of Key Arena and I believe it has housing above.  Of course, more population there thanks to Queen Anne. Safeway also has a store in W Seattle and it’s called Safeway Jefferson, as it is located on Jefferson Street and SW 42. There are apts above and around the complex.  There are other businesses, including a <span class=“caps”>UPS</span> Mail store, Taco Del Mar and a Bartells.  The Apts above rent for around $1,200 a month (per a resident I talked to.)  I go to that Safeway frequently.

Safeway doesn’t want a small sq footage store, just look at Hilltop Safeway, small and it doesn’t have everything other Safeways do.

Some interesting ideas, but the garage around the train tracks lol that’s funny.  They should put the train in a trench, just like the City of Reno did with the main line of Union Pacific.  The Amtrak station is below ground level of the streets there.

November 8, 2008 at 2:30 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

Mike D ’409, you’re seeing exactly what I’m talking about:

Buildings designed to attract people. Some people seem to think of “Mixed Use” as some sort of newfangled fad or as a certain <span class=“caps”>NIMBY</span> I’m related to says: “it’s stupid”.

Fact is, mixed-use was the standard for the urban core for a very, very long time. It’s what makes a city livable. Of course there has always been single-use development, but all the great cities of today and yesteryear understood the appropriateness of mixed-use. Retail on the bottom floor (or two) and a practically built-in clientel above.

…yes, I know we see an attempt at this in recent buildings in town, like the Esplanade and Thea’s landing. Problem is that the retail there isn’t sufficient… even tho Esplanade is still empty and Thea’s landing has a little market and a restaurant. If someone living at Thea’s landing needs a tape measure, it’s off halfway across town to Lowes. If they need to do major shopping, it’s off to Albertsons and Safeway.

Another problem is the cost of living there. Remember a while back when I said you don’t want a downtown dominated by the wealthy and you want a healthy mix of income levels?

Point in case: How bog of a customer base can a high-end store under high-end condos really get? If (arbitrarily) 10% of people in Tacoma are upper middle class and beyond, that’s only 20,200 people that could afford to live there. That’s just affording, not the # who actually want to.

Having affordable housing above a store will be a boon.

Let me give you a hypothetical example. Build a 6 story mixed-use on the current <span class=“caps”>USA</span> of Yesteryear site (like keeps getting talked about). You have high-end housing nearby, namely 505 Broadway and The Walker. You have high-end apartments nearby, namely Hanna Hts and The Angle. You have mid-priced apartments nearby, namely the Metropolitans, and Bella. Yes, there are cheaper places as well as senior housing by Wright park. But if we put say, middle (like $700/mo) to upper middle (like $1000) apartments above the store, there is now a mixed income demographic and a place that average folk can afford. That results in more people being able to live downtown, which will begin to solve the people vs services available equation.

Do we already have a store in downtown? Almost, Stadium Thriftway is close. Is this very, very oversimplified? Absolutely. Have I really researched this and have hard data? Nope, I just have eyes and common sense.

I may not be an overpaid analyst, but you get the point.

November 8, 2008 at 11:53 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Tacoma simply does not have the downtown population to support a large grocery store. 

The Safeway/Tribeca on lower Queen Anne and the relocated <span class=“caps”>QFC</span>/Lumen project (old Tower Records lot) are less than 5-yrs old.  It took massive growth in this area before these companies decided it would be worth the investment.

Not only does the area have high dense resident population but it also receives a ton of tourists everyday that help support the need for such stores.

Hopefully the Hill Top Safeway will eventually be a turned into a similar mixed-use project and no longer be the “Un-Safeway”.

November 10, 2008 at 3:07 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Douglas Tooley

A Trader Joe’s in the Dome District or an Urban rebuild of the Hilltop Safeway are the two simplest solutions to this need.

The University Place Store is the only one in Pierce County, however the Federal Way store isn’t too far of a destination from the DD.  Dome event traffic would be a quick promoter for the store, and might also help build a core of Olympia customers for the chain.

Routing of the Sounder through the Dome District is a major mess.  I believe Sound Transit has spent 1.5 million so far on ‘preliminary’ engineering – the earthen mound plan Boe refers to.  However this plan does not take into account the Freeway on ramp at ‘A’ street (a Federal legal issue) nor the local comp plan item of a bike trail along the Sounder right of way.

This problem requires more talent than the ability to insult locals in order to steam roll through a conspiracy of, uh, you fill in the blank.

Besides the grade on the Sounder route there is also the item of regrading 26th to also cross a lowered Pacific.  This is where the ‘A’ street freeway on ramp problem comes up, as a regraded 26th blocks the freeway access.

Not to complicate things further, but the rebuild of I-5, hopefully done at the same time Pacific is torn up, also opens the option of re-routing I-5 access to the Dome District.

If an ‘A’ street ramp survives that planning effort it will need to be routed underneath both 26th, the Sounder route, and, likely, 25th, maybe also needing to be regraded.

About the only upside of this all would be an easy grade for bicyclists heading to the Water Ditch Trail via the Nalley Valley Greenbelt.

A South Downtown Regrade may well be in the cards.

November 11, 2008 at 12:15 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Douglas Tooley

One more thought – on the ‘A’ street grocery stop:

Perhaps it should be built in the air rights over Pacific, or just between Pacific and ‘A’?

November 11, 2008 at 12:22 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Scott Cowan

One of the things that would help downtown Tacoma help build the critical mass of population necessary for a full size grocery store is affordable housing for the majority of the people looking to buy in our area. The current inventory of condos while nice units are a bit too expensive for the majority of the under 35 crowd. We need to address the housing costs in downtown.

I would love to see something like the Safeway in West Seattle. Mixed use with other retail with it. I think Tacoma would support it and the chain that is forward thinking enough would be rewarded with a long term profit center.

November 11, 2008 at 1:14 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thorax O'Tool

…affordable housing for the majority of the people looking to buy in our area. The current inventory of condos while nice units are a bit too expensive for the majority of the under 35 crowd.

To be honest, $300,000+ is too rich for most people in Tacoma, not just those of us under 35. Remember, to properly service a $300K loan, you gotta make at least $75K… which is close to 2x the median income in our fair city.

But you bring up another point Scott: You say “buy”.

Not everyone who wants to live in downtown wants to or even can buy. Remember, the typical demographic of people living in the urban core are the young, newly or unmarried with relatively smaller incomes and no kids… not exactly a real estate buying powerhouse.

Yes, there need to be condos because some want to buy. But the apartment to condo ratio should heavily favor apartments.

Until we see a better balance, few will be able to afford to live downtown. Nothing good will happen unless we get people down there, it’s a self-appreciating and self-depreciating cycle.

November 11, 2008 at 1:28 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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RR Anderson

intensely interesting.  carry on!

November 11, 2008 at 6:27 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Cromletch McHammer

I am so very, very weary of the ongoing struggle to get downtown to be a good place to live.

So very tired.

Really, if our elected officials can’t figure it out or are unwilling to figure it out, why do we keep electing them?

They have the authority to change zoning and development regulations. They can make nice incentives for development, et cetera.

Why do we keep electing them? Is it because no one else will run or is it because of the 200,000+ <span class=“caps”>NIMBY</span>s in town?

This topic has been going on for decades, since I-5 and the Mall simultaneously sucker-punched downtown. Remember how in the 80s the Sheraton and the Financial Center were supposed to save downtown? Remember how in the late 90s the Convention Center was supposed to save downtown?

It’s obvious that those running this city don’t know how to fix the problem.

So why the hell haven’t we found anyone who can?

November 11, 2008 at 9:02 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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So… what’s the super-successful and talented King of Dubai doing on his spare time?  Can he be the guy to get us a grocery store?  =)

November 11, 2008 at 9:24 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Cromletch McHammer

Yeah, I think he’s kinda busy with that 2,700 ft monster.

But I bet he’d be happy to give us a few tips in exchange for buying a few hundred thousand barrels of their oil.

November 11, 2008 at 9:33 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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RR Anderson

ah to have an exploitable natural resource…

November 11, 2008 at 10:17 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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April 13, 2016 at 2:21 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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