Exit133 is about Tacoma

Imagine Tacoma - Port DMZ

The City of Tacoma is in the midst of developing a Downtown Plan Update (not a Master Plan per se but a document that may likely recommend the creation of a Master Plan). There is, however, an apparent huge omission in the scope of this undertaking: The Downtown Plan Update does not include the Thea Foss Waterway (the rationale behind this omission is that the Thea Foss has its own plan – which was last updated almost 10 years ago). Although the ‘working definition’ of Downtown Tacoma stretches over to include the East side of the Foss, the limitation of the update scope creates a further challenge to adequately address the integration of the waterfront into the fabric of upland Downtown (a specific note of concern raised by Lars Gemzoe – the Danish architect brought in by the City Council last April to provide recommendations to salvage Tollefson Plaza). So Imagine Tacoma looks at what an expanded Eastern edge of Downtown Tacoma might be:

Port DFZ (Douglas Fir Zone)
While the Port should be rightly concerned about development ‘creep’ onto their industrial lands – why not plant a 100 foot wide buffer aligned along the East Side of East ‘D’ Street to define the edge of the heavy industrial uses (not an original idea – as it has been proposed by local architects for many years). The view from the slope of Downtown would have a ribbon of green that can define this hard zoning edge while ‘softening’ the industrial aesthetic of the panorama (envision a Christo fence of fir trees). This would then allow the Port of Tacoma to become ‘a player’ in the mixed-use development of the East side of the Thea Foss. For the Foss Waterway to succeed, BOTH sides of the waterway need to be developed with pedestrian oriented activity – i.e. we cannot continue to have a Berlin Wall of Water existing down the center of the waterway.

Mixed-use Dynamics
If Granville Island can work with a concrete factory in its midst, the East side of the Foss can thrive with the unique aspects of the existing industrial uses. The East side should allow a variety of uses – from existing ship building to residential lofts to glass hot shops. Maybe the East side could really become Tacoma’s own Murano Peninsula – basking in afternoon sun with the best views of the City from across the Foss Waterway.

Green Overlay
What if the City helped sponsor a review of all of the existing uses along the waterway for incorporating sustainability elements – from best practice procedures to incorporating green building elements. With the City of Tacoma spending yet undetermined millions on the development of Urban Waters – then why not make it a flag ship for the whole peninsula about maintaining viable industrial port lands while achieving sustainable environmental goals?

Now many of these item have been covered by Imagine Tacoma before – Murray Morgan Bridge, Foss Connections I + II, Cheney Stadium Relocation, MOG inside-out – but without the Port of Tacoma becoming a partner in the necessary urban development of the Thea Foss (West and East sides), then the concerted efforts spent in the rest of the Downtown will remain only partially successful.

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RR Anderson

you guys really aught to start offering high-rez ‘desktop’ sized downloads of these architectural renderings. 

I cant read any of the wonderful little handwriting!

August 15, 2008 at 10:32 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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michael g.

That’s a great and achievable idea.  The city council and Port should make it happen.

August 15, 2008 at 1:04 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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wow…. this is something; a vision for Tacoma!

Let’s work in a maritime center as well. Not so much a museum, but really a park with an open area, possibly some temporary sculpture and outdoor exhibit area. Let this be an anchor for the Tall Ships each year and a tribute to the maritime heritage of Tacoma (and specifically the Foss waterway and Foss family).

You’ve got a trolley there and I think that metaphorically links the railways that built Tacoma to the waterways that brought the rails here. It also connects to Sounder rail and Link rail that in ways connect Tacoma’s future as a hub.

I like the idea of the green curtain/Port <span class=“caps”>DFZ</span> since it does separate the industrial from the Foss and will increase it’s attractiveness. It also represents even more of Tacoma’s links – we were built as a timber town. We moved timber onto ships, and then the rails when they came. Now we live here because of the green and it’s connection to nature.

When you’re done working out downtown and the Foss…. can we connect it to Ruston Way better? Green space and trails!

August 15, 2008 at 2:05 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Great vision!  I love it !  A ballpark right across from the Maritime Museum, a cozy harbor, a great view of downtown (I’ve always wanted to have that viewpoint and I bet I’m not the only one). 

Can you imagine watching a ballgame, seeing tall ships in the bay, and watching the sun go down over the Olympics?  That would be pretty damn cool.

Granville island is a good reference point for this idea, and it really adds to Vancouver.  But here’s the rub, you have to save the bridge, that’s the cog rubbing raw this vision.  And that isn’t going to be cheap. 

David, go one step further and give a rough ballpark figure to see through, 100 mil (the bridge is what 40 mil to fix, maybe less for just peds), then what’s the rest of it cost?  Of course there’s no hard figure, but a ballpark, so to say .. . .?

let’s do it!

August 15, 2008 at 6:18 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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michael r

East Foss. Yes. Ideally with great pedestrian & shuttle access.

A green belt. Yes.

A ball park. Yes… and/or space for field sports like soccer, etc.

Downtown living will become much more attractive if residents have sports/recreation/park facilities within walking distance… on the East Foss.

August 15, 2008 at 9:18 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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You're Welcome

A downtown grocery store would make downtown living more attractive.

August 15, 2008 at 11:01 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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My concern is budgeting and sprawl into the tideflats.  This is a good idea if the two water inlets are dredged and an island is created.  That way there’s a real boundry (not easily knocked down trees)between the industrial tideflats and Tacoma’s play-land. 

What about the costs?  I heard $80-$120m to fix up the MM Bridge alone – before 11% inflation and concrete and other construction materials moving up to 70% higher.  Does the city have that now or in the forseeable future?  No.  I would surely see a project similar to this happening if real estate becomes super-hot again or in about 20 years or so.  These projects are why it’s so important to create more tax revenue through population increase, businesses moving here, etc.

Another problem is that Tacoma is so full of deferred maintenance that the own could spend money on that alone for the next who-knows-how-long before they get to some pet projects.  I know I’m on the pesamistic side but I think this town has way bigger items to handle right now. IE- attracting way more educated, white-collar jobs, attracting the hipsters and retired to the city core, maintenance of existing streets-powerline burial-streetscaping-etc.-etc.-etc…

August 16, 2008 at 9:39 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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michael g.

Where do things stand on the tax restructuring/sales tax credit (I forget how it worked exactly) the state was offering the City to pay for rehabbing Murray Morgan bridge?  I think it died last year in the state legislature, but I think it would be able to pass with a good push from south Sound legislators. 

Fixing the bridge (if we want to fix it, and I think the long term needs of the city necessitate it) is a matter of regional equity.  Certainly we should get $100 million or so to fix our bridge problem as Seattle gets billions for the viaduct repairs/replacement and 520 replacement. 

Also, Tacoma will see a lot of new, educated workers when the new Urban Waters/Puget Sound Partnership headquarters is built on the east side of the Foss — they’re going to want easy access to downtown.  They’ll also want the environment around their offices to be something more than an industrial wasteland.

August 16, 2008 at 12:53 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Joe Petrich

For years this same idea has been in the back of my mind.  I think it is great.  To be truly successful the waterway needs to be accessible on both sides.  The view from the east side of the waterway towards downtown is one of the best in the city.  Baseball? Perfect.  What you don’t want to do is allow a bunch of development right up on the water blocking public access.  Provide a green buffer of parks between the water and any large buildings. Keep the condos out. Include public moorage for visiting boats.  Provide easily accessible parking and an extension of the Link.  How about some sort of amphitheater for concerts and plays?  And don’t forget a water taxi to link the east and west sides of the waterway.

Sure, money can be difficult to come by, and the city has many other problems, but you can’t give up.  You need to keep the dream alive.  One of the ways to attract more people and business is to make the city truly livable and this is a way to make this part of the city that way.

August 16, 2008 at 6:06 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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nos@3:  there is a great new interactive maritime center that celebrates our maritime heritage whose grand opening was just before Tall Ships this year and the hub of much activity.  Did you see it?  Tom Cashman and co. have done a great job with many improvements and additions slated for the future. 

In addition, there is a new Youth Marine Center in the planning stages on the east side of the Foss, more of a vocational training/skills building center for youth. 

Between these two facilities we’ll have some of the best hands-on and interpretive maritime facilities in the nation.

August 18, 2008 at 12:40 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Michael s.

All I can say is that i agree fully with this outline, if only a way could be found to fund it…

August 18, 2008 at 3:09 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Great vision!

I would like to know why the Port of Tacoma is not behind re-opening the Murray Morgan Bridge.

Certainly if they are going to put office buildings in over there, they would want to be connected to downtown – assuming they actually intend to construct new offices.

August 18, 2008 at 3:41 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Isaac Alexander

Look at the new downtown baseball park going up in Tampa Bay.


I personally would love to see the new home for the Rainiers just south east of the city. Imagine sitting in the stands looking across the water to downtown Tacoma.

August 19, 2008 at 5:32 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Published Author RR AndersonRegistered

methanol is dead!  bring back the DMZ!  help fight sea level rise!

April 20, 2016 at 9:51 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Has anyone discussed using permaculture design gardens with the bioremediation of the soil in the port via mushrooms and plants? Food forests could also be created in raised beds to feed folks using the area for recreation - much better than vending machines. It would be great to brainstorm other visions, unconventional ones, that will make the port become a showcase of how to reclaim a super fund site.

April 20, 2016 at 10:12 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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June 9, 2018 at 6:07 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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