Tacoma Mall Neighborhood Plan Enters New Phase

The City of Tacoma is in the process of developing a plan for the future of the area around the Tacoma Mall. Much of the second half of last year was spent gathering input from stakeholders and the general public on the project, which is now ready to move to a new phase - with a new round of public input.

Early data gathering and public visioning work are complete for the 600-acre area, including studies of traffic and transportation, development and market capacity; topography and view corridors; and preferences of residents, property owners, and other stakeholders in the area.

The process, like those conducted in recent years for Tacoma's north and south downtown and Hilltop subarea plans, will produce a plan identifying local and regional goals for the neighborhood, as well as environmental impacts of future development. The plan will include implementation strategies for achieving those goals, and mitigation measures for the environmental impacts, completing initial environmental approval for future development in the area, and smoothing the way for future development in the area, as it aligns with the plan.

The area is currently home to nearly 3,800 residents, and 8,300 jobs. As a regional growth area identified in the PSRC's Vision 2040 plan, those numbers are forecast to more than double. The plan developed will seek to layout a framework for accomodating that growth as the neighborhood makes the transition from fairly suburban to a denser urban form - ideally one that is more walkable and transit-oriented.

Early planning documents break the Tacoma Mall area into four smaller neighborhood quadrants, labeled the NW Quadrant, Lincoln Heights, Madison, and the Mall Area. Each of those area has unique characteristics, and unique challenges and opportunities that will need to be addressed in the plan. In all of these districts the plan will seek to promote development in coherent, cohesive urban form with complete street networks. Safety and livability, transportation connections, and improved image get mentions as overall goals as well. Individually, the documents point to unique focuses for each quadrant. 

  • NW Gateway - Promoting livability through reconfigured key streets and block patterns, with new development and amenities. There are mentions of establishing an urban district with green infrastructure, appropriate large-scale development, structured parking on the hilside, managing transitions to commercial/industrial uses on the perimeter, and plans to accomodate a new Sounder station on South Tacoma Way, if viable.
  • Lincoln Heights - Reinforced neighborhood, with open space, and transitional building forms. Mentions are made of transitioning the existing dispersed 1950s housing to low- and medium-density residential, while retaining the curved street pattern with improved connections of streets. This could include a redevelopment of the Costco site that might allow for a reconnected street grid, parks, and green spaces as buffers between commercial uses on 38th, and residential streets. One interesting idea posed is to consider a “makers concept” area on the Pierce County properties, including small-scale industrial artisans, fabricators, and live-work opportunities.
  • Madison - Reinforced neighborhood, retaining the existing grid pattern, and building on open public space. The goal here would be to retain the existing neighborhood block structure, while improving livability for residents. To accomodate growth, 38th would be targeted for taller buildings (up to 10 stories), while the southern end of the quadrant would get smaller buildings (up to 45 feet). Attention would be given to lot layout, integration of Madison into the neighborhood with a park or recreation center, traffic calming measures, and neighborhood scale.
  • Mall Area - Strengthened retail draw, with entertainment venues, education, hotel, medical, residential, and other appropriate development. Supporting this goal would be an updated image, mixed-use infill with parking, public spaces, improved connections for transit and other modes of transportation; all with an eye to appropriate scale development. Also mentioned are a public park on top of the hill, an I-5 "slip lane" to Tacoma Mall Boulevard, a future light rail stop on Pine west of the mall, and turning Steele Street into a mixed-use, walkable boulevard.

These are just some of the concepts discussed, and nothing is set in stone yet. The project is now entering a new phase. From February to June the City will use this groundwork to develop a draft plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement. This phase will include a second round of focused community involvement.

Interested in learning more as plans develop? There's a presentation to the Planning Commission scheduled for tomorrow (February 3). This should be an opportunity to learn more details on where things stand now, and get a preview of what to look for in the next phase.  

In the near future the City will announce dates for community involvement opportunities. Keep up to date on all that by checking the website, www.tacomamallneighborhood.com, where you can also sign up to receive email updates. Additional public meetings will be scheduled for March through May 2016. For more information, visit www.tacomamallneighborhood.com.

See something you like (or don't)? Is something missing? Now's the time to get involved. What would you like to see in this plan?

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Tear it all down, make it a big park, and send the retail downtown.

February 2, 2016 at 12:57 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

13 | 5


Tear it all down… it’s a ghetto hell-hole. It will be like Mogadishu in 2040

February 2, 2016 at 4:45 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

11 | 4

Buck Futz

Tacoma Mall killed downtown   ;-(

February 2, 2016 at 5:35 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

12 | 3


The Tacoma Mall is 50 years old….. and unlike Downtown, it’s never needed to suck up tax dollars to re-invent itself. In fact, bucket loads of the money that’s helped out our Downtown came from sales taxes paid at the Mall. It’s not fair to go hating on the cash cow of T-Town. I love all of this City…. I visit 6 Ave, Proctor, Downtown on Pacific and the Mall. Of all these places, the Tacoma Mall is far the most diverse in both class and race. The Tacoma Mall is really the truest and bluest snapshot of Tacoma.

February 2, 2016 at 5:56 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

10 | 9

Timothy Smith

The most powerful center of retail activity in Tacoma is ZIP code 98409, the area of South Tacoma that includes Tacoma Mall. Those of us living here have suffered the “planning” from downtown before and now will endure another make-over/urban planning experiment. We continue to haul the sales tax water for all the government/non-profit/non-revenue areas downtown and elsewhere in the City with little return on our contribution.
I can still recall the derisive laughter on the bus as City planners and staff toured the area and saw what 10 tax-exemptions and pay-offs to the builders and housing associations created. Time to tear it down and build some more new projects and see how that goes.

February 3, 2016 at 9:26 am / Reply / Quote and reply

7 | 0


That’s because it killed downtown and kept it down and created many of the unfortunate realities that now seem “true and blue” to some people.

February 3, 2016 at 1:08 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

3 | 3


Let’s look at a little Tacoma history to sort this out. In 1970 the mall was 5 years old, there where 154,000 people in Tacoma, over 90% White and redlining kept the minorities out of the North and West End of town.

So in the next 40 years, Tacoma would gain 50,000 minorities and lose 3,000 White people. The neighborhoods South of the freeways grew with Brown immigrants form around the globe, and because Old White Tacoma shut them out, they lived in South and East Tacoma, bought homes, raised families and made the Tacoma Mall what it is today. The Mall didn’t kill Downtown…. Downtown killed itself. (but I’m happy to see an new and better Downtown rise up now)

February 3, 2016 at 4:27 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

3 | 5


One of the reasons for building the Tacoma Mall south of downtown was to attract shoppers from Lakewood. Location, Location, Location—to quote an old business axiom.

What do you mean by white? What do you mean by brown immigrants? And how do you know it?

February 3, 2016 at 6:48 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

4 | 0


I don’t buy this stuff about malls killing downtown. Sure, in many cities, all the commerce fled to the malls, as gov’t subsidized cars and malls had parking when downtowns didn’t. But government never left downtown, museums never left, performing venues never left, in any city. And this master plan is all about making Tacoma Mall area more like downtown and less suburbia anyways.

February 2, 2016 at 6:47 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

5 | 5


“...commerce fled to the malls, as gov’t subsidized cars and malls had parking when downtowns didn’t.”—-Donde

Government subsidized cars? Which government and what brand of cars are you talking about?

Let’s frame the debate within the time frame of the Tacoma Mall operating circa 1963 until 1983—a generally referenced period of retail decline in downtown Tacoma. But first, a prelude. Prior to that period, in the mid 1950’s, the U.S. was experiencing a recession and as a consequence of that plus aggressive pricing by Ford Motor Company, there were two major consolidations of independent automakers—-Studebaker merged with Packard; and Hudson Motor Car Company and Nash-Kelvinator formed American Motors. The “Big Three” world-dominating and Detroit, Michigan based automakers were Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. But even the Big Three had cash flow problems at times; and conventional business wisdom dictates worker layoffs to cut expenses. Hundreds, if not thousands of workers, many of them black, were laid off, sometimes permanently. What resulted has been documented in acres of words and by filmed interviews with many of those laid off workers. Illegal drug dealing expanded in the Detroit metropolitan area (In 1950, Detroit was the 5th largest city in the nation.), and many of the drug buying customers were automaker employees. The Big Three automobile corporations were literally getting poisoned to death by drug sales from former employees. U.S. made automobile quality by the late 1970’s to early 1980’s was so unreliable that the American car buying public shifted their allegiance to foreign automakers.

The significant fact is this: In any community where people think they have the right to practice illegal business dealings and to poison the citizenry, those who have the means to flee the community will do so. The phenomenon goes by different names: White Flight, Capital Flight, but the pattern is universal throughout history. That’s an oversimplified explanation of the demand for housing outside cities and the suburban shopping centers which developed to serve the new settlers.

The governmental subsidies that you mention, Donde, were and are mainly complex machinations developed to artificially develop and support forsaken cities and their poor and needy citizenry; and most notably, many such programs redistribute private wealth to uncivil servants.

February 3, 2016 at 11:20 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

2 | 2

Timothy Smith

Attended last evenings wrap-up/progress report and glad to report the City listened closely to what the community would like for this area and may be on a path to a very nice solution.

February 4, 2016 at 8:49 am / Reply / Quote and reply

5 | 0


The Tacoma City Council faced a tough problem in the 1960s:  either approve the plans of New York-based Allied Stores (parent firm of The Bon Marche in Seattle, which bought Fisher’s Department Store at 11th and Broadway in the 1950s) to build Tacoma Mall near Lincoln Heights or risk that the firm might build the facility on Puyallup Valley soil in the newly incorporated Fife.  Futile efforts to maintain downtown retail in the 50s were pursued by Rhodes and Sears, with both stores building parking garages.  Yet JCPenney had a small-sized downtown store at 1114 Broadway and needed the Tacoma Mall option.  Major retail options that remain in the downtown areas of Seattle, Portland and Spokane represent the current idea of shopping as entertainment for visitors—it is all upscale, without JCPenney or Sears.  By contrast, among Pacific Northwest shopping centers, Tacoma Mall remains a well-built (all brick/no block) all-season gathering place generating needed sales taxes for city government from surrounding towns.  Some critics complain tax investments downtown that faded long ago as a retail center are more money down a rat hole but the city is at least developing public resources that make the community more livable and that one hopes will attract higher-paying employers to Tacoma.  Unlike Spokane where Nordstrom’s downtown store (that will soon be stand-alone as a major retailer as the downtown Macy’s there closes in March) must hit certain sales quotas in the name of economic renewal for that city under terms of the federal funds used to built it or social services programs of the federal government for poorer people there are penalized, Tacoma Mall is also a monument to free enterprise.  One hopes the mall’s owner studies options to build more apartments around the complex similar to Pacifica and to perhaps consider constructing parking garages and maybe a restaurant atrium and cinema complex like the one at the expanded Southcenter in Tukwila that is now the de facto downtown Seattle for major retail, built by Allied Stores just two years after Tacoma Mall opened.  Tacoma Mall’s ability to engage city government and the community to keep its vitality as a gathering place should help prevent the decay and blight that has hit other shopping centers around the nation, even in Puget Sound (i.e., Olympia, Silverdale and Everett).  The importance of a vigorous Tacoma Mall for the city’s economy cannot be underestimated.

February 7, 2016 at 4:37 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 2


Tacoma has so many problems and obvious solutions that it’s fun to armchair imagineer what could be.  So, I’ll go ahead and troll away at this one…

I would take the mall completely out.  I would build a new mall on the corner of Hwy 512 and I-5 where the gravel pit is.  I would control this, as a city, by making a deal with the current mall owner to make better freeway, taxing, and development plans with the owners to get their buy-in… at the nexus of Tacoma, Lakewood, and Puyallup.

I would connect the current mall area, over the freeway, with the Lincoln neighborhood via overpasses.  I would make it a planned and high density community that connected well to Lincoln, South 56th/S Tacoma Way, and downtown - so these three areas are the shopping districts for it.

I would also work with the current mall owner to develop shopping downtown.  Two mall locations are better revenue streams than one and Tacoma now has the population and projected population to support it.

I would define this plan and pitch it before the idea of another mall is proposed where we don’t actually want it - like in Fife or right outside of the Tacoma boundary.  The current suburban style mall is to small - as stated in the NewsTribune, they “wish they had 20 more acres to build on.”  I say give it to them.  Define what it will look like.  Control the situation.

That’s my pipe-dream for today.  G’day.

February 9, 2016 at 8:50 am / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0

altered chords

Speaking of the Lincoln district - what is the status of the new Piece county office building.  Just googled it and the only story I found was from feb 2015 saying it was approved.  Don’t want to hijack the thread but it’s nearby.  Anyone?

February 9, 2016 at 1:51 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0


It’s dead and the county is figuring out whether to eventually come up with a revised proposal for a new (or re-modeled) building at the Puget Sound Hospital site or somewhere else.  Don’t expect any real movement until there’s a new county exec.

February 9, 2016 at 2:26 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 0

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