'These things take time'

Completing the downtown to-do list, compiled during the Russell Investment negotiations, may not be happening as fast as some people might like.

But work is happening.

Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson on Tuesday briefed the City Council’s economic development committee a week after it hosted a panel of private development officials. The panel discussed “barriers” to downtown development, and members indicated they’d like less talk and more action.

Anderson’s remarks illustrated the divide between the pace of government and private business. Russell announced its decision to move a year ago.

“We are, in fact, fulfilling our obligations . While there may be issues that surround these things, and conversations that surround these things,” projects are moving forward, he said.

Anderson showed that design work has started on sprucing up Pacific Avenue. Earlier in the day, at the council study session, city staff presented preliminary work on a new Link light rail stop at South 11th and Commerce streets. Both items were part of the package to keep Russell Investments in Tacoma, and both are funded primarily through various federal funding sources.

“I am keenly aware of two things: These things take a long time, and people are impatient,” Anderson said. “While we want to move as quickly as we can, we do not want to move too fast,” he said. “If we move too fast, people get hurt. We have a lot of power.”

Two other topics came up Tuesday: The Winthrop, a former hotel and current low-income housing development at 9th and Commerce streets; and the Link light rail stop across Commerce from the Winthrop. The developers’ panel used the two blocks around that light rail stop as an example of Tacoma not looking its best when prospective business people come to town. Several said visitors find the area to be dirty and scary.

Anderson said Tuesday that the city can improve lighting, fix planters and trim back trees. But private property owners bear most of the responsibility for the look of the neighborhood.

Councilman Marty Campbell asked whether the city could use current programs intended to help building owners imagine better facades.

“We can certainly approach it that way. I guess I don’t think that the owners there fail to understand,” Anderson responded. “They know full well that it’s not painted and it should be. But they also know full well that it’s not returning value and it’s not going to until the neighborhood changes.”

Anderson said the Winthrop isn’t solely to blame for perceived crime problems in the area.

“It isn’t all the people in the Winthrop, it isn’t even most of them. But it is some,” he said. The fastest way to improve the area is to find new, better housing for the Winthrop residents and open the Prium-owned Winthrop to a new use.

A time for that might be fast approaching. Several Prium projects in the South Sound, including the Chelsea Heights apartments near Wright Park, are working their way through bankruptcy reorganization.

A reporter called Prium’s offices Wednesday to talk to either Hyun Um or Tom Price, the development firm’s principals. Once the reporter identified herself, a receptionist said, “I’m sure they’re not available.”