Tacoma Urbanist

Apr. 7, 2008 at 12:06am

B. Examiner:Parking Requirement Thwarting Downtown

In the last edition of the Business Examiner (3/31/2008), reporter Paul Schrag reports how the office market is being pushed out of downtown and into the suburbs due to Tacoma's antiquated business eliminating off-street parking requirement:

Office Market growth is reserved for suburbs

By Paul Schrag
Business Examiner Staff


Panattoni has its eyes on Tacoma for more development in the future said Brynestad, but downtown investment are out of the question for now.  Off-street parking requirements in Tacoma's downtown, which mandate that a certain number of parking spaces be built to accompany commercial and residential projects, make it too expensive to built downtown.


Here's yet another story about how Tacoma has made it very difficult to building anything downtown.

Every month that the city delays in removing the 1960s suburban era off-street parking requirement for downtown is another month that Tacoma continues to fail to be able to compete with cities such as Seattle, Portland, Olympia and Bellingham which have long ago removed their off-street parking requirement.  In those cities, parking is built based on market demand.

To the extent parking requirement exceeds what the developer wishes, it is a unique Tacoma impact fee for trying to do business in the city and causing housing priced to be inflated downtown.  An impact fee that can be avoided by building in other cities.

The Parking and Transit committee and many other groups have asked and recommended the city adopt a urban parking policy rather that tries to force the downtown to look like Tukwila by trying to maintain a suburban building code in what is supposed to be a downtown.

In the meantime downtown Tacoma languishes with large dead zones where there should be buildings.

Current Self Imposted Dead Zones In Downtown Tacoma

Seven adjacent surface level parking lots in downtown Tacoma forming a "dead zone" in the heart of the city.

In the middle of Tacoma's "downtown" is a sea of surface level parking lots where there should be buildings. Half full at that. These areas used to have buildings on them. Essentially a desert for pedestrians.

This part of Tacoma functions little differently that the anonymous parking lot for Walmart. Tacoma's version of Sea-Tac. Yet, many of them are mandated by Tacoma's antiquated parking requirement which favors surface level parking lots over buildings.

Here is an empty parking lot by Drakes left when a historical building was knocked down.

Everyone can agree that a three story building with retail on the first floor should be placed in the space. Yet, Tacoma's off street parking requirement forbids this. Thus, visitors to downtown are greeted with a downtown pocked with blightful surface level parking lots like this. Not very attractive.
  Another example.  This is the Provident Building on Pacific Avenue.  In a well built downtown, the corner lot should have a building on it with a lot of glass.   Here, pedestrians area greeted to a parking  lot and a blank wall.

Now the Ribbon Task Force has recommended that off-street parking requirements should be reduced to lower pollution so that perhaps Tacoma can come into compliance with the pollution standard that it has recently failed

If Tacoma is going to make significant progress toward rebuilding the city, reducing pollution and to have integrated affordable housing it is going to have to adopt a building standard based more like Portland than Federal Way which it has now.

For more information see:

Tribune Op Ed Off Street Parking Mandate Impedes Downtown Growth

A Letter about Parking by Andre Stone on Exit 133

comments [12]  |  posted under tacoma


by Twisty on 4/7/2008 @ 4:48am
Let's go one step farther -- let's eliminate Tacoma's predatory parking enforcement, while we are at it.

Right now, downtown is the only part of the city where one risks getting a parking ticket. This makes me think twice about visiting any of the businesses there, and it would certainly make me think twice about opening a business -- with or without off-street parking.

by Erik on 4/7/2008 @ 10:37am
Let's go one step farther -- let's eliminate Tacoma's predatory parking enforcement, while we are at it.

The city certainly shouldn't enforce parking more than necessary. If it is managed right, one does not does not even need time limits in higher demand areas.

However, there has to be enough enforcement to at least keep a 15 percent vacancy, otherwise, there are no available parking spaces which causes of problems.

Here is Shoup's video on parking management:


by fredo on 4/7/2008 @ 11:22am
Good topic. These parking requirements are stifling the development of the various neighborhood business districts as well. With the incredibly expensive property and unrealistic parking requirements (I'm speaking especially of Proctor, Old Town, and Stadium) very little new development will pencil out. Furthermore, the infusion of vast parking lots undermines the sort of neighborhood streetscape that we are obstensively trying to preserve.

by jenyum on 4/7/2008 @ 11:37am
So, who has to vote on what to make this happen? We've been talking and talking about it and nothing seems to ever change.

What's the plan?
Who do we write to?
Who is responsible?

We all seem to agree that it's godawfull.

by Erik on 4/7/2008 @ 1:03pm
So, who has to vote on what to make this happen? We've been talking and talking about it and nothing seems to ever change.

The Tacoma Planning Commission is also reviewing the parking requirement in the mixed use centers and are taking input on the matter:


You can contact your city council members:


As it sits right now, most of the attractive and walkable pedestrian friendly areas were built pre-parking parking requirement such as downtown, and parts of some of the older mixed use centers.

The areas built post 1950 look indistinguishable from Federal Way such as 38th Avenue.

Much of the attractive elements in Proctor could not be rebuilt today because of the requirement such as the

Gamble Building:

Model Mix use building. Built to the sidewalk, affordable housing above. Yet, currently illegal under the city building code.

Northwest Shop Building:

by Marty on 4/7/2008 @ 2:22pm
Then why is the city building 500 parking stall for Russell?

by Erik on 4/7/2008 @ 2:32pm
Then why is the city building 500 parking stall for Russell?

Its a $15,000,00 incentive for Russell to stay in Tacoma. Parking has value just like any other use of land.

Parking should be built based on demand for it.

Otherwise, barring buildings from being constructed downtown unless large parking facilities are built, in excess of market requirements, suppresses development.

Plus, it places Tacoma at a competitive disadvantage to other progressive cities.

That's what is described by the person in the Business Examiner article or others who have studied it.

Onsite Parking: The Scourge of America's Commercial Districts

Onsite parking requirements, which have crept into many cities' laws over the past 50 to 70 years, have sucked the potential out of commercial properties on main streets and in downtowns everywhere. Perhaps more than anything else, rules requiring onsite parking -- to be distinguished from "on street" or "offsite" parking -- have created the blighted conditions that characterize many older North American commercial districts and boulevards.


That's Tacoma.

For more detailed articles on it, see the Professor's Shoup articles online:


by Nick on 4/7/2008 @ 6:59pm

Thanks for the links for providing feedback for this issue - I'm going to send my support for removing this requirement as soon as this post is posted.

What I don't understand is why this is still an issue. Is there a departement/person/group of people opposing removing this requirement? Do we actually need to convince anyone that removing this requirement is a good idea, or is it just a matter of bringing attention to it?

I'm just wondering if this is an issue that someone somewhere is refusing to budge on, or if it's simply something that hasn't been enough of a priority for the city to devote time to...

by fredo on 4/7/2008 @ 7:38pm
Thats an interesting question, Nick. My guess, and it's only that, is that the shopping centers which have invested heavily in parking lots want to keep the unreasonable parking requirements in force in the older urban areas. This arrangement allows them to greatly leverage their competitive advantage.

by Erik on 4/8/2008 @ 12:55am
What I don't understand is why this is still an issue. Is there a department/person/group of people opposing removing this requirement?

Its very hard to change the status quo for a government regulation even when a comparative city analysis, best methods and community support is there.

There are alot of people working at different angles of the issue trying to force Tacoma to assume the urban form of Federal Way. Its going to be close.

In the 1950 through 1970s, every conceivable stop was taken to accommodate the automobile even if it meant destroying downtown.

Hence, Tacoma knocked down blocks of attractive historical buildings to build the north and south parking garages. Unfortunately, in doing so, they killed any attractiveness these areas had sending downtown into a tailspin.

Also, Tacoma, like other cities has made the prime measure of success to be how many cars can be moved through and stored in downtown. Hence, downtown Tacoma had a lot of one way streets for many years which moved many cars fast through a dead downtown.

The measure for success needs to be re-set to another measure. Retail occupancy rate downtown is a good one in my view.

by NineInchNachos on 4/8/2008 @ 9:09am
Nick wants to know who we put pressure on to get the regulations changed.

City Council? Governor? Senator Dickhead? Who??

by Erik on 4/8/2008 @ 11:07am
Do we actually need to convince anyone that removing this requirement is a good idea, or is it just a matter of bringing attention to it?

Yes. The Tacoma Planning Commission and the Tacoma City Council. They are both considering the issue now. See the contact information above.