Tacoma Urbanist

Apr. 7, 2011 at 12:13am

City of Tacoma Now "Building" Surface Level Parking Lot Downtown on Sauro Site

Dead Surface Level Parking Lots Continue to Proliferate Downtown

Yes, I realize that a surface level parking lot is better than an unused hole in the ground, but not by much.   

There are 100 places the $700,000 could have been spent in much better ways in the city.  Renovating a historic building is one of them.

While other cities are expanding their streetcar lines, Tacoma seems endlessly obsessed with creating lifeless surface level parking lots at every possible location downtown.

There should have been a building placed in this location or the lot at least prepared for the future construction of a building in the future. Yes, there were a lot of restrictions with the Sauro funds, however, the end result of any stimulus money, code enforcement or other action often gives the same unfortunate result.....in Tacoma.

I took this photo in 2007 and entitled it "Seven adjacent surface level parking lots in downtown Tacoma forming a "dead zone" in the heart of the city." I wanted to show the cumulative result of these urban design decisions.

Since this time, the situation has gotten worse downtown.  The Luzon (on the left) has turned into a surface level parking and now the Sauro site to the right of the view of the photo will soon be yet another lot.

Related cartoon:

comments [34]  |  posted under tacoma


by Erik on 4/7/2011 @ 12:41am
Updated photo of site:


by Erik on 4/7/2011 @ 1:01am
Here is how a downtown should look: nearly continuous buildings built up to the sidewalk (from Troy, NY):

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 4/7/2011 @ 1:12am
Pacific looked a lot like Troy, NY before they tore down what was commonly know as Skid Road. Broadway looked very much the same before the Escalades were put in.

by gritz thekat on 4/7/2011 @ 7:21am
the hole kind of looks like a giant litter box

by boearc on 4/7/2011 @ 7:36am
Do you remember the old SNL skit where Steve Martin was the barber/doctor talking about enlightened means of medicine (other than blood-letting) and then at the punch lines says after a big pause - 'Naaaah!'

So we should be folowing our Comprehensive Plan, the Downtown Element of the Comp Plan, Destination Downtown Zoning Goals and Objectives, Mobility Master Plan, Downtown-on-the-Go, Recommondations on Sustainability and CO2 Reductions, Basic Economic Development 101 and Basic Urban Design Principles on property the City of Tacoma Taxpayers own and we are using revenue from the cash strapped State of Washington from a revenue source to foster Economic Development...(pause)... 'Naaah!'

New surface parking lots in the downtown core - the blood letting of urban design development.

by NineInchNachos on 4/7/2011 @ 7:56am
anything you want hidden for a long time go stuff it in that dirt pile! Time capsule?

by Jesse on 4/7/2011 @ 7:59am
The whole surface level parking thing sucks but if the city promised Devita a certain number of parking spots so they'd stay in Tacoma then the city owes them those spots. Perhaps those promised parking spots could have been moved to Park Place North for the time being (until it's renovated) instead of creating a parking lot in the middle of Pacific Avenue that if a developer wanted to build there they'd now have to spend the money to dig this all up -- adding probably about a million dollars to whatever a developer may want to build there in the future. Seems counterproductive.

At least if there were more streetcar downtown you could park in garages on the outskirts of downtown and eliminate this whole parking spots per square foot of development issues.

More streetcars. Less parking requirements for developers.

by NineInchNachos on 4/7/2011 @ 8:01am

by Jesse on 4/7/2011 @ 8:03am
Perhaps they could have waited a bit and had the money to build a few floors of underground parking in that spot so a taller building could be built on top of it all. That would have actually helped the value of that property in a developers eyes.

by NineInchNachos on 4/7/2011 @ 8:29am
It's unfair to say all $700K went into the cleanerama pit. was more like 680K We can use that extra 100K to fill in the broken frost park fountains and squeeze in a few parking spaces there.

by ixia on 4/7/2011 @ 8:40am
The list of mistakes along Pacific Ave is about as long as the link light rail. Sure it started with Shell, who tore down as much as he could before leaving for Seattle to become mayor. Much what happened after that is just as bad. The history museum building, as appealing as it might be, basically moons Pacific and fences off the front door. New development like the Seagrill Building was forced to build a dam awful parking garage that creates a dead block. Tollefson is so barren; the crows even prefer to just fly over. The art museums front entry is plain pathetic. The main entrance to the museum appears to be from the parking lot below and that entrance is about as inviting as a loading dock at the grocery outlet. A small chance with retail in the newly renovated parking garage Pacific Plaza was quickly squandered with street side offices by the AG for a publicly paid handsome sum. The empty space next to the Pacific Plaza is creepy urban disaster in my mind. The Luzon is a shame that made news nationwide. I guess we can count ourselves lucky that UW T has a good understanding of what a city makes. And private businesses like the Matador take a chance to invest in a semi-dead zone. Sadly, it appears we only have two out of nine council people willing to vote for decent urban solutions instead of favorites. Almost three quarters of a million bucks is a big sum to fill a hole.

by NineInchNachos on 4/7/2011 @ 8:53am
^ comment of the week (above)

by boearc on 4/7/2011 @ 9:10am
Jessie and ixia - all good points (though we could quibble on 'when' the promise was made to Davita). And to set the record straight - it was Campbell, Mello and Boe... that voted No... on Sauro.

by NineInchNachos on 4/7/2011 @ 9:36am
make sure to note that in your voter pamphlet statements comrades Campbell, Mello and Boe

by fredo on 4/7/2011 @ 9:41am
The expense is not just the $700K, but also the $2M+ it cost the city to clean up the site for development. We were told that once we put that investment into the site some developer would jump in with a wonderful project. How quickly we forget the lessons of the past.

by fredo on 4/7/2011 @ 9:53am
circa 2008:

City council spends millions to clean up the Sauro's site. Tells the taxpayers it is a wonderful investment because some developer will pay much more when the improved site becomes available for redevelopment.

circa 2010:

The improved site is provided to a local employer apparently free of charge but not until the taxpayers spend the better part of a million dollars in preparation.

by NineInchNachos on 4/7/2011 @ 9:53am
cool hand luke: dig a hole, fill a hole, dig a hole.

by The Jinxmedic on 4/7/2011 @ 9:59am
"What we have here is a failure to communicate." Duh!

by ixia on 4/7/2011 @ 10:54am
sorry Marty :)
and thank you Mr.Boe.

by Erik on 4/7/2011 @ 11:48am
@Boe: Thanks for weighing in.

For the last 40 years, the City of Tacoma has continued to have a legislative scheme which heavily favors surface level parking lots and against buildings.

Despite the progress made in the mixed use centers on the issue, the Central Business District of downtown Tacoma still has a detrimental parking requirement (outside of the special zone) which most model cities have long since removed. This has been a disaster for downtown and is slowly but surely keeping much of anything from being built.

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.


The City of Tacoma's 1960 suburban parking requirements bar lots such as the one by the Drake's building from being appropriately re-developed.

The parking requirement for downtown Tacoma was supposed to be removed years ago in downtown Tacoma to free up downtown for development but has apparently become stalled again.

As for the Sauro site, the city has never had the goal of having a building place on the lot. By the time the issue was before the council years later, with the only option on the table one for a parking lot it was very difficult to turn the issue around.

What would have worked on the Sauro site was to openly market it years earlier for someone to place a building on it. Yet, I never saw a press release for the sale of the property or even a $0.99 sign on the Sauro site stating it was for sale.

by Erik on 4/7/2011 @ 11:53am
Here is (part of) the article in the Index on the council comments on the Sauro vote:

I. Councilmember David Boe

I will not be voting in favor of this project and part of it goes back to being an architect and one of the unique things about -- I hear it a lot from people who come to Tacoma: 'How come there aren't underground parking garages? Other cities have them and Tacoma seems to have above-ground parking garages.'" And it is not till you really understand how Tacoma is built and the soil conditions in Tacoma. Tacoma is built on hard pan and rock and Seattle and Bellevue are built on fill. Those cities are easier to go down and dig out, and you have to do that anyway to dig your building so it is conducive to that. But Tacoma is very difficult to go underground for parking because of that, except for properties that are east of Pacific Avenue downtown. Those are properties that, because of the way the land goes, have the opportunity to have underground parking.

So here we have a site that city purchased, cleaned up, and, for me as an architect, is ripe for development. It is just perfect on Pacific Avenue, half a block from the light rail station, you could not ask for a better freeway access off of I-705 and the exit ramp. It is already a 20-foot deep hole with the alley being 10 feet below Pacific Avenue right now. So to put in a level or two or three of parking is a developer's delight.

What I am having difficulty with -- and have had difficulty since this project has gone forward -- is we are filling the site, which means we are making it less desirable for development. And what that means is we're taking $700,000 -- or $601,000 -- and putting all of that into the site and filling it, which means any time it is going to be developed, you have to take all of that away. You have to take the rock wall away, all the fill away. From a development standpoint, from a city access standpoint, we have devalued that site for economic development. I think there are others way we potentially could have achieved the goal of the grant.

I feel that this is an issue where we need to make sure we are meeting our comprehensive plan. That is the other aspect of it. There is the development aspect and the comprehensive plan aspect. Our comprehensive plan on the downtown element is really good and very clear. Talking about the seven goals for our downtown plan, surface parking lot doesn't even register. My feeling is what we really should do is vote against this resolution, take it back, look at some options that we could do with this money, and go back to the state. If we can't develop, get an extension for the timeline, see if we can use it for the light rail going in, which is consistent with the plan, consistent with the need to retain great employers downtown. If that is not possible, we need to give that money back to the state and say we cannot use this wisely, we are not doing this efficiently, we are devaluing the piece of property the city owns for future development to meet the comprehensive plan goals, to meet the vision that we have for what our downtown is and, gee, could you maybe help out the history museum [with this money]? I know it is a different pot, but [use it] to keep it open?

Again, I urge my fellow council members to reject this resolution.

II. Councilmember Marty Campbell

I think from the moment this first came up, Councilmember Boe has been kind of ringing a little bit of an alarm bell, but really has asked us just to take a look at what our documents are, what our comprehensive plans are, and what we want for our downtown. I believe it is okay to have a bold vision for downtown and to have high standards for our community. I don't believe the surface parking lot is meeting those high standards and I will be voting against this in hopes we can go back and look at another option for this.

III. Councilmember Ryan Mello

What I would offer to my colleagues is what keeps DaVita here -- and almost any other great business -- is not building a surface parking lot in the middle of downtown Tacoma. It is fixing the streetscape, which our staff and city council are very hard at work on, securing well over $10 million and advocating with our legislative delegation in Washington, D.C. to fix our streetscape. That is the thing that will keep DaVita and other companies -- make our front porch clean, beautiful, safe, and attractive. The new light rail stop, which Councilmember Jake Fey and the city manager have been working [on] cooperatively with Sound Transit [and] Pierce Transit will keep an employer like DaVita. A vibrant downtown with people circulating and walking and shopping. Workers like me don't want to be in a ghost town. [Those things are] going to keep DaVita. Not ruining a space that, quite frankly, is bad for business, bad for development, bad for urban walkability. I feel our staff is doing the best they can under a strict timeline. But that is not a reason to throw good money after bad. If we develop the site, it will stay a surface parking lot for decades. That is not consistent with our comprehensive plan. I would offer the solution is to vote this resolution down, reject all bids, [and] for us not to be short-sighted [and] to follow the comprehensive plan. Ask for more time from the state. We have a delegation in key leadership positions that could give us the time to get the money more strategically and market it in a favorable market to recruit some private capital. I urge folks to reject all bids and go back to the drawing board.


by cisserosmiley on 4/7/2011 @ 11:55am
boe and the traveler should have a boiled egg eaten contest to settle this election

by NineInchNachos on 4/7/2011 @ 12:09pm
my money is on Boe. Lets have the egg eating contest at Frost Park.

by fredo on 4/7/2011 @ 1:12pm
"As for the Sauro site, the city has never had the goal of having a building place on the lot." erik

Well I don't want to quarrel with you, but I'm almost sure one of the justifications for assuming ownership of the sauro's site and making the necessary remediations was the significant value the site had for future redevelopment efforts. There is a thread in the feedtacoma archives about this. The city didn't spend all this money so it would have a wonderful parking lot to give to the daVita company. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure the goal was to have a building site available for the eager investors in downtown.

by NineInchNachos on 4/7/2011 @ 1:33pm
technically if you can show this money is being spent for the benefit of one private company it would be illegal right?

by boearc on 4/7/2011 @ 4:07pm
Clarification request: Can the eggs be prepared in the Deviled style?

by NineInchNachos on 4/7/2011 @ 4:09pm
i'll try emailing the traveller see how he likes his eggs.

by Erik on 4/7/2011 @ 4:55pm
RE: Eggs. Good point. The Sauro parking lot can also be used to fry eggs:

by NineInchNachos on 4/7/2011 @ 7:04pm
OK I got an email back from the Traveller. He wants to know what animal is making the eggs.

by Erik on 4/11/2011 @ 4:31pm
Awesome Weekly Volcano follow up article:

Throughout the process of approving the parking lot project councilmen Ryan Mello and David Boe have been vocal in their opposition of the plan and what they perceive as a lack of economic and urban design foresight by fellow council members and City Manager Eric Anderson. As crews worked to fill the hole Friday the two men stopped by to marvel at what they see as a travesty and a blown opportunity.

"Here we have a site that has alley access that's right off the 705 exit, (with) an entrance onto 705 a half block away, a light rail station a block away, a convention center and a hotel," observes Boe. "This place is screaming out for development. This is an urban design crime."

Boe and Mello say that because of a "promise" made to DaVita Inc. years ago by a former City Council some members of current council, as well as Anderson, were unwilling to consider design plans they contend would benefit the city more than a parking lot.


by fredo on 4/11/2011 @ 5:18pm

Boe and Mello say that because of a "promise" made to DaVita Inc. years ago by a former City Council some members of current council, as well as Anderson, were unwilling to consider design plans they contend would benefit the city more than a parking lot.

I'd like to see something from the public record about this "promise." In addition, what was the consideration we got for this promise? As RR stated previously, you cannot just give away public property.

by fredo on 4/11/2011 @ 5:37pm

“While we want to go forward with the cleanup and get the property ready for future development, there’s a huge liability in terms of expense,” said City Manager Eric Anderson. “That liability, in our minds, is far greater than the value of the property.”

Read more: www.thenewstribune.com/2008/09/07/474585...

This quote is attributed to City Manager Eric Anderson and was reported in the news tribune 9/7/08. It shows that the Sauros site was being acquired for REDEVELOPMENT. There was absolutely no mention in the story about use as a parking lot. The taxpayers invested a lot of money in preparing this site for development. It was believed at the time that FR company would be interested. I don't believe there is any promise to daVita company before this date.

by NineInchNachos on 4/11/2011 @ 5:42pm
somebody should file an ethics complaint. I believe the money is not allowed to be given away to any one private company no matter how clean they make your kidneys

by fredo on 4/11/2011 @ 8:10pm
by NineInchNachos
on 4/11/2011 @ 5:42pm somebody should file an ethics complaint

why don't you forward this discussion over to john hatheway?