Tacoma Urbanist

Sep. 20, 2009 at 11:45am

Tacoma City Council May Thwart Foss Hotel Plans in Response to Labor Demands


On September 15th, 2009, the Tacoma City Council reviewed a proposed environmental clean up agreement with the Hollander group to build a long awaited hotel on the Foss Waterway.  A presentation was given by Tacoma city staff about the merits of the agreement.

Hotel Plans Delayed Indefinitely

Instead, as the Tribune explained, the council voted to delay the proposal indefinitely:

Saying they need more time to contemplate it, Tacoma City Council members indefinitely postponed Tuesday a decision on an environmental agreement needed to allow a hotel project to proceed on the Foss Waterway.

The newly installed but relatively dead Foss Waterway: The waterfront version of the ever vacant Tollefson Plaza.

The Council's Action Threat to the Hotel Development

Via the Tribune:

The decision raised concerns for developer Mark Hollander, who told council members further delays  "dramatically increase risks" that could kill the project.

"A whole bunch of delays presents too much risk... (that) put this in jeopardy," Hollander said.

News Tribune Explains Likely Motivation For City Council Action

Via the Tribune:

At issue for the city council is a decision on an agreement to indemnify Hollander against environmental hazards that might surface during construction. Under the agreement, the city would assume responsibility and any clean-up costs for potential hazards that arise.

But the councils delay might not have anything to do with environmental concerns.

In recent days, representatives for Hotel Murano and for hotel workers unions have complained to the council about Hollanders project.

Current Condition of Foss

The Foss Waterway has a nice new esplanade on the waterway which required the investment of tens of millions of dollars from the City of Tacoma, State of Washington and the federal government.

Yet, it sits largely vacant year after year.


Wouldn't kit be nice if all of the hotels in Pierce County were paying high wages.  However, only one hotel in all of Pierce County is unionized.

If Pierce County wishes to impose a union only requirement in the county, it should do so in order to create a level playing field for hotels including those which may consider locating in Tacoma.

Good labor laws are important.

However, requiring additional regulations in the City of Tacoma requiring union labor only forces more   businesses to leave the city and locate in the county, leaving the downtown and waterfront decimated.

Tacoma cannot afford to continue to ignore the actions it is taking which are forcing companies to move out of Tacoma and into the suburbs.

Also, having created the independent Foss Waterfront Development Authority, the council should not try to bypass the Authority and thwart developments on the Foss through unrelated issues.

comments [46]  |  posted under Tacoma


by Erik on 9/20/2009 @ 1:41pm
Update: Letter to the Editor in the Tribune:

The Tacoma City Council should act on the matter of the environmental agreement without regard to whether the hotel work force would be unionized. The article seems to indicate that the environmental agreement is not the issue at all.

Any business must allow employees to vote on whether or not to affiliate with a union. This is strictly enforced by detailed labor law enforced by the National Labor Relations Board. If employees are happy with their relationship in a merit-based shop, they are entitled to work under that arrangement. If by majority vote they choose to unionize, they are entitled to do that.


by tacoma1 on 9/20/2009 @ 3:25pm
It seemed to me from watching the last City Council meeting, that the main "excuse" for delaying a decision on this project was that Jake Fey was not in attendance. That he would be at the upcoming meeting, and should be consulted. If it turns out that this was just a ruse, to avoid the union issue, that would be disingenuous indeed.

As Mr Fey is my councilman, I think I will do a little more research on this topic, and then fire off an email in his direction. The city council shouldn't be turning away business during these economic times, or making union decisions for it's citizens.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 9/20/2009 @ 3:55pm
The City is always thwarting something, what is going on here. First the Winthrop project is being thwarted and now this. One can even say that the Luzon was thwarted by the City's phony condemnation. Everywhere we look something is being thwarted. The City should just let the business interests do with they want without interference. Our business people are smart, they know what is best for Tacoma, we should just let them do what they do best and get out of their way instead of thwarting them.

by fredo on 9/20/2009 @ 7:03pm
It sounds like the Murano doesn't want the competition and objects to anything the city might do to advance the new hotel project. Let's remember, the city bent over backwards to help the Murano's forerunner, the Sheraton, and maybe even the Murano itself.

But here's a real puzzler, "the city should let business interests do what they want without interference...we should get out of their way." That's a pretty conservative position for Comrade Crenshaw.

As far as councilmen not showing up for meetings, that's BS. These people make plenty and get full benefits for performing part time work. I don't think attending meetings is too much to ask. I guess when no one's running in opposition to an incumbant it's time to dial back the effort even more.

by Erik on 9/20/2009 @ 7:19pm
The main problem here besides the substance of the issue, is that the items described on the agenda on September 15th was not what it seemed.

The agenda item should have read something like:

Should the City of Tacoma require that all hotels in the City of Tacoma be unionized?

Then Tacomans could give public comment one way or another and the council could then make a decision.

Instead, the agenda item only dealt with the environmental issue. Yet, the council has been urged to consider unrelated collateral issues to derail the project under the guise of the environmental issues.

In order to do so, they would have to try to use the environmental issue to overrule the Foss Waterfront Development Authority on the other issues involving the development.

by NineInchNachos on 9/20/2009 @ 8:06pm
they should build the friggin thing and THEN try to unionize it.
good gravy.

by fredo on 9/20/2009 @ 9:28pm
I wonder if the new hotel would be amenable to letting us put some community building graffiti art on the exterior walls. It would really demonstrate to the youth of tacoma that we embrace their culture.

by Mofo from the Hood on 9/20/2009 @ 9:43pm
Tacoman's can understand the importance of having a police union or firefighters union---Considering public safety concerns, it makes sense to have properly trained professionals.

Why should Tacoman's consider a private hotel's union status?

by Erik on 9/20/2009 @ 10:31pm
they should build the friggin thing and THEN try to unionize it.
good gravy.

Fine by me.

by L.S.Erhardt on 9/20/2009 @ 10:41pm
I have a novel concept... leave the business alone!

If it's a union shop, then sweet! If it's not, then sweet!
It is none of the city's business how said hotel runs it's business... as long as they are in compliance with law... and last time I checked, it's both legal to be union and non-union. Let the developer build!

by Heatherrebel on 9/20/2009 @ 10:44pm
Bjornson's analysis is spot on. Unions can serve a vital function in protecting workers, but unionists should beware unintended consequences to both workers and consumers. in the 1970's, for instance, the steelworkers' union in cities like Pittsburgh effectively priced itself out of the steel industry, leading to its collapse in the face of Japanese competition, and loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Similarly, the city of Tacoma should be aware of the potential for a well-intentioned policy to backfire should the union requirements render the city unable to compete with nearby tourist destinations.

by Nick on 9/20/2009 @ 11:08pm
Before we get too far down the rabbit hole, what exactly does any of this have to do with whether or not a building can be constructed?

How the occupant operates a business within the building should be an entirely separate issue and should have absolutely zero effect on whether or not a building is built.

by Erik on 9/22/2009 @ 10:14am
Update on Foss Development today in the Tribune:

As suspected, the delay has nothing to do with the issue before the council and on the council's agenda but rather on collateral issues not before the council namely perceived competition from the Murano Hotel (they don't want any) and an effort to force the hotel to be unionized (a requirement only met by one hotel in the entire Pierce County).

If the council, which postponed indefinitely discussion of the approval of an environmental indemnity agreement for the hotel last week, doesnt grant its approval within a few weeks, the whole project could be off the table, said Bellingham hotelier Mark Hollander. An extended postponement could advance the start of construction on the new hotel past the March expiration date of the hotels shoreline development permits, he said.


None of the arguments about proceeding with the Hollander development is about the environmental agreement, which would make the city responsible for environmental claims on the site it once owned, but rather about the proposed hotel’s character, its availability to conventioneers and its status as a union or non-union hotel.


by NineInchNachos on 9/22/2009 @ 10:40am
I hate Murano Hotel.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 9/22/2009 @ 10:57am
Why hate the Murano, they did donate that fancy glass sculpture in front of the hotel to the city of Tacoma. The "donation fee" was only $100k. Big hearts there at the Murano, easily that sculpture is worth in the millions, possibly more with the fame it bestows upon Tacoma.

by Erik on 9/22/2009 @ 11:06am
Unfortunately, Tacoma runs on an erroneous and destructive ethos.

The few companies and businesses that do show up in Tacoma carve out a niche and fight any competition from any new businesses coming into downtown or in the area.

Consequently, Tacoma has made it almost impossible to set up additional businesses such as even a hot dog stand. A potential hot dog seller has to get permission from a slew of surrounding businesses to set up which apparently does not happen.

It is a failed model based on fear and limited resources: that the first business in should hunker down and try to obtain a monopoly over the little business that exists.

Seattle and other cities run on the belief "the more the merrier" and are able to set up places like Pike Place Market with the belief as more businesses move in the business pie gets larger and more businesses can prosper.

The competition to the Murano should never have been considered as a factor as reported by the Tribune.

Also, what about all of the hotel rooms that the presently failing Convention needs?

What is happening here?

by NineInchNachos on 9/22/2009 @ 11:35am
it's like they're handing Jim Merritt a campaign platform.

by ixia on 9/22/2009 @ 2:07pm
Should this make the McMenamins nervous?

by Erik on 9/24/2009 @ 12:25pm
Update: from the Tribune today:

Tacoma’s approval of the Foss Waterway hotel is a perfect opportunity to revive its reputation as a forward-looking city eager to embrace economic opportunity.

It is important for the city to recover from its perceived inability to quickly adopt positive economic policies, as exemplified by the “too little too late” approach to Russell Investments and the painfully slow decision to raze the Luzon Building.

The addition of the Foss hotel will bring critical mass to downtown’s need for restaurant, museum, performing arts and convention visitors; enhance the waterfront; and provide additional housing for guests of the port and businesses.


by Nick on 9/24/2009 @ 3:34pm
OMG just approve the damn thing already. Why is it that our leadership only takes the "beggars can't be choosers" slant when it hurts us? If that mentality is going to continue, why stop now when it might actually be a positive thing? Can we afford to be so picky right now?

I'm all for supporting workers' rights, but lets stop trying to prune sprouting saplings, and wait until they have a chance to take root. Sheesh...

by Erik on 9/27/2009 @ 1:34am
Looks like the City of Tacoma will re-examine their decision to approve the environmental agreement on the Foss Waterway so that a hotel can be built;


Please pray and consider encouraging the council to follow through this time and approve the agreement and not derail the proposal based on other unrelated considerations unmentioned in the agenda.

Tacoma seems to be having a very bad streak in the last few weeks.

by fredo on 9/27/2009 @ 7:20am
Erik-Thanks for the link.

If the city council derails this item again I think we will need to get some positions from the candidates for mayor and city council. With the election just a month away the voters are in the driver's seat.

Having said that, it would be nice to know what the potential cost of cleaning up the site for the developer. Aren't the taxpayers already cleaning up the Sauro's site just in case Frank Russell wants to build there?

by NineInchNachos on 11/5/2009 @ 8:38am
makes me sick


by fredo on 11/5/2009 @ 8:44am
Our union-run city government is firing on all cylinders.

by L.S.Erhardt on 11/5/2009 @ 4:58pm
Why do these idiots keep opening their mouths and why do we keep stupidly electing them?

Let's look at this:
Economy in the dumps, etc... hard to find financing for anything. Dude with the $$$ & desire to do it, wants to build 2x hotels in location where hotel is wanted. City puts on hiatus because other hotel in downtown is afraid of competition.


This sounds like a job for Ocryx and Joe...

by Erik on 1/20/2010 @ 10:26pm
Looks like the developers are going to make another attempt to build a hotel on the water with a new improved design:

An enhanced design for a proposed new hotel for Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway passed a critical review Wednesday on its way back to the Tacoma City Council for consideration.

The council last fall repeatedly delayed consideration of an environmental indemnification agreement for the hotel project, not because it was concerned about environmental issues, but because many of the council members were unhappy with the hotel’s design.


Hopefully, the new council will approve the development of the waterfront to bring some life into the area. The development is a critical early step for waterfront development.

by Mofo from the Hood on 1/20/2010 @ 11:39pm
Maybe as this hotel plan develops through the multiple building stages, then a row of cheap fish & chips shops and souvenir/aquarium shops and ice cream & balloon sellers will fill out the scene.

by Erik on 1/21/2010 @ 7:30am
Maybe as this hotel plan develops through the multiple building stages, then a row of cheap fish & chips shops and souvenir/aquarium shops and ice cream & balloon sellers will fill out the scene.

That would be better than the relatively dead waterfront devoid of people and businesses it is now.

by The Jinxmedic on 1/21/2010 @ 8:10am
Salt-water taffy and fortune tellers, too! We could have our own pre-casino Atlantic City right here!

by Erik on 1/21/2010 @ 11:17am
The Hotel Murano looks to be fighting the potential competitor downtown:

A representative of downtown Tacoma�s largest hotel, the Hotel Murano, told the design committee Wednesday that the hotel still opposes the new development

I think the Murano could use the competition.

by Erik on 4/21/2010 @ 10:15am
Update. With nearly every project dead downtown, the city is going to be given one more chance to approve the development.

We will see if the Murano and other entrenched interests are going to be able to thwart the re-development of the Foss again.

A Bellingham developer is back with an upgraded plan for a Marriott hotel on Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway.

Hollander Investments officials were stymied last year when Tacoma City Council stalled plans for the hotel, saying they weren’t sufficiently upscale for the waterfront. Others raised concerns about whether the new hotel would be staffed by union workers.


BTW, driving through Seattle, there an an uncountable number of cranes building things. Other than a low income housing center and the UWT, almost nothing is happening.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 4/21/2010 @ 10:44am
Don't we have a whole lot of half built projects that no one is buying. Seems to me it is pretty stupid to put more buildings up if the ones we have aren't done and no one wants to live in them anyway. I'm glad that there isn't anyone foolish enough to want to invest in developing more fancy condos at this point in time.

by Erik on 5/6/2010 @ 11:44am

Finally, after months of stalling the Tacoma City Council has voted on the merits of the issues and approved the Foss Hotel proceeding:

After months of stalling, the Tacoma City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a key environmental agreement that will allow Bellinghams Hollander Hotel Group to move ahead with plans to build a controversial hotel complex on the Thea Foss Waterway.

This is the right hotel at the right time, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said before the decision. We have an opportunity to say yes and send a message to other investors that Tacoma is, in fact, open for business.


Let's hope the council can focus on the substantive issues before them and objective codes and design criteria without being swayed by potential hotel competitors and other unrelated political pressures.

by L.S.Erhardt on 5/6/2010 @ 11:58am
All things considered, can we please get something better to look at than the Esplanade or Thea's Landing?

by The Jinxmedic on 5/6/2010 @ 12:39pm
@ Thorax,
Here's a pencil thumbnail just for you:


by NineInchNachos on 5/6/2010 @ 12:56pm
Jinx, that is fantasmic!

by Erik on 5/6/2010 @ 1:04pm
Beautiful drawing Jinx:


by L.S.Erhardt on 5/6/2010 @ 2:57pm
Throw 4 more stories on that bad boy and you have my vote!

Truly, this design kicks ass.

by The Jinxmedic on 5/6/2010 @ 4:28pm
Thanks everybody- here it is again, slightly tweaked - and in glorious hand-tinted color!


by Altered Chords on 5/6/2010 @ 4:39pm
and the middle part keeps the and towers from falling down. Brilliant!

by NineInchNachos on 5/6/2010 @ 6:23pm
That would make a great postcard mr. Jinxmedic

by L.S.Erhardt on 5/6/2010 @ 6:47pm
Build it! Build it! Build it!!!!!!!!

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 5/6/2010 @ 7:06pm
I you build it they will come. But for Eric Anderson to come he'd have to tear it down. Some people seem to get sexual gratification from building demolition, not unlike pyromaniacs.

by Mofo from the Hood on 5/6/2010 @ 11:35pm
Oh man, that Hotel Luzon would be the ultimate payback to Tacoma.

That drawing reminds me of some old photo's of Atlantic City or Coney Island. Like maybe the building's center section would have a concession for bumper cars.

There's even room for an indoor carousel, and food booths that sell cotton candy and caramel popcorn.

by Erik on 5/7/2010 @ 12:31am
Tacoma used to have buildings like this in the old days.

Here is what civic leaders in their wisdom ripped down for a #^@% parking lot:

by The Jinxmedic on 5/7/2010 @ 6:47am
I think in keeping with the pre-casino Atlantic City theme, a salt-water taffy concession would be a requirement at the very least.

By the way, Ocryx and Joe have brought this to the comics thread- we'll see what happens.