Tacoma, Pierce County need to recommit to downtown core

Now that the Pierce County administration building vote has taken place, I believe the county and City of Tacoma should recommit to supporting a pro-growth strategy in our urban core.

The 4-3 County Council vote shows we must continue discussions of what consolidation will look like at both the existing and new building location. Concerns were shared, and we must seize the opportunity to make sure both sites are better at delivering services to our citizens. This means we must all row in the same direction and develop a strategy to increase jobs, stability and vibrancy to the heart of our region – downtown Tacoma.

Frankly, the blocks surrounding the existing building are hardscrabble now. We must all recommit to creating a more vibrant, attractive and inviting downtown, and we must do it now. There are far too many underutilized parcels and blocks that demand attention.

I believe each time a major development opportunity arises (either public or private), our community should act strategically and focus on projects that create greater density and demand in our urban core. Sprawl doesn’t work; to have the amenities and growth our beautiful waterfront city deserves, we must have a vibrant urban core.

I heard from numerous citizens, businesses and neighborhood districts during this debate. I share many of their concerns. That is why I am calling for the county and city to take two steps that could be taken to avoid past mistakes and protect our community’s current investments.

First, we would be well served to know what the proposed “Justice Center” will comprise and come up with a proactive strategy to leverage the adjacent parcels the county purchased in previous efforts to consolidate. Working together with the private sector, we can address the challenges and opportunities of the current location and set the stage for infrastructure investments and job creation.

We should fully engage our judges, the prosecutor and sheriff’s offices and have them share their vision of how to best utilize current building. There may even be additional efficiencies by looking at other agencies seeking space, like South Sound 911. Saving taxpayer’s money is something we should always strive to do in government.

Second, I want us to create a Community Revitalization Zone to spur investment to create jobs and economic growth in our urban core. The countyand city should commit to a better future for the current site and address additional infill development challenges by creating a Community Revitalization Zone.

This would allow property taxes within the zone to remain local and be reinvested to spur infrastructure investments. In short, it says loud and clear that Pierce County and Tacoma are ready for more cranes and jobs downtown.

Dedicating these funds within the zone will expedite development necessary to retain major employers, accommodate expansion for the likes of State Farm and set the stage for new industries. A revitalization zone will incentivize critical infrastructure investments such as more stores, more restaurants, and the amenities that attract new industries and their workforce who demand them.

Having this reinvestment strategy will enhance the vitality in the economic heart of our region and proactively avoid any adverse impacts. Let’s row in the same direction, be strategic and create our destiny.

Robert Thoms is a member of the Tacoma City Council, representing the 2nd District that encompasses North and Northeast and downtown Tacoma.