The Tacoma Sun

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Its Time for Tacoma to Repair its Maimed Streetscape By Rebuilding the North Park Plaza Parking Garage

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North Park Plaza Parking Garage

Perhaps no other action by the City of Tacoma has caused so much long term damage to the downtown streetscape as much as the construction of the North and South Plaza Parking garages.

Touted as “urban renewal” and as a solution to Tacoma’s perceived lack of parking downtown, several blocks of Tacoma’s historical buildings on Pacific Avenue were razed in the 1960s with great fanfare. In their place, the city constructed brutish cement slab parking garages which Mayor Baarsma has accurately described as “tombstones.”
Where retail storefronts once invitingly greeted pedestrians, visitors are now faced with garage entrances and exits, frequent curb cuts, blank walls and empty caverns, all foreboding to street life. Worse, much of the North Park Plaza Parking garage is simply a foreboding darkened cavern of sorts and a frequent site of “unintended uses.” It is difficult to image a more repulsive visitors and residents alike are forced to endure who walk by the North Parking Garage. Not surprisingly, the area is avoided whenever possible.

The few retails spaces under the parking garages are recessed back under the garage itself resulting in dark storefronts. The escalators through the parking garage failed years ago leaving only a walkway and a tunnel with blind corners creating a dangerous environment which is perceived as such.

The north wall of the Northern Parking garage is presents a large blank cement wall against a small grass area on the corner of 9th and Commerce which facilitates that area to being haven for criminal activity, fights and bizarre behavior and consuming much of the resources of the police.
Not surprisingly, much of the retail underneath the parking garages has failed. The Tacoma Daily Index has labeled the area under the South Parking Garage “The Dead Zone.”

Perhaps one of the most prudent acts of the Tacoma City Council in recent memory has been to start the renovation and expansion of the South Parking Garage. The plans are to add an additional floor of parking and topped with 2 floors of Class A office space. The front of the retail spaces will be extended out so that they are appropriately flush with the building. Restoring the South Parking Garage will restore an entire block of the streetscape in downtown Tacoma.

Yet the North Park Plaza is even more foreboding and repugnant to any sort of street life than the South parking garage. The dark and cavernous garage covering half a block presents one of the most repellant streetscapes one could imagine. Understandably, most people avoid the area. The City of Tacoma should promptly work to replace or restore the North Park Plaza parking garage as soon as possible. Because the North Park Plaza parking garage is a public facility, it is incumbent on the city restore the building.
Tacoma’s elected leaders and citizens alike have expressed a desire to attract a large employer to Tacoma preferably locating in the downtown area. Tacoma’s success at doing so will be greatly related to how attractive of a city we have which would want an employer to move here.

Here’s what a streetscape should look like.

Street

published November 2nd, 2007

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Andrew Austin // Nov 18, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    What is the construction (fence) around the North Garage for? Is there a plan in place to get things moving with construction? I like the picture. You should add a similar aligned pic. of the North Garage now. Good stuff.

  • 2 Erik Bjornson // Nov 18, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    “What is the construction (fence) around the North Garage for?”

    I had not seen that. I think you are thinking of the south garage.

  • 3 Jake // Dec 27, 2007 at 2:43 am

    Restore and North Park Plaza just don’t mix.
    Demolish North Park Plaza sounds so much better. From my understanding the city’s intention is to tear the structure down and rebuild.

  • 4 drizell // Jan 22, 2008 at 11:58 am

    In terms of establishing a viable retail corridor of any kind, Park Place North is a major obstacle. A small retail and restaurant hub is occurring at the northern end of Pacific. There is retail down toward UWT. Now, what you have to do is connect them to have a true shopping street. At the moment, there is really no such thing in downtown Tacoma with the exception of maybe a block or two of Broadway. Pacific can and should be the main retail corridor–like Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

    As a pedestrian, Park Plaza North is foreboding even from across the street. I rarely seeing pedestrians along either side of Pacific between 10th and 15th outside the normal daytime business hours.

    For Park Plaza South, the city rejected a bid from local developers Simon Johnson to tear down the garage and build new. They opted for the remodel because it was cheaper. I think Tacoma can a do a lot better. The Theater District desperately needs a new building that will enhance the surrounding area and help lure more legal businesses to the area.

    Jake, what’s your source on the city’s intention to rebuild?

  • 5 NSHDscott // Jan 22, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    I agree, Park Plaza North is visually hideous, aromatically nauseating, and just a little dark and scary. I remember wandering around it as a college student and thinking all the negative thoughts about Tacoma that we really want to get rid of.

    I was surprised that PP South was the city’s first target, because PP North seems even worse, and it’s in a neighborhood that has more problems (Winthrop, Olympus, Brick City) and also more history and potential (several good restaurants, Russell, Pantages, Rialto, Elks, Old City Hall, Spanish Steps, future Winthrop). What’s so interesting around PP South, anyway?

    So I totally agree with the author’s position on the matter. It could be an amazing spot. Lots of potential, being right on the light rail line — hey, how ’bout that downtown grocery store?

    My only concern is that there are other projects that seem equally, if not more, urgent. The transporation initiative (STREETCARS!) is the biggest that comes to mind. If Tacoma does PP North at the cost of the streetcar, I’m not sure I can support that, as much as the PP North project is needed.

  • 6 Erik Bjornson // Jan 29, 2008 at 10:11 am

    I was surprised that PP South was the city’s first target, because PP North seems even worse, and it’s in a neighborhood that has more problems (Winthrop, Olympus, Brick City) and also more history and potential (several good restaurants, Russell, Pantages, Rialto, Elks, Old City Hall, Spanish Steps, future Winthrop). What’s so interesting around PP South, anyway?

    It was falling apart at a greater rate that PP North.

    I am looking forward to seeing it rebuilt so retail can be restored in this section of town.

  • 7 Chris K. // Jan 31, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Park Plaza South is being renovated and will have an addition of a couple floors of office space. Park Plaza North is still sitting. I think the issue with that is that the parking funds from the garages were used to help pay for the convention center.

    I’m all for tearing the thing down and building something that really utilizes the bus and light rail stations to their highest and best possible use. A grocery store, some small shops, and apartments would be ideal additions for that area.

  • 8 Erik Bjornson // Feb 2, 2008 at 2:51 am

    I’m all for tearing the thing down and building something that really utilizes the bus and light rail stations to their highest and best possible use. A grocery store, some small shops, and apartments would be ideal additions for that area.

    Me too. I would like the design to be even better with the North ParkingPlaza than with the south one and have retail on Commerce.

  • 9 CA // Feb 17, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Whatever happens at PP North, I’d like to see the little park on the north end of the site removed, and the future building extended to fill out the entire block. That is prime real estate and would serve that area better as a corner anchor of commerce.

  • 10 Erik B. // Feb 18, 2008 at 12:11 am

    Whatever happens at PP North, I’d like to see the little park on the north end of the site removed, and the future building extended to fill out the entire block. That is prime real estate and would serve that area better as a corner anchor of commerce.

    Yep. The “park” has a disasterous design. A green space in an urban areas with blank walls around it and no immediate monitoring. It is pretty predictable it was filled with illegal uses.

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