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December 9, 2016
Significant developments have taken place along the 1.5-mile Thea Foss Waterway in downtown Tacoma since this former Superfund site was acquired by the city of Tacoma 20 years ago.
It is hard to imagine that the waterfront area was once declared by the Environmental Protection Agency as one of the worst Superfund sites in the nation. A century of industrial pollution and neglect made the idea of redeveloping the waterway and adjacent uplands many with decaying warehouses and industrial buildings practically impossible. However, this did not deter city leaders from tackling this challenge and purchasing many of the industrial properties along the waterway.
The city created a redevelopment vision and began working with multiple local, state and federal agencies to begin a coordinated effort to remediate the contamination and restore the waters and adjacent lands leading into Commencement Bay.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the $107 million cleanup. It also marks what is expected to be a significant year of continuing real estate development activity along “the Foss,” coordinated by the Foss Waterway Development Authority (FWDA).
The FWDA is the city’s coordinating agency for development along the waterfront. Over the past 20 years it has been managing development activities on both land and water along the waterway.
Currently four market-rate condo and apartment buildings house 594 residential units. They are located between the attractively landscaped public esplanade next to the waterway and Dock Street, the roadway running parallel to the waterway.
The buildings, some with ground-floor restaurants and offices, overlook the water, many with views of Mount Rainier as well as the Foss marinas. Five marinas offer over 700 boat slips for rent. All currently have waiting lists.
This does not hamper Puget Sound mariners from boating into downtown Tacoma to tie up for the day or for a week along the over-1,800 feet of transient moorage located in front of Foss Maritime Seaport Museum and the Museum of Glass.
The “bridge of glass” adjacent to the Museum of Glass displays works by artist Dale Chihuly. It leads downtown and provides a colorful pedestrian passage above railroad tracks and traffic to connect downtown’s many shops, restaurants and performance venues.
The Foss Waterway Seaport museum, designed by Olson Kundig, recently began year-round operations. The 45,000-square-foot museum and events venue has quickly become Puget Sound’s premier maritime heritage center.
Housed in a century-old wheat-transfer structure known as the Balfour Dock building, it is one of two remaining wooden warehouses originally built as a mile-long complex in 1900 to accommodate cargo-carrying, square-rigged ships doing business in Tacoma.
It features a marine science and environmental education center, a heritage boat-building shop and numerous exhibits. It has rapidly become a favorite place to hold weddings and corporate receptions.
The Henry, a 161-unit mixed-use development opened last November near the south end of the waterway. Designed by BCRA of Tacoma and developed by the Henry Foss Group LLC, the seven-story building has many amenities, including a rooftop dog run and deck, views of Mount Rainier, concierge services, a secured tenant parking garage, fitness center, clubhouse and patio space. Its location at the south end of the Foss makes it an attractive location for young professionals and others.
On the boards
Currently in the planning stages is a 55-and-older residential project. Transforming Age (formerly PRCN) has proposed a 107-unit assisted living and memory care project to be located just south of the Murray Morgan Bridge (11th Street).
Designed by the Seattle firm GGLO, the development will provide a mix of amenities tailored to its clientele as well as to the public, such as a coffee shop, salon and other retail space located along the esplanade.
When completed in 2019, the project will distinguish the Foss Waterway as a multi-generational neighborhood.
A hotel project will also be constructed south of the Murray Morgan Bridge. The 86-room project designed by Murphy Varey of Seattle is currently set to break ground in early 2017. It will be part of a multi-phase project developed by Hollander Investments of Bellingham.
North of the Murray Morgan Bridge, Foss Harbor LLC has proposed a mixed-use residential project on property they own. The $35 million-plus project would provide approximately 150 living units and 7,500 square feet of commercial space along the esplanade.
Jon Graves Architects & Planners in Tacoma is the designer. A date for construction has not yet been established.
Planning for two new public park projects has also recently begun.
Central Park will be located adjacent to the Transforming Age project and provide amenities for both young and old.
Waterway Park will be located at the south end of the waterway and is being designed for the launching and storage of human-powered watercraft. Rental storage space will be available for rowing shells, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.
The park will also serve as a neighborhood park for the adjacent Dome District, which is developing as a transit-oriented district. Development of both parks is a joint collaboration between the FWDA and Metro Parks.
With two residential projects, a hotel project and two public park projects in the works, 2017 is shaping up to be a busy year for real estate development in Tacoma’s downtown waterfront neighborhood.
Norman Gollub was appointed in June as the executive director of the Foss Waterway Development Authority and has been involved in developing and managing projects for over 30 years.