The dream team came to South Tacoma Way this week.
Eight senior architecture students from the University of Idaho in Moscow arrived with a vision of the historic business district and its potential as a mixed-use development.
As part of a class project, they visited Tacoma earlier in the fall. They checked out the downtown, took a look at the bustling Proctor District, then toured the not-so-bustling business district around South 56th Street. City planners told them about mixed-use development zones. Residents and merchants talked about neighborhood history, commerce and lifestyle.
On their return to Idaho, the students went on a design spree. They chose lovely buildings to preserve on South Tacoma Way, bulldozed a few blocks and erased the center island. Each student took a block.
The Sounder station would be a gleaming swoop of a building in Paul Hauer’s vision. Trains would arrive on tracks set into a cantilevered platform above street level. Visitors would flock to the attached rail museum.
The grocery store for which residents yearn would be the marquee centerpiece of Benjamin Ledford’s block of town homes, apartments and a parking garage topped by roof gardens.
Across the street, Mahsa Emam Jomeh’s dance studio is a swirl of metal and glass that takes a sliding step over the roof of Dawson’s Sports Bar next door.
Jesse Marble’s car museum parks next to the cool vehicles on display at Austin’s Pro/Max Discount Muffler & Brake Center at 56th Street and South Tacoma Way.
The dream team would build a promenade to the Water Ditch Trail, and a profusion of plazas, roof gardens, bookstores and a new library that would be a community jewel. Street trees and broad sidewalks would welcome walkers and shoppers.
This is the third time associate professor Anne Lawrason Marshall’s senior students have come from Moscow with fresh ideas for Tacoma. Previous classes rethought the proposed mixed-use development chunks of the Lincoln and McKinley Avenue business districts.
The ideas are unencumbered by financing. They’re a class assignment, not a sales pitch.
But the imaginary streets get residents dreaming, and mobilizing.
Two years ago the Idaho students ran streetcars through the Lincoln District, and residents imagined trolleys carrying teens to school, commuters to work and shoppers to stores. They saw the possibility that public transit could make the one-car, two-job family manageable. They put streetcars on the table for public discussion.
On McKinley Hill, which likely will lose its police substation, neighbors have put the city on notice that they expect more than dead space from that corner. They’ve discussed the possibility of shops and apartments on that large lot. In the students’ work from last year, these neighbors can point to an example of what they want.
At the presentation this week, residents enjoyed the field trip to a future in which they’d have hundreds of apartment-dwelling neighbors.
They approved of the way the students put the tallest buildings along the main street, then stepped the heights down, story by story, until they matched existing homes.
They got a kick out of the way the students mixed and matched architectural styles and materials.
They loved the grocery store with a glamorous facade outside and fresh veggies inside.
Like Lincoln and McKinley residents, they applauded the trolley cars.
They took these young people seriously enough to challenge their ideas. Tacoma police officer Loretta Cool worried the street trees would block sight lines and give bad guys places to hide. She wasn’t thrilled with the grocery store’s nearly hidden parking garage.
On the plus side, the new density, with some apartment buildings rising six stories and abundant ground floor retail and dining, would keep many eyes on the street.
Where, one longtime resident asked, would the senior housing go? She’d love to live in the neighborhood the Idaho dream team brought to town.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677