From the sixth floor of Tacoma’s new Pacifica Apartments, residents can take in broad views of the Northwest’s wilderness landmarks: the Cascades, the Olympics and Mount Rainier.
In the foreground, views are much more urban: Sears, Macy’s and Nordstrom.
The upscale apartment structure, whose initial tower opened just this month, is literally at the doorstep of Tacoma Mall adjacent to the Pine Street entrance of the retail complex.
This nontraditional residential setting, its developers say, will prove an asset both to the 177-unit, two-tower, mid-rise development and to the mall itself.
Pacifica is the largest Tacoma apartment development built since the recession began four years ago. It represents a growing trend in urban America where developers are laying wagers that the synergy of close-by shopping and dining as well as a well-developed infrastructure will make the new housing a magnet for residents.
So far, interest in the new structures has been encouraging, said Allyson Reed, Pacifica’s new general manager.
In the two weeks since Reed took her new job, dozens of prospective tenants have visited the first tower.
So far, 13 of the units have been rented. That’s a good result, said Reed, considering construction activity is continuing on the second tower and final work is still happening on some floors of the first. That second tower is scheduled to open this spring.
The developer, Gig Harbor’s Rush Companies, has even raised its rental rate because of the show of interest.
Rates at the Pacifica are somewhat above those in nearby complexes, but the finishes, amenities and views are superior to those of the competition, said Reed, a veteran of years in the apartment rental and management business.
AMENITIES FIND APPEAL AMONG TENANTS
The buildings’ offerings range from studios at $845 a month to two-bedroom, two-bath units for $1,475 a month. Those rates put the Pacifica in competition with apartments in more traditional locales such as Thea’s Landing on the Foss Waterway and the Copperline Apartments nearing completion near Point Defiance.
The most expensive, largest top-floor units are the most in demand, said Reed. Those have the best distant views of the mountains.
Casey Sawyer, who works at a nearby Discount Tire store, made his decision quickly after viewing the apartments Monday night. By noon Tuesday, he’d made a deposit and was preparing to move in to his one-bedroom unit on the building’s top floor. Mount Rainier is clearly visible from the apartment’s living room and deck on a cloudless day.
Sawyer, who commuted from Olympia, said his lease was running out there and he needed to find a place closer to work.
He was impressed by the apartment’s granite countertops, stainless appliances and lofty ceilings. The apartment’s bath also is considerably larger than the usual apartment offering. The unit comes with in-unit stacked washers and dryers. His rent is $995.
Reed said the tenants who’ve signed up so far are a mix of ages and occupations. Two work at the Tacoma Mall. Some are retired couples. Others are military families stationed at JBLM.
She said she expects the buildings will fill with an eclectic mix of singles and marrieds, workers and retired, young and older.
Reed said she expected the apartments’ location at the west entrance to the mall off Pine Street might be a challenge, but so far, tenants consider that proximity to be an asset.
The building sports covered parking for an extra $65 a month, a large exercise room, an expansive resident’s lounge and an area equipped with Wi-Fi as a business center. The landscaped outdoor pool is nearing completion. An outdoor kitchen will be located near the pool for barbecues and other events.
Unique to the Pacifica, the buildings have a concierge on staff to assist residents with entertainment and other issues. That concierge, Cookie Ford, previously worked at the Marriott at Sea-Tac.
“We want our residents to feel pampered, to feel that we’re taking good care of them,” Ford said.
She’s arranging in-house cooking classes, massage therapy and package and dry-cleaning pickup services.
The towers will have an on-site maintenance manager, Mike Shannon, to ensure that the building’s mechanical and electrical systems are working well.
TAX INCENTIVE DRIVES DEVELOPMENT
Part of the lure for developers to build near the mall is a tax incentive offered by the city of Tacoma in mixed-use zones in the city. That incentive offers an eight-year tax abatement for market rate housing and a 12-year reduction for lower rate buildings. Of the city’s 17 mixed-use zones, the area surrounding the Tacoma Mall is the second largest after downtown’s.
The mall area zone is generally bounded by Interstate 5 on the east, South 35th Street on the north, South 48th Street on the South and South Puget Sound on the west.
Other mixed-use zones are clustered around city business districts such as Sixth Avenue, Portland Avenue and South 38th Street east of I-5.
The idea of the tax incentive is to encourage in-city living in areas where multi-unit housing and retailing can create a symbiotic mix of retail and housing.
City of Tacoma Senior Planner Brian Boudet said the incentive was designed to foster development in already developed urban areas instead of suburban and rural areas where creating new infrastructure would be expensive for government.
The Pacifica isn’t the first large development to locate on the mall’s periphery. Olympia developer Mike Cohen built the two-tower Apex development near the north entrance to the mall before the recession. Though originally envisioned as a condominium development, the complex is now mostly rental units.
Cohen is the principal developer of Point Ruston, a $1-billion-plus mixed use development on the site of the old Asarco copper smelter near Point Defiance Park. That development will include a multiplex cinema, grocery, restaurants, offices and retailers along with apartments, condos and single-family homes.
NOT UNUSUAL FOR LOCATION
The idea of pairing traditional enclosed malls with housing has caught on in other cities.
In Seattle, for instance, the new Thornton Place residential development abuts Northgate Mall’s south side complementing the refurbished mall.
In Renton, a huge apartment complex borders the new Landing commercial complex just southeast of Boeing’s Renton 737 plant.
In other cities, near-mall residential development has helped revitalize tired, aging malls. In Surrey, near Vancouver, B.C., for instance, the ’60s-era Central City Mall was revitalized by nearby housing developments, new public buildings including a satellite campus of Simon Fraser University, a hospital, a new city hall and an attached office building all accessible by the city’s Skytrain transit system.
While the residential development near the Tacoma Mall isn’t as comprehensive or as ambitious as those efforts, developers are hoping the combination will prove a logical pairing to ensure the continued growth of Tacoma’s largest retail area.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663
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