Two city-owned waterfront lots along the Thea Foss Waterway will have much to recommend them when the Foss Waterway Development Authority seeks developers this summer.
The two lots on Dock Street, just south of the Murray Morgan Bridge on 11th Street, have ample water views, are just an elevator ride to downtown Tacoma and share a waterway lined with yachts, museums, restaurants and art displays.
Yet it may take an imaginative developer to make a profit on their potential. The two sites are constrained by geography, mainline railroad tracks, a high water table, city zoning rules, limited parking and their narrow depth — only 135 feet inland from the water at the widest.
New reports from a development consultant and a parking expert to the authority suggest those sites, whose area totals a little more than one acre, may not economically support structures that meet the city’s goals for dense residential or business uses of waterfront property.
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Heartland Consulting modeled a handful of development scenarios for the property, which the authority calls Sites 8 and 9 and wants to market together. Those included uses ranging from high-rise residential development to mid-rise mixed-use buildings to surface parking lots.
The plots’ narrow width, along with the area’s high water table, makes most of those scenarios economically difficult, said the consultant. The high water table makes underground parking expensive, and high-rise residential development would require more parking than is economical.
The land ranges from about 135 to 105 feet deep. That makes building high-capacity parking structures difficult, said parking consultant the Tilghman Group. Much of that width would be consumed with one-way aisles and ramps, allowing only one row of parking stalls per floor in many cases.
Heartland concluded that lower density townhomes, while not meeting the city’s goal of bringing significant population to the near-downtown waterway, might be the most feasible.
“This concept is a departure from the Foss Waterway vision for higher density waterfront redevelopment, however, it brings a new product mix to the waterfront, accomplishes some level of water-oriented retail and has the most economically viable options under forseeable marketing conditions,” said the Heartland report. “This scenario requires departures from building height requirements in addition to flexibility in view corridor alignment, setbacks and possibly the the configuration of the retail components,” said the consultant.
The parking study suggested that the city even consider erecting a multi-story parking garage on the site of the former Municipal Dock north of the Murray Morgan Bridge. Building a parking garage on a waterfront parcel would violate the spirit of the Foss Waterway’s master plan, which calls for people-oriented or water-related structures to be built on waterfront property.
Building a garage on that property, however, the study suggested, would help solve parking issues on several narrow adjacent sites allowing fuller development of those sites.
The Municipal Dock, once the Tacoma terminus for the “mosquito fleet” of commuter boats plying the Sound, was razed when its structure deteriorated and became unsafe.