Pierce County is floating a plan that would help get an emergency communications headquarters built while also ridding Tacoma’s South End of a vacant mental-health hospital that neighbors say has become a crime magnet.
The plan calls for the county to sell property at 3602 Pacific Avenue S. to South Sound 911. The county has two buildings on the site, one of which houses the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and the other the county’s Community Connections social services department.
The buildings would be razed to make way for a new emergency communications center for six 911 centers and emergency administrative services.
In turn, the county would use the proceeds from that sale to demolish the Puget Sound Hospital down the street at 3580 Pacific Avenue S. It had hoped to build a new county administration building on that site, but voters nixed that plan last year.
Pierce County and South Sound 911 operate independently, but are working together on the development of the new communications center. In a news release, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy called the plan — which would have to be approved by the County Council — “an elegant solution with many benefits.”
We believe in about 60 days we would be able to know whether it is suitable for us.
Andrew Neiditz, South Sound 911 executive director
South Sound 911 also would have to sign off on the plan after it studies the Pacific Avenue site to make sure it meets the agency’s needs, said South Sound 911 executive director Andrew Neiditz.
“We believe in about 60 days we would be able to know whether it is suitable for us,” Neiditz said Tuesday. “I have no reason to believe that it won’t be, but we need to be sure.”
A year ago, South Sound 911 backed away from building its new operations center in Fircrest after a geotechnical review showed the land wasn’t suitable, Neiditz said.
“Because of the unstable soils, we had to walk away from the site,” he said. “Since then we have deployed a development team from Seattle and a local real estate team to assist. We have looked at over 30 different sites. We’ve gone through a really exhaustive process.”
The hope is the county proposal will work, but if it doesn’t, Neiditz said South Sound 911 has another property lined up.
South Sound 911 was created in 2011 after voters approved a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax to increase public safety, in part by developing a regional radio and dispatch system.
Other parts of the plan include a computer-aided dispatch system, next-generation 911 phone system that allows people to use text messages to interact with emergency dispatchers and a state-of-the-art communications facility.
If Pierce County agreed to sell the land on Pacific Avenue, South Sound 911 would build a 55,000-square-foot building to house 911 and dispatch operations and a municipal emergency operations center.
A second building, approximately 25,000 square feet in size, would house South Sound 911’s administrative offices. It also would serve as a place for people to get services such as fingerprinting and concealed pistol license applications.
Together, the buildings are estimated to cost $62 million, which will be paid for from the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax. Neiditz estimated the buildings could open in late 2018.
We’ll make sure that every entity’s interests are addressed as we put this plan together.”
Pat McCarthy, Pierce County executive
To make room for the new emergency operations center, the county has proposed relocating Community Connections and the Health Department across Pacific Avenue to an existing building. The county would buy the building and lease space to the Health Department, according to a news release.
The status of the property and whether the county is in active negotiations with the property owner to buy the land were unclear Tuesday.
The county plans to schedule community meetings for residents in the nearby Lincoln District neighborhood and other parts of the county to weigh in on the plan. Dates for those meetings have not been announced.
Tacoma City Councilman Marty Campbell, who represents the Lincoln District, welcomed the planned demolition of the old hospital building.
“It’s just been a center for crime and criminal activity, and it’s been a burden for the local neighborhood,” Campbell said.