New Foss Waterway executive sees Tacoma’s potential

Foss Waterway Development Authority Executive Director Norm Gollub and his dog Charlie look over the Thea Foss area Tuesday where a hotel is expected to be built just west of him.
Foss Waterway Development Authority Executive Director Norm Gollub and his dog Charlie look over the Thea Foss area Tuesday where a hotel is expected to be built just west of him.

Editor’s note: Some questions and answers have been edited for length.

Last month, Norm Gollub was named the Foss Waterway Development Authority’s new executive director.

Gollub replaces Su Dowie, who announced her retirement last year. Gollub credits her for helping him pivot into the leadership position during the five short weeks since he started.

The authority was created in 1996 to assist in marketing and development around the Thea Foss Waterway, a Superfund site that had been polluted by a century of industrial development.

When he left his job as Sarasota, Florida’s downtown economic development director, Gollub said, one hotel had just opened, three more were under construction, and he was tracking another 30 projects — in all, close to $1 billion of construction in a 1-square-mile area.

Gollub considers the Pacific Northwest home. He and his wife own a home in Portland and lived there for several years between jobs in Greenville, South Carolina and Sarasota.

His impression of Tacoma from the 1980s was “Boy, this is just a really gritty industrial town” — and no wonder. His glimpses were of the Tacoma Dome and the port as he passed by on Interstate 5.

A few years ago he stopped by for a visit and marveled how much the City of Destiny had changed.

More than that — he saw potential, and he sees it still today.

“What Tacoma is experiencing now is another renaissance of activity,” Gollub said.

Because he’s so new to the area, Gollub’s still finding his way around the pronunciation of local fixtures like “Weyerhaeuser” and “Puyallup.” But Gollub said he’s a quick study, and the skills he’s learned throughout his career will help connect the space that sometimes exists between private developers and government agencies.

Q: You touted all of the development that’s happening in Sarasota. Is there anything more about your background you can share that will tell readers why you are well-suited to this position?

A: My early career was in landscape architecture offices, transportation agencies. My degree is in urban design. I’ve always had a passion for what makes a community tick. Throughout my early career I developed the technical know-how and skill sets for the built environment.

Q: What skills do you think you’re going to draw upon most here in Tacoma?

A: I think building collaborations and developing partnerships is at the forefront of everything we do. We work closely with the city staff and in particular public works, which is helping to facilitate the shoreline repairs.

City staff are a very integral part, and right now I’m just getting acquainted with who does what and where they are. I am very impressed with the caliber of professional talent that I see.

One of my next steps here is to develop a survey of all of the residents along the Foss and find out their likes, dislikes, what they see as opportunities, what they see as needs. In bringing activities forward, though, we are going to need to find sponsors.

Q: It sounds like you’d like to see more activity on the Foss.

A: The Foss is a great place to walk and to relax and to eat. But you need to have interactive activities, such as music, such as chess boards — even hopscotch for kids.

My hope is, as the Dome District develops, as we see more residential going into the Dome — and I really think that is key to downtown’s activity and the revitalization of the Foss — that they’ll utilize these parks that we’re creating.

Q: What do you think are the three biggest challenges facing the development authority?

A: Financial resources, infrastructure north of the 11th Street Bridge and the completion of the esplanade.

The infrastructure is in place south of the 11th Street Bridge to support real estate development. It’s not in place north of the 11th Street Bridge to support development projects.

We have several sites still available that we are working to develop, but in order to develop them, they need to have the sewer and the water and the power upgrades. What we are hoping to do with our budget is to propose a local improvement district. It’s a great tool to leverage grant money so we can complete the esplanade.

This is all part of a long-range plan for the Dome-to-Defiance trail so people can ride their bikes or walk or roller blade all the way to Point Defiance.

Q: What experience do you have working with contaminated sites like the Foss?

A: I have very limited experience, but I know where the resources are that I need.

Q: Give me some highlights of the next couple of years for the development authority.

A: In the very near future we hope to bring before the City Council a retirement community project. That’s very exciting because it puts a certain age group down on the Foss year-round.

We are in the process of developing drawings for two parks. One will be Central Park, which will be next to the site of a new hotel. Another is Waterway Park. This will be for human-powered watercraft — your dragon boats, your kayaks, your canoes.

We will be kicking off a capital campaign over this next year to raise money to construct the parks. Those parks will be a great place for the grandkids of those people and the retirement community. It will also be a great park for the people living in the existing residential units to relax in and have their kids play in.

The biggest challenge for the Foss is parking. Without structured parking we are kind of challenged. We need to look at alternatives to get people down here, whether it be a circulator, whether it be more overpasses, I don’t know what it would be.

Q: When you talk about a circulator, is that a fancy word for a bus?

Yeah, or a trolley. For example we have six museums: the Children’s Museum, the art museum, the history museum, the LeMay museum, the Museum of Glass and the Seaport Museum. Where else do you find six museums in such a small area? With hotels coming online in the next few years, I think it’s a real opportunity for them to be significant sponsors to circulators that take their customers as well as other folks around to all of these museums. That’s one way to get people down here.

The Prairie Line Trail is going to be completed with a connection to the Foss. We are hoping the 15th Street section of it goes over the railroad tracks, and Dock Street will be enhanced with public art to make it a much more pleasant walk.

We are looking at how we can improve the pedestrian experience of getting from downtown to the Foss.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports

Name: Norm Gollub.

Age: 64.

Family: Married 30 years to Gloria.

Professional history: Downtown economic development director, city of Sarasota, Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and the downtown improvement district, for more than three years. Prior to Florida, he worked for eight years in his own consulting company based in Portland, Ore. Before that he worked for more than six years as the urban design and development manager for the city of Greenville, S.C. He has a bachelor's degree in design with a specialization in urban design from Southern Illinois University. He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma Economic Development Institute.

Salary/compensation: $128,000.

Hobbies: Camping, gardening, woodworking and remodeling.