Gig Harbor’s Olympic Towne Center is today just a 19-acre lot of trenches and foundations.
But when it’s finished in 2017, it will be unlike any development now in Gig Harbor, and it will be at the epicenter of an already intense traffic-congested zone.
The development will have a Fred Meyer grocery, PetSmart and a Hop Jack’s restaurant, among others.
But what sets it apart from its other shopping center brethren is what’s now simply being called “Building E.”
That building’s developer, a former Starbucks executive, calls it a sustainable social hub.
Whatever he ends up naming it, Troy Alstead is out to set an example for other developers.
“What I want to prove is that you can have a business that can be great for people, be respectful to the planet and deliver profitability,” Alstead said.
His 57,000-square-foot complex will have a 300-seat restaurant, bowling alley, gaming rooms, high-tech meeting facilities and plenty of places to just hang out and sip wine or coffee.
Alstead won’t reveal financial details other than to say, “It’s a substantial investment.”
But this is no vanity project. Alstead, who has made his career in finance, definitely wants a return on investment.
The man behind ‘Building E’
Alstead, who left Starbucks as its chief operating officer in March, was once seen as the successor to CEO Howard Schultz.
Alstead left Starbucks after taking a yearlong sabbatical that the company offers to longtime employees — what it calls a “coffee break.”
“I loved what I was doing, but I always knew I wanted to try some other stuff in life,” he said.
A native of Puyallup, Alstead and his family, which includes four school-age children, live in Gig Harbor. Alstead said he took the sabbatical because he wanted to spend more time with his children, particularly his eldest son, who leaves for college on the East Coast this fall.
Alstead spent more than two decades with Starbucks, starting as a financial analyst.
When he began with the company, “everybody told me I was crazy,” Alstead, 53, recalled. “It’s not going to go very far,” well-intentioned friends told him.
Starbucks’ most recent annual sales were $20 billion, according to Forbes.
Alstead helped start Starbucks International. He spent time as chief operating officer in China and served as president of its European and Middle East businesses.
“I touched all parts of the business ... especially the consumer experience side of things, which is what Starbucks are masters about,” he said, nodding toward the counter of the Starbucks at Point Fosdick Drive Northwest and Olympic Drive Northwest.
A couple hundred feet beyond the windows, workers were manning a drilling rig and earth moving equipment at Alstead’s project.
The years Alstead spent overseas showed him that people around the world desire communal spaces where they can come together to socialize or share activities.
And while that might seem obvious, he was impressed by how common it was.
“It’s just a striking, powerful thing everywhere.”
That, combined with a deep passion for stewardship of the earth, gave Alstead the spark for his project.
“I grew up in the Puget Sound region and always have loved the mountains and beaches. I backpack in the Olympics and Cascades, scuba dive in the Sound, and at every opportunity enjoy this place around us,” Alstead said. “We have a responsibility to ensure that all this will still be around to be enjoyed by future generations.”
Gig Harbor Mayor Jill Guernsey said she was pleased with the traffic mitigation measures that the center’s developer is installing and is excited about Alstead’s project.
“We were very impressed with Troy’s vision when we met with him,” Guernsey said.
Alstead is siting his project in Olympic Towne Center because he calls it the perfect spot in the growing Westside retail district. And being in a development means he can work on his project without distractions.
“Working with a developer of the property allows me to focus on my building and on developing a great experience for guests,” he said.
A ‘green’ building
Alstead’s project will be LEED certified. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the leading standard for buildings that minimize their effect on the environment through energy efficiency and other factors.
Chief among the building’s green attributes will be its heating and air-conditioning system, powered by geothermal energy.
The geothermal system was the first phase of construction earlier this month. Crews were busy drilling the 75 wells needed for the project and installing piping.
In winter, a closed-loop system collects low-grade thermal energy from the earth and concentrates it inside the building to provide heating.
In summer the process is reversed. Heat is taken from the building and put back in the earth or used to heat water.
Alstead expects the system to pay for itself in five to 10 years.
Structures for solar panels will be placed on the building, but Alstead will wait until technology improves before he installs any.
Trees removed from the site will be milled for lumber to be used in the building, which will feature an abundance of wood and stone surfaces.
“It’s not going to go very far in the building, but we’ll use it because that’s important to us,” Alstead said of the salvaged lumber.
Per Gig Harbor regulations, removed trees at the Olympic Towne Center site will be replaced with anywhere from a single 18-foot high tree to three six-foot high trees, according to WWR Properties’ David Morton.
“We are very committed to retaining the town’s wonderful character,” Morton said, adding that several of the company’s partners live in Gig Harbor.
The entire center has a $750,000 landscaping budget, Morton said.
The project’s restaurant, still to be named, will have farm-to-table food made from scratch, Alstead said.
“The menu will be very influenced by global foods,” he said. But it will also feature staples such as burgers and pizza and will use local sourcing.
“We will do everything we can to make it a short supply chain,” he said.
The space will have an open-exhibition kitchen and a demonstration counter. Alstead plans to schedule culinary and cocktail mixology and wine events at the restaurant.
Alstead feels he’s joining a robust revitalization of the area that’s underway from Ruston Way to Gig Harbor.
“It’s a great mix of the old favorites that have been here a long time and new things coming in.”
The facility will have an approximately 10-lane bowling facility with both traditional 10-pin and duckpin bowling. Duckpin uses smaller balls that don’t have finger holes.
There won’t be league bowling, at least in the beginning. There are already plenty of league bowling venues in the South Sound, he said.
“It’s intended to provide a place for people to have fun,” Alstead said, calling it a, “contemporary social bowling experience” with VIP spaces.
The complex also will have laser tag and a game area.
A second floor will have group meeting spaces for birthday parties or business gatherings. The rooms will have high-tech capabilities.
And there will be places for people to just hang.
“You can grab a glass of wine or cup of coffee or you can have it served to you anywhere in the facility,” Alstead said.
Will it be Starbucks coffee?
“I’ve got a lot of history with them, but (it’s) way too early for those kind of decisions,” he said.
Building E: thebuildinge.com.
Traffic, and easing its flow, is a major concern for both the city and the drivers who use Olympic Drive each day.
In February 2014, 19,000 vehicles a day were using Olympic Drive east of 50th Street.
Olympic Drive has three closely spaced intersections, two at either end of the state Route 16 overpass and one at Point Fosdick Drive, that impede the smooth flow of traffic, according to Gig Harbor senior engineer Emily Appleton.
“When the signals are close like that it’s difficult to coordinate the movements (of vehicle traffic),” Appleton said.
An extension of 32nd Avenue Northwest, a stub of which now extends south from 56th Street Northwest, will be continued south to meet up with Olympic Drive at 50th Street. Developer WWR Properties is funding that road.
In February 2014 roughly 3,600 vehicles per hour (at approximately 5 p.m.) were using the Olympic Drive and Point Fosdick Drive intersection.
The developers have acquired the southwest corner of that intersection and will add a right turn lane there. The Chevron station located there now will remain.
That intersection’s traffic light sequence will be changed to split phasing. That style allows all movements of a particular direction to move forward at the same time. Compared to the traditional style it moves more traffic at intersections where there are high left-turn volumes. The city and developer are splitting the cost.
An outside firm used the city’s traffic demand model and analyzed it using the planned improvements and expected traffic volumes around the center.
“It wasn’t going to get worse, and it was likely to get better,” Appleton said of the results.
One exception was the eastbound state Route 16 off-ramp, she noted. But since the analysis was made, the state Department of Transportation re-configured the eastbound off-ramp with two right turn lanes.
Projections show that traffic will continue to grow in the area.
Olympic Towne Center details
Olympic Towne Center construction has started on land just east of Point Fosdick Drive Northwest and north of Olympic Drive Northwest.
Along with a Fred Meyer store, the center will have a PetSmart, AutoZone, Hop Jack’s restaurant, Wells Fargo, and an entertainment complex built by former Starbucks executive Troy Alstead.
For developer WWR Properties, the center represents the biggest project in the company’s history.
Walter “Mickey” Hogan, managing partner of WWR, said his company mainly builds apartments and retail centers. It retains ownership of its projects.
“We build them, develop them and continue to manage them for years,” Hogan said.
Approximately 180,000 square feet of retail space will be built at the center.
“This thing will be a top quality project,” Hogan said. Planning for it began in 2006.
The largest tenant will be a 65,000 square foot Fred Meyer that will replace the current roughly 43,000-square-foot store just across state Route 16 in Olympic Village.
The $16 million project will have 200 employees, a net gain of 50 to 75 jobs, said Fred Meyer spokeswoman Melinda Merrill. It also will have a 14-car gas station.
“It’ll look so different from our other stores in the Gig Harbor/Tacoma area,” Merrill said.
The new store will have expanded natural and organic food sections and put a greater emphasis on local food. It also will have more employee service in the food departments.
Merrill said it’s not meant to duplicate parent company Kroger’s new Main & Vine, which opened earlier this year just to the south.
“We have to still compete against them even though we’re the same company,” Merrill said. The new Fred Meyer should open in early spring.
When complete, Olympic Towne Center will merge with the existing Olympic Plaza that houses KeyBank, Starbucks, Jimmy John’s, Dairy Queen and Papa Murphy’s among others.
While the center is 95 percent leased, there are about six more spaces to be rented, according to Don Whittles, a leasing agent for the project.
Rents for the new project range from approximately $32 to $35 per square foot, Whittles said. Those rates are comparable to others around Gig Harbor, he said.
WWR Properties also owns Olympic Village, which the company built in 1990. That center will be remodeled in the next two to three years, Hogan said and renamed “The Village.”
Two possible tenants are negotiating leases for the current Fred Meyer space, Whittles said. He would not divulge the names.