Politics & Government

Forum hears yays, nays of 1 roof for Pierce County offices

Community members and local leaders both supportive and concerned about proposed plans for a new Pierce County administration building took part in a public forum about the project Wednesday, two days after the final negotiated price tag was released to the council.

The nine-story, $127 million structure is proposed to be built near Tacoma’s Lincoln District, at 3580 Pacific Ave., the site of the former Puget Sound Hospital. Residents of that neighborhood and others nearby spoke up about the project at the meeting on the University of Washington Tacoma campus.

Some said the plan, which will consolidate the county’s 19 departments in one building, instead of the current 14, did not have enough public input. Others said it would bring much needed development to the area.

“This is going to be one-stop shopping for everyone,” Eastside Neighborhood Council President Lynnette Scheidt said. “This is a perfect spot. ... This is my fifth meeting. There’s a whole list of times that people could have met.”

Architect and Tacoma Councilman David Boe, Tacoma Councilman Marty Campbell, architect Jim Merritt and deputy Pierce County executive Kevin Phelps were all part of the forum, moderated by Ali Modarres, director of Urban Studies at the university.

Merritt argued that a lack of master planning resulted in the county’s need for its annexes in the first place and suggested there wasn’t a solid master plan for the Lincoln District proposal. The site itself is too far from the Lincoln and McKinley business centers for people to want to walk to those areas, he argued, suggesting that a new center would sprout up around the future county building, instead of supporting those that surround it.

“I don’t think there’s been enough discussions like this at the beginning of the process,” Merritt said of the forum.

Phelps disagreed.

“Yes, for those people who don’t read newspapers ... for those who don’t visit the county website ... those who don’t listen to the City Council meetings, don’t watch (Pierce County TV), yeah, this has been hidden pretty close,” he said sarcastically. “We have nothing to hide on this.”

Campbell brought up issues of equity and divestment that he said has happened in the Lincoln District through the years.

“It would mean a lot to the revitalization of the Lincoln District,” he said of the proposal.

The final negotiated price of the building was released to the County Council on Monday and sits $60 million higher than when county officials initially described the plan two years ago. Part of that increase is because the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is now intended to be under that same roof. Phelps said the consolidation would save the county money.

Some opponents have said they want officials to consider downtown locations for the building, which the county has argued would be too expensive.

The council’s main vote is Feb. 17.