Special Reports

An area ripe for improvement

The future of South Tacoma Way likely will hinge on its history and utilizing the infrastructure that past has left behind.

Here’s the outlook from four people with a vested interest in the area.


Historian, Tacoma Public Library.

It’s no surprise that Kamens turns to the pages of the area’s history when asked about revitalizing South Tacoma Way.

“The town was built by twilight,” he says. “The workers would work at the (railroad) car shops all day, then work on their homes until twilight. There was a real sense of community there.”

Bringing the vitality back to South Tacoma Way will require providing a spark to the residential neighborhood, Kamens says.

He says proposals such as development of Wapato Hills Park, conversion of the Barlow Annex into an artist’s studio and construction of the Water Ditch Trail would drive development throughout the South End.

“It gives the community an identity, it adds to the quality of life,” Kamens says. “There are some great neighborhoods in the area. Something like the arts project would only add to the sense of community.”

Kamens is confident city and business leaders will make the needed investment in the area.

“They realize South Tacoma is a hidden jewel and deserves as much attention as the rest of the town,” he says. “There was some malaise that set in, but I think it’s coming back. It will always be a vibrant place with all kinds of uses – restaurants, bars, automobile.”


Owner of Brown’s Flowers on South Tacoma Way; president of the South Tacoma Business District Association.

Peterson believes industrial redevelopment of a former railroad yard will spur further growth of South Tacoma Way businesses.

“There’s a few hundred acres in there for redevelopment,” he says. “We would like to see some sort of industry in there. As the port fills up and downtown builds out, we’re the next logical siting for major employers.”

BNSF currently owns the land, north of 56th Street South and west of South Tacoma Way.

Bringing businesses to the area that pay living wages can only help existing service and retail operations along the thoroughfare, Peterson says.

Employees “are going to want to live close to work and that will build the neighborhoods up. Those people will need to shop for groceries and other things. It’s a gradual process,” he says.

“I think we’ll see a continuation of (growth) like in other parts of town such as Proctor, Sixth Avenue, Stadium.”


Lakewood community development director and assistant city manager.

Interstate frontage and continued investment from the Korean community will fuel growth along the southern stretch of South Tacoma Way, Bugher says.

“There’s not much I-5 frontage available out there,” he says. “There is growing interest, especially if the city can clean up some of the older, more tired properties out there.”

He said Mallon Ford’s recent move to Interstate 5 and Bridgeport Way was driven by a desire to get the freeway exposure.

“We also expect the Korean community will continue to make investments in that area, especially in the 80th to 95th street area,” Bugher says.

“Americana business is what you see along South Tacoma Way. They begin as small start-ups. If they succeed, they move on to become something else.

“B&I is an example. Some of these older buildings with lower rent offer people the opportunity to do the same thing, that’s the only way some of these people can get a start. South Tacoma Way is like a small-business incubator.”

That’s why Lakewood will continue to spend money cleaning up South Tacoma Way, Bugher says,

“We’re always looking for ways to keep crime down. That’s going to continue,” he says. “That’s our front porch to the rest of the region. There’s a definite desire to change the image.”


Tacoma District 5 city councilwoman.

Developing the business core based around the intersection of South Tacoma Way and South 56th Street will be fueled by construction of a Sound Transit station a few blocks to the west on Washington Street, Ladenburg says.

“That has happened in places like Kent and Sumner,” she says.

“People are saying South Tacoma Way is our next area to see a rebirth. But I don’t think they have an identity yet. Do they want to be a nightclub scene, an art scene? I just think they’re ripe for development and improvement.”

Borrowing a phrase from a colleague, she said she envisions the neighborhood becoming an “urban village.”

“I would like to see a walkable community, a neighborhood people can utilize with places like a grocer, drugstore, restaurants they can walk to,” Ladenburg says. “Kind of a throwback to old Main Street, a place people can walk around and get groceries, an ice cream cone.

“That’s the way it used to be. I think people are trying to get back to that. People want a place not just to sleep, but a place they can actually live.”

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640


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