Re-energizing downtown Tacoma

August 11, 2010

At $89.7 million and 220,000 square feet, the Tacoma (Wash.) Convention Center is the largest construction project in the city since the Tacoma Dome in 1983. The public/private venture includes a five-story convention center, two parking garages, 10,000 squar e feet of retail space, 76 residential units and a 175-room hotel, which is currently in the feasibility stage of development.

'Project Chronicles' will continue to report on the convention center project, which will be completed in 2004.

Rendering courtesy of MulvannyG2 Architecture

This new monthly  column will also closely follow two additional projects: 835 Market Street and Union Pacific Center, with updates on project status, challenges and collaboration of the building team.

Revitalizing Tacoma

The master plan was codeveloped by design architect MulvannyG2 Architecture of Bellevue, Wash., and architect of record Merritt+Pardini, Tacoma. Other building team members include the City of Tacoma, Minneapolis-based general contractor Mortenson and Dallas-based urban design architect Huitt-Zollars. Subcontractors have not been chosen.

'The presence of both public and private development within the convention center project provides an opportunity to build an exciting and strong downtown urban core,' says Juli Wilkerson, Tacoma Economic Development Department director. 'The convention center will be a magnet for public activity in the downtown core.'

The project is the centerpiece of a massive effort by the city to redevelop the downtown business district and waterfront areas. Related projects include the $63 million Museum of Glass, the 50,000-sq.-ft. Tacoma Art Museum, expansion of the University of Washington campus and the Thea Foss Waterway Esplanade, a 1.5-mile stretch of shoreline parkland. A 500-ft.-long steel-and-glass pedestrian bridge will link the convention center, art museum and other urban developments to the waterfront.

'Together with the convention center, these projects will help re-energize downtown Tacoma,' says Ming Zhang, vice president and design principal with MulvannyG2.

Schematic design finalized

Schematic designs for the convention center were completed in early October and sent to Mortenson for review.

The structure will feature an arched roof and a grand lobby with a 90-ft.-tall glass atrium. 'We wanted to connect the inside to all the outside street activity,' says Zhang. 'This visual glass creates a very exciting sculpture form that fully respects the surrounding urban life and provides breathtaking views of Mount Rainier and Commencement Bay.'

The convention center's most significant -- and controversial -- design feature is a 400-ft.-tall, pyramid-shape tower, which is not included in the project budget. The project team is currently working with the city and outside sources to secure funding for the structure.

'The tower is meant to work on an urban design level as a beacon for visitors to find the convention center from a distance,' says Michael Johncock, project manager with MulvannyG2. 'The shape is very much like a tree, which is meant to be iconic of Tacoma s lumber industry. And we propose it to be constructed of metal mesh and lighted using fiber optics to reflect the city s high-tech industry.'

Demolition to begin

Before work on the project can begin, the site, which contains 16 existing buildings, must be cleared. 'The buildings on the site are older, masonry structures anywhere from two to four stories high,' says Susan Smith, preconstruction services manager with Mortenson.

Although plans for the private development are not finalized, and parts of the site may not be utilized for some time, Smith says all 16 buildings will be demolished 'at one time, under one contact, to realize cost savings.'

The City of Tacoma began accepting bids for the demolition work on Oct. 31. A low bid was submitted by Tacoma-based R.W. Rhine, but Smith says a contract has not been awarded yet. Demolition is expected to begin this month.

A historic structure on the site, the 111-year-old Waddell building, will be restored and incorporated into the new hotel, according to Scott Harm, principal in charge with Merritt+Pardini. 'One of the hoteliers bidding for the site is proposing to build its swimming pool on the ground floor of the building,' says Harm. 'It'll be somewhat of a crown jewel of a pool.'

         
 

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