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Renewing Gig Harbor's Downtown

The City of Gig Harbor City Council and Planning Commission need vision and packaged policy to provide for the renewal of Gig Harbor's downtown.

Clearly, Gig Harbor’s downtown needs renewal.  In 2003, I suggested a visual way to look at renewal of the downtown.  In addition to comprehensive planning, a visual understanding of the comprehensive plan’s intent is the single most powerful tool to encourage targeted, purposeful renewal of the downtown.

Downtown renewal and investment starts best with a policy and visual answer to the public question “What do you want?”

Even today, downtown investment will soon be underway if the City Council undertakes some proactive steps to encourage flexibility, certainty and efficient development process.  Moreover, the investment will be private, not public, except maybe for shared costs related to encouraging underground or structural parking.

Some “do’s and don’ts” will facilitate these proactive steps.  David Midler, a noted urban downtown planning professional, suggests the following*:

  1. Package an area-wide plan that clearly identifies uses and densities, and expresses environmental, parking and traffic parameters.
  2. Research and prove a compelling, realistic case why the investment will assist the surrounding residential and business community.
  3. Don’t let the mayor be the strategist, planner or developer because this creates too much political “turbulence”.
  4. Make sure that council members are the test case for community acceptance, prior to the public assessmen.
  5. Present to civic groups.
  6. Refine the plan through small, dynamic, interactive public meetings.
  7. Don’t over-define the actual desired improvements.
  8. Market in a focused way to private development interests.

I would add to this list:

    9.  Keep investment private, except perhaps for underground or structural parking.

  10.  Make sure that the , , , and Tacoma/Pierce County Economic Development Board all have the same packaged promotional/developmental materials, understandings, and ready lines of communication and cooperation.

Potential development interests will eventually ask the city, the Chamber, the downtown association, or the EDB, “What do you want?”  It’s best to provide the packaged area-wide plan and show a visual presentation that expresses the nature of the desired structural downtown future.

Although what actually gets built will likely be different than the graphic site plan and eye-level graphics, private property developments that are consistent with the area-wide plan may evoke the graphic presentation.  If the city holds up a downtown renewal target, then some development interests will try to hit it.  Why? Because downtown Gig Harbor is one of the best places to make long-term investments in the world.

Some of our favorite buildings in the downtown were constructed almost 100 years ago.  Some buildings are firetraps, sagging, and woefully maintained. Other buildings show commitment, careful maintenance and thoughtful landscaping, and could use some neighborly support.

So, I think the City of Gig Harbor City Council should direct the Planning Commission and city staff to conduct a public process for the development of an area-wide plan with realistic visual graphics that suggest a future downtown build-out.  I’ve attached what I think visual graphics should kind of look like. I think the Arts Center in the site plan likely needs to go somewhere else, unless the bank and property owners could be advantaged in the change.  Nevertheless, such graphics can clearly answer the question: “What do you want?”

Downtown graphics might also be developed with the Milgards for the old QFC, Thriftway strip mall property.  Wouldn’t it be great if someday the  is renewed with real street front on Judson Street, with mixed uses, and with partially underground, partially above-ground structural parking? 

I’m sure that all the glass-half-empty people are going, “Oh none of that could ever happen!”  Don’t tell that to the people connected to the , the , the , the owners of Uptown, or the property interests in the Harbor Hill/Gig Harbor North area.  Or to me, because we all know it can.  To begin the renewal, all the City Council has to do is clearly and graphically answer the question: What do you want?

*(Midler, David. Managing the politics of downtown business projects. Making Business Districts Work. pp. 327-330. 2006)

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Venture72 January 16, 2013 at 06:57 PM
I still think a lot could happen if downtown merchants stayed open past 5pm in the summer. I was at Ocean Shores in December and 90% of the shops were still open at 7pm. People flock to go walking on summer evenings in the harbor and only the restaurants are open. My Daughter has music classes downtown in the evenings and I just sit in my car because there is nothing to do.
Michelle Smith January 16, 2013 at 08:04 PM
Venture72, I've had the same experience with downtown Gig Harbor vs other small towns. I wonder if that's just because the merchants have found that it's not cost effective to stay open any later. I don't think we are a tourist town as much as some of the others, like Ocean Shores. The people walking downtown aren't necessarily shopping and buying things. Just speculation on my part. I've only lived here about 4 yrs. Were stores open later when the economy was booming? Or are there restrictions on the hours some of these businesses can be open like the ones in the Millville district? Maybe Mark can shed some light on this?
Venture72 March 29, 2013 at 08:49 PM
As far back as I can remember downtown merchants pack it up around 5-5:30pm winter and summer. I would think that during summer events at the park/town dock folks would stay open a little later with a few hundred people walking around. The further you get away from downtown the later stores seem to be open.

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