If you build it, they will come … but maybe not in the form you were expecting.

As suburban development crept closer to what is now the Harbor Hill development in Gig Harbor during the 1990s, 120 acres of the 320-acre property was zoned for office space.

“The notion at the time was that a Microsoft-esque company would want a business park,” says John Chadwell, Vice President of Land Development for Olympic Property Group, a subsidiary of Pope Resources. “Soon we realized we had way too much land.”

Originally, the Pope and Talbot timber company (now Pope Resources) purchased the property from the land office of Ulysses S. Grant in 1894 and turned it into a tree farm. It was logged repeatedly over a hundred-year period, until the area’s mills eventually closed and it was rezoned.

An amendment to the region’s comprehensive plan has allowed Olympic Property Group to sell off portions of the 120 acres and convert others to different uses, including a Costco; the Tom Taylor Family YMCA; and, most recently, a development including a senior living center, single-family homes and apartments, and retail spaces.

“We’re in the process of developing the last 18 acres of retail across from Costco,” says Chadwell. “Town & Country will be the grocery anchor tenant. This will complete the 120 acres of the business park without one office space being built.”

The Heron’s Key Senior Living Center occupies 18 acres of that space, making it one of the largest developments of its kind in the region. Phase One included 184 apartments, 10 duplexes, 36 assisted-living suites, and 45 skilled nursing units. The complex also features a workout room, art room, library, salon and spa, and cleaning service, giving it more of a hotel flavor. The first residents moved in during September 2017, but by the time it’s completely full, up to 500 may be living there.

Families have flocked to another developed property, the Bracera apartment complex, which opened its first 173 units in 2014.

“We’ve been full since we opened,” says Chadwell.

Of an additional 546 single-family lots within the Harbor Hill community, 481 have already sold and the rest are under contract to be sold this year.

“At last check, a little over 300 of the homes that were bought are occupied,” he notes.

As more families have moved to the area, schools are under pressure to expand their capacity. Olympic Property Group sold 14 acres of the 120 to the Gig Harbor School District, which has placed a $220 million bond issue on the ballot for an April 24 vote. On the ballot “wish list”: a new elementary school to ease overcrowding in the district. “We hope that succeeds,” says Chadwell.

More families have also created greater demand for playing field space. In December 2017, the City of Gig Harbor purchased nearly 12 acres of the property between Costco and the YMCA to be primary parcels for the future Gig Harbor Sports Complex, a 30- to 40-acre project currently in the planning phase. Football, baseball, lacrosse, and soccer leagues currently share one turf field at Gig Harbor High School, a situation aggravated in winter months, when darkness falls early, and few places have lights.

“We need our youth to have a place to play,” says Katrina Knutson, Parks Project Administrator for the City of Gig Harbor. The complex will alleviate that pressure.

The visioning master plan for the complex is scheduled to be completed by the end of May. It will unfold in phases, says Knutson, and will involve a collaboration with the YMCA. “They’ve indicated that they’d like to partner with the city. We’re in the early stages of a Memorandum of Understanding for what that would look like, but the city council has given it an initial nod.”

As part of the visioning process, the city is seeking public feedback. “We’re relying on previous information but also gathering new input,” says Knutson. Aside from fields, the complex will include hard courts for pickleball and basketball, plus trails and play structures.

In the meantime, Gig Harbor Little League and Peninsula Light have joined forces to ease the strain on local teams. In July 2017, the city council approved the transfer of Little League fields from Peninsula Light to the city. According to the agreement, the city will take over ownership and maintenance of the fields as a public city park, which will also be part of the future sports complex.

“The Little League leadership knew how severe our lack of fields was,” says Knutson. “They approached the city to purchase the property from them for $28,000. They’ll still use it for their season, but we can open it up to other teams.”

The field doesn’t have turf, but does have lights. Once the full complex is built, it will be a strong community asset, Knutson believes.

“We’ll be able to provide a lot more field time for all of the teams. Kids who are involved in after-school activities create lifelong relationships and stay out of trouble,” she says.

Economically, the complex will provide a boost to the local hospitality industry.

“We haven’t been able to quantify it exactly yet, but this will be a very desirable place to host tournaments and conferences,” says Knutson. “We expect it to be positive for local business.”