When more than 300,000 people converged on the City of University Place for the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Golf Course, one question surely came to mind: Where is the university?

The answer could be found in the city’s history. In the early 1890s, the founders of the University of Puget Sound (then Puget Sound University) chose to site their campus on 420 acres in the area. But, the project’s financial backing collapsed, and the founders were forced to forfeit the land and establish their campus elsewhere in Pierce County.

But the name University Place lingered. Its reputation as a good place for young people to buy homes, raise families, and send their children to quality public schools was built long before and well after the 8-square-mile city was incorporated in 1995. The move to incorporate served to appease residents unhappy with the county’s lack of deference to developing the area, and to fend off rumors of being folded into the area’s neighboring city.

“No design standards were being implemented in the commercial core in the mid-1990s, because of the growth management plan, there were rumors Tacoma would annex (the area known as University Place). We didn’t want that to happen,” Mayor Pro Tem Caroline Belleci recalled.

Instead, following its incorporation, the City of University Place invested in neighborhood streets, bike lanes, and more than 30 miles of pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.

The Village at Chambers Bay is currently under construction along Bridgeport Way in University Place. Photo courtesy Whole Foods.

“We didn’t want to be a place for people to pass through,” said City Manager Steve Sugg. The finished streetscape featuring landscaped medians has become a national case study for suburban retrofit.

A $1 million grant from the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board helped to turn Bridgeport Way into a major east-west arterial that serves nearly 26,000 vehicles every day for visitors and residents alike.

Today, University Place’s largest employers are in the medical/dental and education sectors. University Place School District and CHI Franciscan Health employ 535 people and 335 people, respectively.

The city also has become a magnet for specialty grocery and retail. Trader Joe’s made a splash when it opened in University Place’s Green Firs shopping center in the early 2000s. Whole Foods followed in 2015, and, more recently, HomeGoods opened next to Trader Joe’s earlier this year, creating much regional buzz.

Meanwhile, The Village at Chambers Bay, a public-private mixed-used development under construction along a two-block stretch of Bridgeport Way, will feature a civic building at its center, with library services and a police headquarters, and approximately 300,000 square feet of commercial space offering a diverse mix of specialty dining and retail storefronts. To date, 395 market-rate apartments, and 150,000 square feet of commercial real estate have either been built or are under construction, and are slated to open early next year. CHI Franciscan Health’s 4,500-square-foot CityMD urgent-care center opened in May, and Rainier Medical will open a 3,000-square-foot workout center this summer.

Officials expect University Place, which has a population of approximately 33,000 people, to add nearly 23,000 more residents and nearly 4,400 more jobs by 2040.

“This is a great place for those who want to bring a quality project and build something here,” said Sugg.


By the Numbers

By the Numbers Sources: EDB of Tacoma-Pierce County; UW Urban Studies Program; Urban Profile; And U.S. Census Bureau.