The commercial real estate market in downtown Tacoma is booming, with high-tech companies accounting for much of this growth, says Andrea Peterson, a commercial real estate agent with Colliers International.

Peterson, who assists many of these companies in finding office space, says a typical start-up needs 3,000 to 5,000 square feet when emerging from the garage and moving into an office for the first time. Because these companies are hiring and expanding at such a rapid rate, she says, they may need 20,000 square feet in six months.

“Tacoma is a very welcoming city for new tenants,” Peterson says.

Office space is much cheaper than Seattle, and many older buildings have been renovated to keep up with technology. “They were renovated to meet the needs of today’s tenants.”

But, Peterson cautions, there is a serious need for more housing and retail space downtown.

“It’s very critical for those things to happen,” she says.

On the plus side, she says, City-owned Click! Network is a major selling point among her high-tech clients.

Peterson describes her role as teacher and real estate agent. She educates landlords about the needs of high-tech tenants. She informs her clients about possible tax incentives and the benefits of joining the Tacoma/Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.

Many high-tech clients have what is called first right of refusal, she says. This gives them an option to acquire adjacent office space. Sometimes a wall is taken out to allow a company to expand within a building, rather than split the operation between two buildings.

“They are trying to all stay in one building,” Peterson says of these clients.

Commercial real estate contracts are generally for three to five years, she says, but due to the influx of high-tech firms, some landlords are willing to enter contracts for shorter terms.

“It makes sense for the landlord to be flexible,” Peterson observes.

Though some of the high-tech firms are competing against each other, they also cooperate to advance common goals, a phenomenon Peterson calls “coopetition.” By banding together in groups such as Tacoma Network and Tacoma Technology Consortium and organizing events such as the South Sound Technology 2000 Conference, she says, these firms display unity.

By John Larson, Business Examiner staff