The controversial Garfield Station development at Pacific Lutheran University, with groundbreaking next week along Garfield Street and current building demolition already in progress, has long been a topic of consternation among the school, the developers, and the neighborhood businesses.
That arose because several businesses have been displaced during the process. Such as Tacoma Trophies in Lakewood, formerly Getting Personal Imprinting on the PLU campus, which transferred to a new Lakewood site in January.
“The first quarter, it was hard, given that we had to move with very little notice,” said owner D.J. Brown.
Because of the move and the new area, Brown and his wife had to change the entire focus of their local business. Where before they primarily served PLU's academic and administrative printing needs, they now emphasize engraving and trophies.
“This was really the only place that we could go, and we're still trying to recover. It was brutal,” Brown said. “But we're distinguishing ourself by providing a more personal experience than anybody else with our services; we always try to help every customer that walks through this door.”
The initial project, Garfield Station, is a $20 million, four-story, mixed-use facility. The first floor is set up as retail, 7,200 square feet of it, with five to seven shops planned and already a “serious letter of intent” for a 1,500-square-foot user, said CEO Kirk Rector of developer Affinity Investments. The other 9,000 square feet will be taken up by PLU administrative offices, namely for the Human Resources department and the clinic serving the Master's program for the Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic.
“It will be a wonderful space that will give them a great opportunity to serve people and bring jobs into the area,” said PLU vice president of Finance & Operations Shari Tonn.
That mentioned, Tonn expounded that the school has been working hard to stay involved with the Garfield Street Business Association, to keep abreast of local business owners' need and concerns during the development process.
“We have a huge stake in what happens,” she emphasized, noting that the university bookstore, in particular, is across the street from the construction, and development could indeed affect profits there.
“We're equally concerned about what's happening,” she said. “But Korsmo Construction has been an excellent partner with previous projects at PLU and the University of Washington Tacoma and so on, so they're used to handling residential and commercial concerns.”
Speaking of residential, as for the rest of the Garfield station project, bringing in new neighborhood dwellers is a major component. One-bedroom apartments will be scattered throughout the first floor as well, with studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments set into the upper levels. Altogether, that's 36 studios, 50 one-bedrooms, 15 two-bedrooms/ two baths, and three units with three bedrooms each.
However, the perk of $1 million in sales tax revenue during construction – plus some 100 jobs over 18 months and 150 to 200 new residents, according to Korsmo and PLU – isn't appeasing businesses that have been displaced due to the impending development.
For one, Yummers Cupcakes – which opened in 2011 – was last year pushed out of the Garfield Street neighborhood due to the development.
Now they're still in Parkland, but as part of Eddie's Dawg House at 106th and Pacific Avenue, a combination of to-die-for New York-style hot dogs and zippy cupcake concoctions set in a trendy, zebra-striped building.
Another business highly involved in the Garfield Station construction is the Northern Pacific Coffee Company, owned by Ed Cedras. Neighborhood business meetings concerning neighborhood development are actually held at the locale, and Cedras was heavily involved in the evolution of the process.
“We've definitely been in discussions with other businesses and the developers,” Cedras said. “We're one of maybe two businesses that have gone to these meetings.”
Cedras, who maintains friendships with Brown and several of the other displaced entrepreneurs, said that while his own business remains on Garfield Street, negative impacts have been felt.
“There were a bunch of established businesses that had traffic going to them, and we piggybacked off of that,” he said. “A lot of folks would go to the beauty salon and get their hair cut, and then come here for coffee afterwards. They were visiting the Trophy Shop. We had a partnership with Yummers. They actually made a cupcake just for us, and we shared a lot of customers. So just the reduced traffic is a negative.”
“It doesn't sound like much, but let's just take a really small business,” Cedras said. “For example, let's just take (displaced Hondle's) Tax Service that has four or five employees. This is pretty basic math, but you've got four customers, and they were all regulars of ours. They used to run a monthly tab with us. In the morning, they're spending $3.50 on a cup of coffee, so you figure, that's $10.50 Monday through Friday. Let's call that, what, 20 days out of the week? Just on coffee alone, that's $210. Then, they would have multiple coffees and oftentimes would come over and have lunch and maybe a beer after work. Easily – and this is probably a pretty accurate estimate because I ran their monthly tab – that business over there, between all the employees and the tabs that they would run was over $1,000 a month in sales for us.
“Do you know what $1,000 is in a business like mine? That's an employee's pay for the month. When I have an employee that works 30 to 40 hours a week and earns minimum wages plus tips, that's their paycheck. That one business was crucial in keeping one employee employed, and that's just one business on that strip. About half the businesses over there, we had relationships like that with, so we're talking about a few thousand dollars a month, so yeah, that hurts.”
On the other side, though, according to project development company Affinity Investments' CEO Kirk Rector, the most was made of the opportunity to get local businesses involved so that the project would be tailored to their best interests.
“There was some animosity to begin with, some misunderstandings we tried to correct the best we could, but we didn't have a lot of information, so we couldn't give any specific details to businesses at the time,” he said. “Hopefully that's all been ironed out by now.”
Rector added that local businesses were aware of the Garfield Station development deal far in advance, more than enough time to come up with their own backup business plans.
Not only that, but to keep relationships going, he said that Affinity provided compensation to help local businesses through their transitions to other sites.
“They knew the lease end date quote a bit in advance, a year or more in advance,” he said. “And we tried to work with them to make it as amiable of a deal as possible. We probably went beyond what was necessary in that sort of instance.”
Altogether, both the developer and the school are looking forward to the finished product, however.
Rector said that he's actively looking to add businesses to Garfield Station that will complement the neighborhood makeup; perhaps a yogurt shop, or a different type of restaurant.
For her part, Tonn said that no more restaurants are needed. What she'd like to see is a bike shop, something in which both the student body and university employees are actively interested. As well as a full-scale meat and produce shop or grocery like Tacoma Boys or Harbor Greens, which would benefit residents.
As for further additions to the school, such as the much bandied-about new football stadium, Tonn said that it's a long, fund-raising road for PLU before anything happens. As for now, she's satisfied with the university's new softball field dugouts, and the coming Garfield Station additions.
And, in the midst of all of this, some businesses like Hobby Town – right on Garfield Street, as it has been for nearly two decades – aren't concerned at all about all the fluster of activity there.
“We just watched the teardown of the building,” said clerk Nelson Roberts. “I don't think the construction is going to bother us at all. All I don't know how it's going to affect us when it's finished … I guess we'll just have to see.”
Others, like Cedras, while leery of the process thus far, are still hopeful that area businesses will still reap benefits from the development after it's all said and done.
“As far as positive impact, I think we're all hoping that this is part of an effort to help the school continue to grow, because we know that that's their strategy,” said Cedras. “I think they're looking at growing from 3,800 to 7,800 students by 2020. That's just what we've heard. Obviously, if you can increase the student population – which, about 35 to 40 percent of our customer base, if not sometimes even more, are the students – then that's a positive thing for us.”