The look of the long-vacant and valuable Foss Waterway property at 1933 Dock Street will soon be changing.

That’s thanks to the Tacoma City Council’s recent go-ahead for the Henry Foss Group, in conjunction with the Foss Waterway Development Authority, to build The Henry, an extensive mixed-use complex at the site.

Council member Ryan Mello was one who voted to approve the development agreement for the site, which lies between the existing Albers Mill and the Interstate 509 cable-stayed bridge over the waterway.

“This helps us fulfill the potential for developing our waterway,” he said.

Su Dowie, interim executive director for the Foss Waterway Development Authority, said that the agency is thrilled the agreement was approved.

“Obviously, we’re very pleased because this a great development for Tacoma,” she said. “It’s going to add additional life and activity to the waterway, as well as new business.”

Specifically, the Henry Group will work toward constructing a five-story site that includes 167 units of multifamily housing. Roughly 13,000 square feet of retail space and 286 parking stalls will also be part of the $31 million project.

It was Tony Carino, of the Henry Foss Group, who first noted that was the right time for Tacoma to pursue new residential development, particularly along the waterway.

To hammer this point home, leading up to the development agreement, Scott Carino, Henry Foss Group representative and overseer at Dock Street complex Thea’s Landing, told the Foss Waterway Development Authority board that both residential and commercial space were nearly full there. He had also alerted the Authority that the nearby Esplanade condominiums were seeing a sales uptick as well.

“With the changing market, we knew we’d have to be going into the ground for (this project) this fall,” he said. “But the credit really goes to (City of Tacoma Planning and Development Services Director) Peter Huffman and his colleagues, and to Su and her team, for having the unbelievable forethought in making this happen.”

Now, Tacoma architectural firm BCRA, which is designing the new site, has sketched out a U-shaped building canted between Dock Street and the water. The unusual positioning is for the purpose of offering multiple residential views of Mt. Rainier, while simultaneously providing each storefront with an individual facade. The building itself will share the brick, metal and panel exterior style of surrounding Foss Waterway-area construction, and there will be access to a public waterfront plaza.

In addition, because development will be near Tacoma’s railroad tracks and the 509 freeway, BCRA architect and principal Doug Oberst said that noise was a specific issue taken into consideration when designing the site. To mitigate the around-the-clock vehicle and rail activities, he said that courtyard fountains and additional interior insulation will likely be incorporated as sound barriers.

Barring a few utility corridor access details and other minor issues, the both the Board and the Urban Design Review Committee for the Foss Waterway Development Authority have already approved the design.

According to architect Randall Gould of BCRA, groundbreaking could take place as soon as September, and the site will be open by mid-2015.

Added Carino, the process as a whole, both the vision and the speed with which it took place, parallels the City’s new motto: “Tacoma is open for business.”

“I’ve been in this business 20 years, and projects never happen this quickly,” he said. “So I have to agree: Tacoma is indeed open for business.”