Lakewood’s troubled business neighborhoods of Tillicum and Pacific Highway, along the city’s edge of Interstate 5, are well on their way having more than police tape linked to their names.
The fruits of more than a decade of work following the city’s incorporation are starting to ripen on the vine for developers to pick if they have the capital to do it.
A draft version of the Tillicum Neighborhood Plan is working its way around civic and business groups in the South Sound as that area prepares for the business and building boom that will likely happen once sewer lines web through the area. Construction on that $18 million project is set to start in early 2010 and be ready for users in mid 2011.
“In terms of building, that is not far off,” said Lakewood’s Economic Development Director Ellie Chambers-Grady.
Tacoma-based BCRA worked on the neighborhood plan as a way to provide design standards and outline growth projects before commercial and residential demands begin flowing in after the sewer connections are installed.
The goal for the  plan was to coordinate infrastructure improvements as a way to revitalize the community through private and public developments.The area along I-5 and Camp Murray has long been an area of high crime and urban blight caused by its geographic isolation from the rest of the city and community amenities.
“I think Tillicum could and should be a destination place,” City Manager Andrew Neitz said.
The area borders not only I-5 and the military bases of Fort Lewis and Camp Murray, but sits on one of the largest lakes in the South Sound and had been a resort community of summer cottages until the middle of the last century.
While the city issued more than $100 million worth of building permits last year, little of that activity occurred in Tillicum or Pacific Highway. Noticeable exceptions were the Lakewood Ford dealership, the LaQuinta Inn & Suites and the nearby Sound Transit bus and Sounder train station, which is set to being train service in 2012.
The sewer work in Tillicum and the transit development in Pacific Highway have started a trickle of land purchases as developers seek sites for future projects.
There likely would be more if the economy was better and investment capital needed for commercial developments was easier to come by.
 “I wouldn’t say we are in a time of rampant land speculation  mode right now,” Chambers-Grady said. “But there has been a lot of interest.”
One-time eyesores are changing hands and advertised for future construction thanks  to the influx of public spending that will add curbs, gutters and sidewalks to much of the area and is set to reflow the roadway to allow for better parking and access to the commercial strip. That interest will continue as city officials continue to meet with development groups and targeted businesses throughout the summer.
The $6 million worth of work had been first proposed as a Limited Improvement District package of spending that would have cost the nearby property owners thousands of dollars. Businesses and property owners balked at the bill, so the city aggressively sought grants and found the funding without the creation of an LID or property tax increase.
“The bottom line is that the property owners are not being asked to pay for anything and are getting all the benefits,” Neitz said.