Mike Cohen, the developer of Point Ruston, is working with the city of Tacoma to rebuild Ruston Way, the main route to the $1 billion mixed-use project. The work would fill in the tunnel on the Ruston part of the development and close a section of the road for up to three months this summer.
The work will be funded by an uncommon type of local improvement district (LID), which will provide Cohen with access to $10 million in funds from bonds issued by the city. This would be repaid with property tax assessments from the development.
The city plans to leave the work to Cohen’s group, Point Ruston LLC. If the city attempted to do the work, officials would need to go through a process to win approval and it would be open to potential liability from environmental risks associated with the contaminated property, which was formerly the Asarco copper smelter.
The city will be able to foreclose on the property if Cohen is unable to complete work on the road.
The city would “end up with a very well-addressed exposure,” said City Manager Eric Anderson.
The work would fill in the tunnel and a new section of road would be placed atop it. Ruston Way would be closed between North 49th and 51st streets. The plan is to begin work after July 4 and finish in between 60 and 90 days.
Jim Parvey from the Public Works Department discussed this with Tacoma City Council during its Feb. 24 study session.
“It is a pretty significant alteration of the road,” he said. Asked if the work could be completed in 90 days, he replied, “I think it is ambitious but doable.”
Despite the uncertain real estate market, Cohen is moving forward with the project. Construction is underway on the Copperline, a condominium and retail building on the lower portion of the site. A model home recently opened on Stack Hill, where the smokestack once stood. A total of 36 single-family houses are planned there.
“Job creation is significant for this project,” noted Martha Anderson, assistant director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Department.
Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma noted Pierce County Building and Construction Trades Council at one point opposed the LID but he recently received a memo from the organization stating it was now in favor.
Pierce County Central Labor Council also supports the LID, he added.
Despite the market conditions, Eric Anderson is confident. He feels Cohen is anticipating that since the economy is down now, when things turn around he will be in position to benefit. “He is making his judgment as a developer on how best to make his money,” he remarked.
The council is expected to vote on a developer agreement with Point Ruston on March 10.
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