In recent years, when Sandy Charbonneau of Port Orchard and her husband came to Tacoma to eat dinner or to walk the Ruston Way waterfront, they watched the transformation of the former Asarco copper smelter site near Point Defiance into a blank slate for new development.
“I was fascinated to consider the possibilities,” she said.
When she saw a sign go up announcing the Point Ruston mixed-use development on the site, she called the phone number on the sign and began a six-year-long intermittent discussion with Point Ruston’s developers about their plans for the smelter site.
“There was a period where everything slowed down, but recently we started talking seriously,” she said.
Now Charbonneau’s business, the Candy Shoppe, is part of Point Ruston’s future.
“Originally, we thought we would be part of the core business district, but when we found out that wouldn’t open until 2014, we asked if we could lease space in the first building.”
The Port Orchard merchant is in good company of merchants and professionals eager to be pioneers in the new development.
All 21,000 square feet of retail space in Point Ruston’s first building, the eight-story Copperline Apartments, is now spoken for, said Point Ruston developer Mike Cohen.
A handful of merchants and professionals have made commitments to occupy the residential building’s first-floor retail space, and Point Ruston has a waiting list for 6,000 square feet more in case one of the new tenants backs out, said Loren Cohen, the development’s legal affairs manager.
Loren Cohen said that while the development had seen much interest as the $1 billion-plus project was moving through the planning process, it took the start of construction to spur solid commitments.
By next spring, when Copperline is complete and merchants have built out their raw spaces, the building will have a casual cafe, a day spa, an olive-oil emporium, a physical therapy and fitness center, a plastic surgery center and Charbonneau’s Candy Shoppe.
“I feel quite honored to be in that first group of merchants,” said Charbonneau.
Her sense of excitement is mirrored by other merchants who plan to locate in the site’s first building.
Rich Jennings, president of the South Sound coffeehouse chain Forza, said Forza’s new store in the Copperline will be a new flavor for the company.
“We’re looking to go beyond just the coffee and the bakery goods,” said Jennings. “We’re adding salads, pastas, sandwiches, wraps, beer and wine, and even nighttime entertainment.”
The new store will be about 600 square feet larger than the typical coffee shop. It will include a room for community and corporate meetings.
“We want to be a casual cafe. We’d like to serve the same function as a neighborhood gathering place like pubs in England and cafes in Europe,” said Jennings.
Forza has already built a similar cafe in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood. The concept has worked well bringing business to the restaurant, not just in the morning but throughout the day and evening.
“The idea is much the same as we’ve got here,” he said. “The cafe is located in the first floor of a large apartment building and across the street from the water.”
Like Charbonneau, Jennings at first considered waiting until the core commercial part of the Point Ruston development was built with its Silver Cloud hotel, its Century multiplex theaters, Marlene’s Market and Deli, and major restaurants,
But he wanted to build Forza’s business early while the residents were moving in and while construction workers were on the site. To serve those workers, Jennings has bought a golf cart to make deliveries to the building sites.
A true believer in the site’s potential, Jennings thinks Point Ruston, with its art-filled pedestrian path, panoramic bay and mountain views, and entertainment options has the potential to be as successful as such mixed-use developments as The Grove in Los Angeles.
That sentiment is shared by John Hoehne and Fred Berschauer, founders of Olympia Olive Oil. The two retailers plan to make their new Point Ruston store their flagship.
The store will include both a demonstration kitchen at the front of the store for tastings and demonstrations and a full-sized kitchen at the rear for cooking lessons.
The two had been planning to open a Tacoma location to complement their downtown Olympia store (they’re also opening a store in Puyallup’s South Hill Mall) when they were contacted by Point Ruston’s sales team at the Taste of Tacoma.
“We had looked at Sixth Avenue and a couple of other locations,” said Hoehne, “but we thought the Point Ruston development was what we were looking for.”
“We can’t wait to open,” he said.
Bruce Snell, owner of NW Sports Physical Therapy, said he intends to use the opening of his Point Ruston location to broaden the scope of his services.
In addition to the physical and rehabilitative services NW Sports Physical Therapy offers at its existing Tacoma and Gig Harbor locations, Point Ruston locale will include a fitness center.
The Copperline’s location at the north end of the three-mile-long Ruston Way waterfront pathway and its proximity to Point Defiance Park and its trails and pathways, makes Point Ruston a logical spot for a fitness center, said Snell, who is a trainer for the U.S. Olympic and World Cup soccer teams.
“The demographics of the North End are favorable,” he said. “And there is no other fitness center close by.”
When Point Ruston is built out with hundreds of apartment and condominium units, the nearby population alone will provide a good customer base, he predicted.
Apartments in the 173-unit Copperline building are expected to be ready for occupancy beginning about Jan. 1, said Mike Cohen. Units will range in size from studios to 1,600-square-foot units. Rental prices will average about $1.72 a square foot per month, said Loren Cohen.
Next on the list of buildings to rise on the site may be the waterfront condominiums across the street from the Copperline, said Mike Cohen. The developer already has commitments for 14 of those condos. The development is pouring footings for the first condo building, anticipating that it may receive financing for the structure later this fall.
The retail core area now is under design, said Mike Cohen. Construction on that area should begin next spring with completion of the initial buildings and garages in the summer of 2014. In addition to the market, cinema and hotel, the developers have already announced, they’ve secured a deal with seafood restaurant chain Joe’s Crab Shack to open near the theater complex.
Meanwhile, the three-quarter-mile public waterfront pathway the developers call “Waterwalk” is scheduled to open from the present end of the Ruston Way path to Point Defiance Park by early next year.
The first phase of that path, to Point Ruston’s ferry boat sales center, is likely to open next month, said Loren Cohen.
This article originally found at The News Tribune.