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What, Tacoma, depressed? The devil’s in the details

Post by Kathleen Cooper / The News Tribune on March 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
March 22, 2011 3:46 pm

Our journalistic brethren to the north took a broad look today at Tacoma, connecting some of the city’s recent and potential losses downtown and asking whether we’ll ever be able to recover.

I know that if I tried to encompass Seattle’s recent history – what with the collapse of WaMu, $4 an hour parking in some places, turmoil in the school district and that whole viaduct thing – I’d probably miss some subtleties, too. That’s OK. I only noticed two real errors in the story. The Children’s Museum won’t “break ground” on its new space, since it’s moving into a building that’s been around for more than 100 years. And, the McMenamins complex won’t have a movie theater. It will sometimes have a living-room style space where they show a movie every now and then. (That’s according to the developer, who I called today just to make sure.)

As for the rest of the details in the story, we’ve reported on them all in great detail. But one particular quote struck me:

“There’s no question Tacoma is a depressed market,” a Seattle investment broker said.

To support that, statistics from Colliers International show Tacoma’s Class A office vacancy rate at 30 percent now that Russell has left. It was 7 percent before. That’s a big jump, no doubt.

What’s lacking is some perspective, which I think is essential to telling the whole story. The same Colliers researchers also know the size of Tacoma’s and Seattle’s markets. Seattle has 52 million square feet of office space. Downtown Tacoma’s market is 13 times smaller, with about 4 million square feet of office space.

All that means is that in Tacoma, one big tenant, like the one that used to fill 909 A St., can have a disproportionate effect on statistics. Maybe it can on the market, too. But I’m not sure that one empty office building means that Tacoma is depressed. In fact, Colliers’ quarterly report from the end of 2010, the most recent available, said this about Russell’s move:

“If this one tenant had not moved to Seattle, the Pierce County office market actually would have seen moderate growth.”

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