City has plan to address blight downtown

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By John Larson

jlarson@tacomaweekly.com

 The city of Tacoma is working on a plan to address trash collection issues in downtown. The effort would target an area between 6th Avenue and South 11th Street and Court A to Court D, commonly referred to as the Theater District. Tacoma City Council heard an update during its Oct. 29 study session.

Photos shown during the meeting made clear the blight in an area that draws many people to performances and restaurants, as well as meetings at city hall.

A letter from David Schroedel of Tacoma/Pierce County Chamber of Commerce was distributed at the meeting. He is director of Downtown Tacoma Partnership, formerly known as the Business Improvement Area. The program exists in large part to address safety and image problems in downtown. Schroedel identified the most significant problem with the current system of weekly trash collection to a lack of alleys or other spaces to put garbage cans out of view of the general public. This means many garbage cans are on the street in an area with many pedestrians, vehicles and busses. Unsecured cans can be tipped over by people or wind, and can also overflow. Bags of trash, as well as old furniture and mattresses, are often left next to cans for extended periods of time.

Andrew Torres, an assistant manager in the Public Works Department, told the council that 56,000 gallons of waste are removed from this area each week, with 32 percent of containers left on the street at all times. Blight results in many complaint calls. Torres said homeless people rummaging through trash causes about 60 percent of the complaints.

One solution is “big belly” trash cans. These can be found along Sixth Avenue. There are two near the Spanish Steps. They are solar powered and have foot pedals to operate. The city is considering putting 28 of these downtown, at a cost of $127,000. Maintenance of the cans would cost an additional $47,000. 

Another proposal is a centralized area where businesses could take their trash. That location has not been identified.

Councilmember Lillian Hunter mentioned attending a performance late last year at the Pantages Theatre, just after it re-opened following renovations to the lobby. She said she was “appalled at the level of trash.”

Councilmember Chris Beale would like to see wrapping on the big belly cans with artwork, as has been done on Sixth Avenue. He also suggested drop boxes for syringes, as is done in Portland.

Councilmember Ryan Mello suggested the area around Tacoma Public Schools Central Administration Building as another idea location for the new cans. That area, along Tacoma Avenue, has seen homeless encampments in recent years.

Torres said upgrades to an existing compactor at South 8th Street and Court A is in the budget. The plan would be to place the dumpsters inside a secured area. Card readers would be used to allow access to authorized people.

“I applaud the good work you have done here,” Hunter told the staff.

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