For the past three years, architecture students from the University of Idaho have come to Tacoma to lie out a plan for reviving some of the city's less-than-desirable neighborhoods.
This year, students took on one of Tacoma's signature historical districts and gave it a long-awaited facelift.
Anne Marshall, associate professor of the university's architecture department, said South Tacoma Way was proposed to her the first time she brought her classroom to the Puget Sound, "but it was so big."
"It was difficult to grapple with such an immense area."
Marshall noted there is about a 90-block area along Tacoma's historic roadway that could use attention.
She and her eight senior architecture students scaled the scope back to eight blocks for this year's design scheme and presented their plans to the neighborhood and professional architects at South Park Community Center Dec. 1.
With a recent revitalization of areas such as downtown, the Stadium District and Sixth Avenue, many city officials view South Tacoma as the next logical stop for attention and development.
"This had been identified to us as an important urban area," Marshall said.
Jeremy Doty, one of Marshall's former students, is now an architectural designer for BCRA and is on the planning commission for the city. He resides in South Tacoma and encouraged Marshall to look at this part of the city for the project focus this year.
"I think there is a lot of potential, but there's just not a lot of people," he said, noting that increasing residential space in the core of the neighborhood would get more people on the streets and encourage business and commercial growth.
Students were tasked with transforming the area from South 52nd and 60th streets between Washington Street and Puget Sound Avenue (as well as the area around the new Sounder commuter rail station) into a vibrant, urban, mixed-use neighborhood.
Goals for the students were to preserve historic buildings and landmarks and maintain the character of the area while increasing business opportunities, accommodating future population growth, and encouraging pedestrian activity along the Way.
Covered walkways, plazas, block cut-through walkways and a proposed streetcar were ideas to increase pedestrian mobility. Creating concealed garages, underground and on-the-street parking eliminated parking lots that currently lie between many businesses on the Way.
"We want to create a regular pattern of retail, which engages shoppers and encourages people to walk," said student Daniel Clift. He noted parking lots were dead space between retail attractions, and deterred pedestrians. "And right now, the lack of pedestrians affects the businesses on South Tacoma Way."
Students showcased aspects of their designs that would encourage more people to live in the area, with residential units on top of and behind retail and office space, a grocery store and a library. They also incorporated features that would draw outsiders to the area, such as two museums, a recreational center, art galleries, a dance studio and a cinema.
Student Jens Carlson noted that the mixed-use combination of living, working, and recreation spaces would "bring a new vitality to the neighborhood."
"The neighborhood and community as a whole stand to benefit a great deal from the redevelopment of this area."
The presentations showcased a shiny new future vision for South Tacoma, which created some excitement among community members.
"I am excited to see what happens here in the next couple of decades," Marshall said.
Doty noted he would share the students' design ideas with other members of the planning commission. "Hopefully we'll get some developers interested in this plan."