UW News

January 5, 2006

Sierra Club honors UW Tacoma

The urban campus and restored brick warehouses of UW Tacoma have earned recognition from the Sierra Club as one of the country’s best new development projects.

A report issued by the Sierra Club in December names UWT as one of a dozen American developments that are enhancing neighborhoods and the environment by reusing existing space and creating accessible places to live and work. UW Tacoma has accomplished this by adapting old warehouses, adding retail and bringing thousands of students, faculty and staff to the neighborhood each week, according to the report.

“We are pleased to be singled out by the Sierra Club as one of 12 best developments in the nation and the only university to receive the distinction, UWT Chancellor Patricia Spakes says. “The honor recognizes the vision of our master plan, which intentionally established a strategy to create a vibrant urban neighborhood.”

The report says the UWT campus has become “a bustling addition to Tacoma,” adding to the growing demand for retail, hotels, housing and further redevelopment.

“The partnership between businesses, local and state government, and the University of Washington has created a better Tacoma, reduced crime, increased economic activity, protected historically significant buildings, and created an area where it is easy to walk and use public transportation,” the report says.

As an urban campus located in a historic downtown district, UWT has capitalized on a unique opportunity to demonstrate successful sustainable renovation design. Many of its campus facilities are restored, century-old brick structures, originally industrial facilities that grew up around the terminus of the transcontinental railroad

In the area now occupied by UW Tacoma, turn-of-the-century merchants moved dry goods, food, hay, flour and grains straight from their back doors to the train. However, by the 1920s, the district had started to fall into disrepair. By the 1970s, the neighborhood, Tacoma’s gateway to I-5, became dilapidated and crime-ridden.

Visionary community leaders felt that placing a university campus in the heart of the historic warehouse district would revive part of the city’s core. They were right: The University brings thousands of students, faculty, staff and visitors each year to the area. In recent years, the demand for retail, housing, hotels and further redevelopment in the neighborhood has skyrocketed. The area is unrecognizable from the empty, crime-filled neighborhood of 20 years ago.

“Establishing a new campus in downtown Tacoma was an example of local leaders — primarily businesspeople — getting fed up with an eyesore at the city’s gateway, and taking initiative to create a vision, put their own resources into that idea, and then work relentlessly to sell the idea to state and local officials and university administrators,” the report says.

An important element of the campus master plan is to create a rich urban setting to benefit both students and the surrounding community. The campus leases retail space to eateries, coffee shops and other businesses, drawing visitors to the university while providing UWT students, faculty and staff with places to eat and shop.

The campus has earned a number of additional architectural and preservation awards, including a landmark Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification for sustainable design from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The Sierra Club’s report is available online at http://www.sierraclubplus.org/sprawl/report05/buildingbetter.pdf.