The five-year-old agency tasked with overseeing first responder communications and emergency calls is conducting a review of a plan that would construct a home for the agency on the site of the former Puget Sound Hospital in Tacoma’s Eastside neighborhood.
South Sound 911 had been working on a plan to buy another county-owned site that is now home for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Pierce County would have then used the money from the transaction to buy and renovate a facility across the street. Those plans eventually proved unworkable.
South Sound 911 formed after Pierce County voters approved a 0.1 sales tax increase in 2011 to consolidate a handful of separate 911 call centers into a single umbrella organization as a way to improve service and coordinate emergency response efforts for 41 local police and fire agencies. While those emergency response efforts have merged, the facilities themselves have yet to co-locate onto a single campus and currently lease spaces in a half dozen office building in the county.
Ultimately, the agency hopes to build a 55,000-square-foot hub for police and fire dispatch services and a 25,000-square-foot administrative office. The demolition of the former hospital on the site and the construction of the buildings would cost about $60 million.
The South Sound 911 public safety communications center will be built in cooperation with Pierce County for the project’s tax-exempt bond financing under the “63-20” financing model. The lease-to-own model basically allows a non-profit organization to issue bonds on behalf of a government agency. That organization would then build and own the facility until the bond debt has been repaid. Then the governmental agency would own the facility.
The review of the proposal to build on the former Puget Sound Hospital site could run through the summer with possible construction slated to start in mid 2017.
The former hospital site was in the news last year when Pierce County floated plans to tear down the abandoned hospital and build a $127 million governmental service hub on the site using the same financing model. A referendum against those plans later killed the proposal. The site on the Pacific Avenue hillside of the city has been unused since the county mothballed it five years ago and has been a center of criminal activity and blight ever since, so new life and foot traffic generated by a new government office of some 200 people could spark economic development in the neighborhood. Some of the buildings date back to 1926 with the rest dating back to 1951. The three-building complex hasn’t been used as a medical center since 2009.
“It’s a win for us and will be a win for the community when the abandoned hospital is removed,” South Sound 911 Executive Director Andrew Neiditz said in a release. “Due diligence was completed on the site for another project a couple of years ago, so I see no reason it couldn’t also suit South Sound 911’s needs.”
Running parallel to those efforts, the county is working on its own plans for its holding in the neighborhood to possibly house the health department and Community Connections in a new building and vacate their current offices that are aging and costly.