Q&A with Dan Trimble
New exec looks to foster new Class A office space in Tacoma
It’s no secret anymore.
Class A office space is in demand in the Tacoma central business district, but unfortunately, speculative construction of new product is not popular among developers. And without available Class A office space, the fear is that viable employers may turn away, with an erosion of living-wage jobs for those who want to live, work, and play
This continued tightening of Class A office space in downtown Tacoma has now compelled Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County to do something about it before it’s too late.
In December, the EDB hired Dan Trimble as vice president for business recruitment and real estate development. In his new role, he will be tasked with incentivizing developers and raising new Class A office product out of the ground.
Trimble, who before coming to Tacoma helped City of Burien gain economic prosperity, says he is up to the task.
South Sound BIZ magazine recently interviewed Trimble about his new role and what it will require to get the job done.
Q: How does your new role at the Economic Development Board play a significant part in the growth of downtown Tacoma?
A: My role will be to focus on the office market in Tacoma, as well as in Pierce County – specifically the Class A office market. I will be working with our public and private partners to expand the office market through new office developments and business recruitment. There are already some apartment and hotel projects moving forward; getting the office sector going will help provide employment opportunities for new and existing residents.
Q: What experience and background do you draw from to be effective at encouraging new Class A office space development?
A: I have 23 years’ experience in local economic development, including various aspects such as: land acquisition, assemblage and disposition; securing permits and other entitlements; and investor and tenant recruitment. In my last position at the City of Burien, I worked to build project-specific teams that included investors, brokers and tenants, with a great City team to remove development barriers and to secure approximately $150 million in private investments in a five-year span.
Q: How do you approach encouraging Class A office space? What steps are required?
A: I will be working with other EDB staff to develop a specific strategy for Tacoma and other Pierce County office markets. But it will really come down to expanding the inventory of Class A office space and active recruitment efforts to bring in additional businesses to absorb that space. Accommodating our existing businesses that are looking for new or expanded offices will also be a key part of that.
Q: How much available Class A office space is in downtown Tacoma? How much in total is on the market?
A: City of Tacoma commissioned a study by CBRE in 2014 that identified around 1 million square feet of Class A office space in downtown Tacoma. The vacancy rate at that time for Class A was about 8 percent, or about 80,000 square feet. Some more recent rates from the 2016 third quarter office report by Kidder Mathews reported the office vacancy rate for Pierce County at 7.37 percent, with the Tacoma CBD at 7 percent for that quarter.
Q: What has contributed to Tacoma’s lack of Class A office space development?
A: That answer will likely be different depending on whom you are asking. Developers and property owners might say (it's) because of a lack of tenants ready to move forward and tenants might say (it's) because of a lack of available space or projects ready to move forward. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle of that. In larger markets, there is often enough inventory of currently available, permitted or about to be permitted projects, or buildings currently under construction to provide tenants with multiple options depending on their timing concerns. For office developers, there are also more tenants moving around or coming into the market to fill vacancies or absorb new space. Although there are some individual projects happening or ready to happen in Pierce County, the office market here has not seen that level of robust activity, at least not yet.
Q: What kind of problem does this create for Tacoma, especially in regards to its competitiveness with other metropolitan markets like Seattle?
A: Providing quality jobs that allow residents to enjoy a good quality of life is key to successful economic development. A robust office market and the businesses that occupy those buildings are an important ingredient, along with industrial and service businesses, in providing those jobs. With a growing population and expanding economy in Tacoma and Pierce County, we have the opportunity to expand our office market. If we don’t, it could lead to more outward migration of employees to the other cities and counties and more people commuting farther out.
Q: What challenges do you face in this role and how do you plan to overcome those challenges?
A: As I mentioned, the size of the market itself is an inherent challenge. Market timing and available inventory is a concern; that is, not having an existing pipeline of new space coming onto the market can make recruiting new tenants more difficult. There are some other localized constraints, such as parking availability in some areas, which may result in challenges. Often, getting one or more key developments going will create a virtuous cycle that helps you overcome multiple challenges at one time.
Q: What gains in Class A office space development do you hope to make in five years’ time?
A: I would hope to see new developments going up in both downtown Tacoma and other sub-markets in Pierce County that expand opportunities for both existing employers and new businesses moving into Pierce County. I would hope that we make progress identifying and removing impediments to Class A office developments and work cooperatively to recruit new tenants to the Pierce County Market.