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Higher rents, possible uprooting scares Proctor District businesses

Rumor of a mixed-use residential and retail project at the corner of North Proctor Street and North 28th in Tacoma has several small businesses fearing for their livelihoods

CHEF WILLIAM MUELLER: When he's not creating gourmet dishes, he's fighting to save his Babblin' Babs Bistro. Photo credit: Paul Schrag

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Businesses are wondering what their future might look like as a well-known group of big-name developers sets its sights on a small business hub in Tacoma's Proctor Business District. Big names reputed to be involved in the project centering on the corner of North 28th Street and Proctor Avenue include Rick Moses, Grace Pleasants, former Tacoma City Council member Bill Evans and Erling Kuester, president of the Cross District Association, which represents all of Tacoma's Neighborhood Business Districts.

By all accounts, it's a little early to speculate about what shape the project will take or when. But small-business owners in Proctor Square (27th and Proctor Street) are feeling like a lion has arrived at the watering hole.

"We'll have to relocate," says Babblin‘ Babs Bistro co-owner Shannon Mueller. "It's scary. We don't know anything except for what they've said to our neighbor."

That neighbor is Bob Corcoran, owner of Corcoran's Lock & Safe, who doesn't seem immediately concerned about whatever development might take shape in the neighborhood. But he is concerned about the higher rent and fees that were immediately assessed by new owners Proctor 28 Holdings LLC.

"The economy is terrible right now," says Corcoran, who is the only tenant in the developer's sights with any negotiating power, thanks to remaining years on his lease.

Mueller and her husband, William, don't feel nearly as safe since 28 Proctor Holdings took over ownership and management of the property late last year. Their triple nets - a family of fees associated with taxes, maintenance and insurance - were raised immediately. To their credit, 28 Proctor Holdings negotiated down to nearly half of the original increase. But during a time when most businesses are struggling hard to make ends meet, even a little hurts quite a bit, says Mueller.

"We've made it work here for 8 years," says Mueller. "But we don't have any money or savings to move."

Moses says their concern is understandable, but not warranted. Though discussion of development in Proctor is indeed afoot, it is so early in the process that any speculation about the fate of businesses there is premature.

"Any thoughts about what might happen with the property are so preliminary that there is nothing of substance to discuss at this time," wrote Moses in an email. "Whatever may happen in the future, the tenants in Proctor Square will be treated with respect and sensitivity."

That doesn't sooth some of the business owners facing uncertain futures.

"It's a lot of stress on all of us," says Mueller. "This is our livelihood."

The project, rumored by Proctor Square tenants to be conceived as a mixed-use residential and retail project, would be the first step for developers Moses and Pleasants since Tacoma officials pulled the plug on a similar project that had been slated for development at Tacoma's historic Elks Building. The City of Tacoma had invested an estimated $1.7 million in support of that project before economic downturn and protracted financing troubles nixed those efforts.

Moses is a Southern California-based developer specializing in mixed-use properties. Moses led projects for major development corporations such as Caruso Affiliated and General Growth Properties before starting his own company, which has focused on retail and mixed-use development. Pleasants lead projects for major development corporations such as Caruso Affiliated and General Growth Properties before starting her own company, which has focused on retail and mixed-use redevelopment. Pleasants is best known locally for redeveloping Tacoma's historic Albers Mill building on the Thea Foss Waterway. Playing what amounts to very minor roles in the Proctor plans, Evans and Kuester own several parcels of land that constitute a large portion of the project landscape.

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