Developer Plans Multi-Use Development in Tacoma, Wash.

May 18--Mike Cohen sees the site for the former Asarco smelter not as a stain upon Tacoma's waterfront but as living landscape.

He sees homes, businesses, shops and parkland. But most of all, he sees people living, working and playing on land where a symbol of America's industrial age once belched arsenic and lead.

The 67 acres now scraped bare are the canvas on which the Lacey-based developer wants to paint his vision for what he calls "the next big project."

His draft plan for a village of up to 800 condominium units, plus office and retail spaces surrounded by parks and greenbelts, pleases the eyes of Tacoma city leaders, who have worried whether Cohen would or could fulfill the promises of a now-bankrupt Asarco.

Cohen says, yes, largely he can.

He's winning support from city leaders and others with a presentation detailing his plans to complete much of the environmental remediation, including parkland and open spaces. He would be a partner with Metro Parks in some projects, he says.

He speaks of residents meandering their way along a new Ruston Way esplanade en route to concerts at an amphitheater in the new Peninsula Park at Point Defiance -- and then circling back through the development he's calling Point Ruston, LLC.

"At the conceptual level, it's looking great," said Ryan Petty, Tacoma's director of community and economic development. "We're very excited about his progress in securing the property and his negotiations with the EPA."

good response from officials

Cohen, whose company has built custom homes, condos, apartments, upscale ministorages and other projects in the South Sound, showed his plans to the Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee last week.

He made a presentation to the Ruston Town Council a few weeks ago.

Members of both bodies were impressed.

"I think it keeps with the intent and everything we talked about with the original Asarco plan," said Ruston Mayor Michael Transue.

"It certainly appears as if they are prepared and ready to take this on," said Tacoma City Councilman Rick Talbert, chairman of the council's Economic Development Committee.

"The vision that they have for the site, I think, is going to be very attractive, not only to the people who live there, but to the entire community of Tacoma and Ruston," he added.

Metro Parks chief planner Lois Stark was a bit less effusive.

"We're hopeful," she said. "We're happy that he is really showing an openness to work with all the agencies that are stakeholders to the Asarco properties."

But Stark said Metro Parks, which is eager for remediation on the 23-acre slag heap, wants to see Cohen's plans win Environmental Protection Agency approval. "When we're talking about millions and millions of dollars of remediation, I really want to see it in writing," she said.

EPA project manager Kevin Rochlin told The News Tribune in February he was confident that agreement could be worked out.

Cohen is reluctant to put a pricetag on the project, but he believes the eventual development and sale of homes and commercial properties will pay for the remediation -- and make his company a profit.

He was the successful bidder in a process that initially drew the interest of 60 companies. A federal bankruptcy court judge approved the sale to Cohen's MC Construction Consultants Inc. in January.

public will get a say

How much he ultimately pays for the property depends in part on what's built there.

If Cohen's partnership builds 800 residences, he'll likely pay Asarco up to $20 million for the 67 acres. He expects to spend another $25 million to $30 million on the remediation work. Asarco already spent about $100 million on the site.

But all that is dependent on several legal approvals and complexities brought about by the Superfund site cleanup and Asarco's bankruptcy. He's now in negotiations with the EPA and the Department of Justice and hopes to complete that process this summer, he said.

Once agreement is reached with the EPA, the public will have a chance to comment on the plan.

After that, Cohen will begin negotiating the planning and regulatory processes in Ruston and Tacoma.

Cohen says he doesn't know what kinds of prices his homes might fetch, but he expects to offer "some million-dollar units and some substantially less than that."

He's hoping to begin construction with 34 custom single-family homes on Stack Hill on the upland portion of the property and complete the project in about eight years.

Along the way, he says, he'll work with Metro Parks, Tacoma and Ruston on several projects. Included on that list are the closure of the Asarco tunnel, the rerouting of Ruston Way, the development of Peninsula Park and amenities along the esplanade.

His work will not involve cleanup of any residential properties affected by Asarco. But he says his plans are sensitive to the two-decade struggle to clean up land with some of the best views in the South Sound.

"We want to do the next big project, and what that really means is you've got to do it right," he said.

Here's a glimpse of what developer Mike Cohen envisions for the Asarco site.

800 Residential units

5 Mixed-use buildings with condos,

commercial and retail uses

34 Single-family homes on Stack Hill

1 Fitness center, open to the public

10 Acres of waterfront dedicated

to public use

63% Open space, including esplanade,

Crescent Park and other parkland

30% View corridors