AngelaJossy's Blog

Mar. 26, 2009 at 6:44pm

Why Tacoma should be a destination

I recently read a blog called Why Tacoma Will Never be a Destination. I found it very discouraging but it got me to thinking. What would it take to make downtown Tacoma a more thriving destination? Where do we start in this economy?

When people talk about what is wrong with Tacoma I've noticed several reoccurring complaints:

1. Needs more foot traffic
2. Needs more public transportation (at night too - why does the link stop at 9 pm?)
3. Needs more small businesses
4. Needs more shopping
5. Needs more public outdoor art
6. Needs more tourist attractions
7. Needs more hotel rooms to support convention center
8. Needs more affordable downtown apartments

Basically you want less cars, less parking lots and more people spending money with local businesses that keep the money in our local economy.

Tollefson Plaza has the potential to bring people downtown despite what critics say. I recently sat down with Joanne Buselmeier of the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce who told me about some of the ideas they are working on like a weekly festival-style art-mart with art vendors on a regular basis, a Wednesday or Friday lunch concert series, an ice skating rink in the winter, bistro tables for sack lunchers, hot dog vendors, etc. These all sounded like great ideas to me as long as the local businesses are invited to participate and benefit from it. Unless we spread the love around, the big picture will not be improved. More traffic is only desirable if it improves the local economy. This means money that stays local. For example, art vendors from outside Tacoma won't help, they'll just distract people from local galleries who sorely need the traffic and take that money outside Tacoma. Food vendors from out of town will only hurt local restaurants who count on downtown workers/shoppers to eat there. I have no idea where the art vendors and the food vendors will come from. My assumption is that the Chamber has just as much interest in supporting local and will act accordingly. I suggested a map or brochure that shows people where to eat downtown. Maybe some savvy local entrepreneur could provide a service that delivers orders from local restaurants to Tollefson Plaza AND to local office buildings too! I know I used to skip lunch breaks a lot when I was working at an office. I imagine its even more common now that smaller workforces are shouldering more workload.

I also think a shopping map would be helpful. Tollefson should have an information booth for visitors to get directions and tourism information like this. Another blogger recently compared Tacoma to Las Vegas - I remember seeing these little booths along the Vegas streets. Sure Vegas is much more of a tourist destination than Tacoma but if we want more people to visit, it might be nice to have a welcome mat waiting for them.

I really wanted the job of organizing the lunch concert series and when we talked about it Joanne asked me for a proposal but we must have miscommunicated because after I turned it in she told me they have an event planner on staff already. I was really disappointed. I still hope to find a way to work with them though. I see a lot of potential there and I am very drawn to the project.   

But getting back to solving some of the problems with downtown Tacoma I stated above, I put myself in the mindset of a person with a free day to go shopping. Not shopping for things I need but shopping  for things I want. Things I need are usually in large stores like Safeway, Target, Walgreens - places I don't see downtown and places you have to search hard to find locally  owned equivalents. That's a whole nother problem I'm not going to get into here. Since that problem has not yet been solved, I have to take Tacoma as-is. I will pretend I have time and money to spend frivolously. I pretend I am a 30 something woman on my day off who is shopping with a girl friend. She suggests downtown Tacoma because of the cute little shops and the art galleries. Maybe she heard about art walk and wants to see the museums too.

First we have to pick a starting place and park the car somewhere. She suggests the Dome District for the parking and the link for transport.
Right off the bat we stumble upon Freighthouse square and get a bite to eat and a few trinkets. we put them in the car before we get on the link. After a short ride we stop in front of Union Station and spot the shops on Pacific Avenue. We walk along the sidewalk from shop to shop ending up by Tollefson Plaza.

Unfortunately we bought a few things and now we are burdened by packages and are far from our car. Our feet are still holding up pretty well though and despite the discomfort of carrying bags we are still game for more exploration. We cross the street and stroll through Tacoma Art Museum.

Further down Pacific we see very impressive office buildings but not much shopping. We do see a spa though and we think this might be just the rejuvenation we need. We spend an hour getting pampered and are back on track. Now we're hungry again so we stop by Pacific Grill for some yummy burger sliders and a cocktail. We giggle as we catch up on gossip and people watch from our window seat. when we resume our trek we seem to run out of ideas and places to shop. Where do we go next? We are no longer on the path of the link. We don't know the bus routes. We still don't see any art walk signs or maps. We have long walk back to the closest link stop we saw by UWT stairs. I guess we go home. Nice day but nothing to fly our East Coast mothers in for.

Do you see my point here? We have no plan for tourists here. We have neat things in Tacoma but no obvious way to share that information with outsiders except local newspaper coverage which daytrippers might not take time to read. I am assuming that the hotels have some brochures on a rack the way other cities do but the very best things about Tacoma are probably not on any brochures. The funnest things like Kulture Lab, 100th Monkey, Eyeful, Fresh Air, Vesuvious, artwalk parties (Sanford and Sons, Embellish, The Helm, Mad Hat, Robert Daniel Gallery - none of which are officially sanctioned artwalk activities), the chalk offs, the festivals, the tiny hidden tea shops with wonderful art and a Barter Tacoma bulletin board, the pizza joint with legendary karaoke, the antique store that houses tiny middle merchants with an amazing variety of cool stuff, the underground live music shows, the restaurant with 10 pm to 1 am happy hour, the tattoo shop that also serves great coffee, the clothing store that also cuts and styles hair, the record store that sells local music, the bar that displays local art and all that awesome Tacoma stuff! You know what I mean? The wild, wacky, misfit genius fringe side of Tacoma is the one worth writing home about. But who will tell them about it and how?

If you really want to see Tacoma thrive, find someone willing to promote all of that and back it with a national advertising campaign. Then convince Tacoma Chamber of Commerce to hire me to help with Tollefson. I really want that job.  *smile*

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comments [29]  |  posted under , destination, downtown, shopping, Tacoma, tourist, travel


by L.S.Erhardt on 3/26/2009 @ 11:51pm
How about a unified, consistent street marking, directions and neighborhood-centric system?

Here's where you are, here's what's nearby and how to get there. The informational signage could be maritime themed on the Foss, Asian themed in the Lincoln International Dist., Sports/concert themed in the T-Dome area, business themed in the downtown area, Historical Tacoma themed in Old Town, etc...

by Erik on 3/27/2009 @ 12:08am
Then convince Tacoma Chamber of Commerce to hire me to help with Tollefson. I really want that job

Yeah. You could be the master and commander of Tollefson.

Seriously, though, I think it is far smarter to play to Tacoma's strengths than trying to throw evergy in a cement area with dead edges. Find an area in the city or downtown which has some life and add to it rather trying to throw energy in a dead zone.

by AngelaJossy on 3/27/2009 @ 12:42am
If I'm the master and commander why do I look suspiciously like a cartoon-atheist on laundry day?

I don't see dead space, I see a blank slate at the gateway to downtown. I see an amphitheater with really uncomfortable seating. I see a hidden pond in need of a fountain. I see borders in need of vendor booths. I see an event space that should be free for anyone to fill with community activities because that's what it takes to bring people together in dark times like these.

I also see this:

Disco Dance Skate Night or Dance Night once a month or even once a week at Tollefson Plaza.

They've been talking about having ice skating there in the winter. Why not try it in the summer to see if it really works?

If it were up to me I'd start out with a DJ and also live percussionists, costumed dancers, performing rollerskaters. Maybe sometimes have a disco band or other kinds of dance bands.

Maybe bring in a special flooring to protect the concrete and provide a smoother ride for skaters.

Sell seat pads for spectators that say Downtown Tacoma and/or Tollefson Plaza on the front and have local businesses logos on the back (paid advertising to offset cost of entertainment etc.).

I'd get a big colorful tent top with open sides (to keep the party going even if it rains), have disco lights, big strobe in the sky - make a BIG SPLASH so everyone knows where the party is.

First people watch the show, then they get their chance to dance or skate. We offer roller skate rentals.

What do you think? Saturday Night Fever anyone?

by Erik on 3/27/2009 @ 1:07am
I don't see dead space, I see a blank slate at the gateway to downtown. I see an amphitheater with really uncomfortable seating. I see a hidden pond in need of a fountain. I see borders in need of vendor booths. I see an event space that should be free for anyone to fill with community activities because that's what it takes to bring people together in dark times like these

Pretty convincing. You're hired!

by AngelaJossy on 3/27/2009 @ 1:14am
I think Tollefson could be Tacoma's version of Dallas Alley.

by boearc on 3/27/2009 @ 7:41am
If lots of $ and effort are going to be spent on 'programming' a downtown urban space - why not spend the effort on some of the spaces that could actually have some resemblence of 'genus loci.' History Museum Courtyard (Free Chihuly Bridge and open up the cafe to the North side), Fireman's Park, Frost Park, Transit Square. All have better edges, closer density of populations, and current activity that exists to some extent. Tollefson Plaza is better as a building with a roof-top garden and put the efforts into spaces that have some reasonable chance of success. There use to be summer concerts in Fireman's Park - the Urban Art Festival was there last summer - with a wee bit of work, FP could be the TP that helps make DT a 'destination.'

by Shep on 3/27/2009 @ 8:07am
Angela, as usual you have wonderful ideas. People are you listening? Hire Angela! I just discovered the Mad Hat Tea Comapny yesterday, and they even let me bring my bike in. Awesome place. I really like it when I do fun-runs downtown and the Plaza fills up. I also volunteered to help at the end of the marathon last year, and lots of people were there. Too bad no one sticks around for long after. I wish the downtown businesses would latch on to these events and do some advertising and wooing of the crowds to keep them there, which they don't seem to do. One neat thing coming up is the Gray Sky Blues Festival April 4 at various downtown venues. It's a lot of fun.

by Shep on 3/27/2009 @ 9:49am
Ok, I just thought of something else. This happened a few years ago on a Saturday morning. I had some friends coming down from Seattle to run the Bank to Bay with me. Although I really tried to get them to park at my house so we could all bus down together, they decided to just park downtown and meet me there. I told them the Dome would be best for free parking, but, for whatever reason, they became confused and ended up following a bunch of other folks they saw parking in the empty Spaghetti Factory lot. This was early morning, and fun-run activities are usually over by noon.

All of the cars were towed from that lot before the Spaghetti Factory even opened. When they did open, they were hateful and uninformative as to where we could pick up our cars. Everyone was milling around and finally found a cop, who gave them instructions where to go. We caught a ride with another fellow to this tow yard. The people who worked there were hostile, threatening junkyard dogs who made us kiss their royal cop-wanna-be a**es. That day cost my friend over $300. Do you think sheíll be back? Not likely. Do you think any of them will be back?

Now just think. People who are done with fun-runs are starving. We were all heading to find something to eat and drink. Carbs are good. The Spaghetti Factory was empty of customers so early in the day, and they could have been standing out there with coupons or just put them on our windshields. We would have descended on that place like hungry, happy vultures with pocketbooks. Instead we hate their friggin guts. The saddest part is, my friends donít want to come here any more. Itís not just the Spaghetti Factory they hate; itís how they remember Tacoma.

by izenmania on 3/27/2009 @ 10:04am
Tollefson has one major, major advantage over Fireman's Park: visibility. FP is great when people know something is going on, but it's tucked away in a corner of downtown with very little drive-by traffic at any time of any day. Tollefson is Out There.

Of course, this also presents the biggest problem for programming the space: noise pollution. It is difficult for anything but a loud rock band to overcome the sounds of constant traffic. To be a good, programmable space, you need to allow for music and performance at a variety of volumes to attract a variety of spectators.

The perfect in-between would be a space that is visible from a major thoroughfare, but also set back far enough from the road to block a bit of the sound, but I don't know that there is a particularly good space for this in downtown yet.

by Erik on 3/27/2009 @ 11:53am
I told them the Dome would be best for free parking, but, for whatever reason, they became confused and ended up following a bunch of other folks they saw parking in the empty Spaghetti Factory lot.

That's interestin. In Seattle, one never even thinks about parking in the wrong area. I think there is still a perception that Tacoma is so abandoned you can park anywhere at anytime for as long as one wants for free.

by NineInchNachos on 3/27/2009 @ 12:20pm
it's going to take more than a pollyanna attitude to save tollefson plaza.

hmmm. maybe this is cartoon material.

by Shep on 3/27/2009 @ 1:19pm
Erik--I agree that it was dumb for everyone to follow the one person who obviously didn't read the sign that said "no parking", but no could kick my friend any harder than she was kicking herself. However, I wanted to convey the punitive and short-sighted attitude by some (not all, by any means) that can cause irreparable damage to their and our town's future livelihood. By thinking outside of the box, they could have turned an ugly situation into a steady source of customers and good will. Many of the businesses Angela mentions above do get it. This one does not.

by Mofo from the Hood on 3/27/2009 @ 1:20pm
"Why Tacoma Should Be A Destination"

That is one of the great mysteries of human history that people from many cultures across the planet have yet to solve. Ever seen journalists from "National Geographic" around town? Nope. How about "Smithsonian Magazine?" Nope. "Casino Life Magazine?" Not sure.

And that brings up the question, "Why should Tacoma be a destination?" What's in it for Tacoma?

by fredo on 3/28/2009 @ 9:25am
Shep your story about the confused Seattle visitors was priceless. Thanks for sharing. I own commercial property and am always amazed at the cluelessness of people who will park right in front of a sign that says No Parking Tow Away Zone.

by Shep on 3/28/2009 @ 11:20am
Yeah, I tried to warn them and give them alternatives (park at my place, take the bus). But (at the risk, 9-inch, of sounding like a Pollyanna) I still envision a scenario where the SF could have gotten out there and conveyed a message something like "Hey dummies, you are in a tow-away zone. However, if you would care to come in and buy a fine lunch, perhaps we could work something out . . . "

by AngelaJossy on 3/28/2009 @ 2:03pm
Nothing wrong with Pollyanna's. Everything good that was ever theorized, designed, invented and/or created was first the brainchild of a Pollyanna who dared to think it could happen and that it would be good.

by L.S.Erhardt on 3/29/2009 @ 8:50pm
Those who do not dare to dream Big will never achieve Big.

by jenyum on 3/30/2009 @ 9:28pm
Tacoma will never be a destination if Tacoma doesn't know what it has, and what it could be. It's really, really tiresome.

We have some great neighborhoods that are not sterile and full of bland food, (and even have pedestrians and open businesses on Sundays) but it's rare that a new inhabitant or visitor would actually be told where any of those places are.

We have low commercial rents, but ridiculous parking and permit (can't even have a sign without one) requirements that deter small businesses, and big B&O taxes that deter large ones.

We've got comparatively low housing costs and great little family friendly neighborhoods, but a school system that the people of the city don't believe in and won't fund, despite some great programs.

We've got a nice looking branch of the UW, that hasn't brought any office/professional jobs into the city, aside from those directly involved in teaching. Given the current economic downturn and higher ed cuts I don't suppose that will ever happen.

We've got a great big new TCC campus filled with people who want to be X-Ray techs and nurses, because health care is our only industry. Most of them will not succeed, because those programs require advanced math/science that most of our population can't hack.

We've got some spectacular parks that no one goes to, and some mediocre ones in "good" neighborhoods that suffer from overcrowding every summer.

Tacoma's an awesome place to live with little kids or little money, but it only goes so far. At some point there has to be some concerted effort to create a business climate that will encourage growth and job creation without imposing requirements more appropriate to strip malls and suburban campuses.

At some point we have to start caring about what's happening in our junior highs and high schools, get the kids new computers, fix what's wrong with the math/science programs, and generally enter the 21st century. Or at least, the late twentieth.

At some point people need to get out and see their city and not just their own little "safe" bubble. Eat some spicy food. Live a little. Then tell your friends. Stop sitting around complaining about how much Tacoma sucks. Unless by "Tacoma sucks" you mean our apathetic populous and complete inability to change anything we know damn well needs to be changed.

Go ahead and hate the Spaghetti Factory, though. That's some seriously overpriced overcooked pasta. (The Rock is locally owned and right across the street, or hit up Joeseppi's for similar cuisine and 99.99% less evil.)

by NineInchNachos on 3/30/2009 @ 10:48pm
tacoma streetcars love old spaghetti factory

by Altered Chords on 3/31/2009 @ 8:39am
People should come to Tacom because we have spaghetti.

by Mofo from the Hood on 3/31/2009 @ 9:02am
Tacoma should build more factories that make spaghetti.

by fredo on 3/31/2009 @ 9:12am
Why don't we celebrate the Spaghetti Factory?

For whatever reason they decided to locate in Tacoma. They have a large payroll and contribute to what little prosperity we have downtown.

I'm pretty sure that if some interloper parks their junker car in front of Rock Pasta or Jeseppi's it's going to be noticed and towed away. And regarding overpriced pasta, how could you not overprice pasta? The last time I checked the ingrediants are flour, eggs, and water.

by NineInchNachos on 3/31/2009 @ 9:23am
Perhaps it is time for an international spaghetti district downtown to encourage spaghetti factories to continue to invest (read seek tax shelters) in downtown Tacoma.

by Mofo from the Hood on 3/31/2009 @ 9:35am
As more spaghetti factories are built in Tacoma the number of street cars will also increase.

by Altered Chords on 3/31/2009 @ 9:36am
The Tacome International Spaghetti Services District. Formerly known as the Tacoma International Financial Services District.

by jenyum on 3/31/2009 @ 1:34pm
Every time I have called them about some holiday or downtown festival related thing, they have been downright snarly. Probably just the current manager, but eh.

by AngelaJossy on 3/31/2009 @ 9:30pm
I heard recently that Lynn Di Nino wanted to do an event at Tollefson and they quoted her what I think is an unreasonable rental fee for the space - actually the quote was for half of the space. They should be PAYING her to do something there AND having a statue made in her honor! They just don't get it.

I don't understand how the chamber can ask the community to pay $600 for rental of HALF of Tollefson Plaza. No wonder the space is dead!! That's a ridiculous amount of money and its city property so how can it be that the chamber gets to keep it? Its not like the money is even going toward things the city needs like road repair or homeless shelters.

I thought the whole point is to enliven the space. Maybe I just don't get it.

LET ME JUST SAY that I don't know if any of this is true but its what I heard the other day and I was floored by it. I hope I'm misunderstanding this.

by Erik on 3/31/2009 @ 10:01pm
I don't understand how the chamber can ask the community to pay $600 for rental of HALF of Tollefson Plaza

Really? If someone wants to do something there, I don't know why they would have to rent the space anymore than they would have to rent to use a city park especially when it is unlikely that there would be a competing use.

How much time would $600 cover? A day? week? year?

by NineInchNachos on 3/31/2009 @ 10:14pm
just have an event there. what will they do kick you out? the friday night feed people don't have permits. .. just do it. screw city hall.