I must have missed the obituary. And I always read the obituaries.
When I was younger, it was to see if my friends’ grandparents had died. Then it was to see if my friends’ parents had died.
Now it’s to see if my friends have died.
But I didn’t see the write-up for the untimely passing of the private sector of Tacoma-Pierce County. It is dead, though, done in by a bad economy, risk aversion and a crippling addiction to public dollars.
Where once Tacoma had business leaders who would step up and make things happen, it doesn’t any more. What it has is folks who will complain about government and a few – very few – who will make investments as long as government is the risk-taking partner.
I don’t mean that private business is dead. It still carries on as best it can. What has joined the dearly departed is the private sector as an entity – both formal and informal – that speaks and acts as one for the betterment of its community and itself.
The Chamber of Commerce? It struggles with internal problems and has spent the last year fighting shoreline regulations so as to make Tacoma safe for old ships and oil storage tanks.
The Executive Council for a Greater Tacoma? Does that secret society that once rallied the community behind the University of Washington Tacoma, the Washington History Museum and the Museum of Glass still exist?
The Port of Tacoma? Despite its self-image, the port is a public agency fueled by tax dollars and lease payments on public land.
I became aware of the passing of the private sector while reading of the latest struggles by those trying to build a project around the old Tacoma Elks Lodge at Seventh and Commerce downtown.
Grace Pleasants and Rick Moses want to build a 14-story hotel and apartment complex next to the white lodge. The McMenamin brothers would restore the historic building for a dining, drinking and entertainment venue. Pleasants and Moses added complexity to their building when they added hotel rooms, something the McMenamins feature at many of their namesake brewpubs.
But the developers missed a deadline to purchase the vacant land next door from the city, and they continue to scramble for the last bit of financing for the hotel.
This is an important project for Tacoma. It could save a beloved and architecturally significant building. It could invigorate the north end of downtown. It would provide badly needed jobs.
So why are the players all outsiders to the Tacoma business establishment? Pleasants is an immigrant from Alaska. Moses is from Los Angeles. The McMenamins are from Portland. The largest private investor is the AFL-CIO union pension fund in Washington, D.C.
The only local money is from City of Tacoma taxpayers who will back a parking garage beneath the apartment-hotel building.
Jonathan Feste, a Tacoma expatriate living in Port Angeles, wonders why there is no response from Tacoma leaders. In a letter to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, Feste asked Dicks to convene private sector players, especially its biggest financial institution, Columbia Bank.
Feste wrote of the legacy of cooperation between the region’s government and private sector leaders. He cited the Cornerstone redevelopment at 13th and Broadway, the Puyallup land claim settlement, Union Station, the Foss Waterway, the LeMay car museum.
“I hope Congressman Dicks can build bridges between people with interests in Tacoma’s economy and the Elks on Broadway project in which city government is involved to see if the project can become viable with some financial extra help so as to bring meaningful private-oriented economic revitalization to one corner of his district,” Feste wrote.
That is, of course, if there’s a private sector left for Dicks to convene.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/politics Twitter: @CallaghanPeter