Wanted: A big, annual signature festival that screams Tacoma.
Qualifications: Should be homegrown, able to draw out-of-town tourists and help kick-start a stagnant economy.
Contact: The City of Tacoma’s Economic Development Department.
As part of a larger presentation to the City Council Tuesday, Economic Development Director Ryan Petty unveiled a series of focus areas and ideas that city officials could incorporate into a new vision for growing businesses and creating jobs in Tacoma into the future.
Developed from the feedback of business leaders, merchants, neighborhood groups, nonprofits and others, the discussion provided a list of economic development areas that city stakeholders say they want Tacoma to focus on most – from clarifying its role in fostering business growth to simply finishing the projects it starts.
The presentation also included several “new ideas” Petty offered to council members for consideration in any new strategy.
One idea, to “co-develop a signature annual festival,” drew the most council reaction – both favorable and unfavorable.
Some council members – including Councilwoman Lauren Walker, who noted the financial struggles that have plagued the Tall Ships Festival – wondered if Tacoma could support yet another big festival.
“I worry a little bit about creating a new (festival) when we could be building what we already have,” Walker said.
But Tall Ships – which relies on an outside organization’s endorsement and pits Tacoma against other cities competing to stage it – isn’t the kind of homegrown event envisioned, Petty said. What the city needs, he said, is “something that can expand our notoriety and reputation.”
The festival idea was among dozens offered in the second part of Petty’s three-pronged approach toward charting a new economic development course for the city.
The first part, delivered in August, provided members with a detailed overview of existing initiatives. During a final session in November, the council is expected draw on all it has learned to set a new plan.
“Some of these ideas will be in that strategy,” city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff said Tuesday, “and I presume some of them will not.”
Some council members have recently complained that Tacoma lacks a solid economic development vision – a sentiment that has sent Petty and other staff members on a mission to develop one. On Tuesday, several members praised Petty for his latest stop on the path toward a new vision.
“It has so much hope and direction,” said Councilman Marty Campbell, noting the presentation was “one of the most exciting” he’s seen since joining the council in January 2010.
Ideas discussed Tuesday included establishing an annual entrepreneurial conference, pursuing a “destination retail” program to draw new businesses and promote existing ones, and creating and growing a “Tacoma Alumni Association” to network for business opportunities and establish credibility beyond the city.
Petty also suggested any future plan should focus on three key places: the Dome District, the Brewery District and the so-called “Medical Mile” along Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
“These three areas have the most job-creation potential,” he said.
Staff members should also focus on recruiting new clean water technology industries to Tacoma’s newly designated “Innovation Partnership Zone” planned for the east side of the Foss Waterway, Petty said.
But Councilman Jake Fey, who largely praised Tuesday’s ideas, noted he still isn’t sure that the envisioned research hub will fly.
“I’m not totally convinced yet that there’s a there there,” Fey said.
Any final strategy should be less “downtown-heavy” and incorporate Tacoma’s neighborhood business districts, Councilman David Boe added.
Meantime, Councilman Joe Lonergan said the city’s economic climate could benefit now if council members would simply “get out of the way” of business. He referenced a recent moratorium to halt a Walmart planned for Central Tacoma and a controversial Shoreline Master Program update that has upset industry.
“I’m calling it out,” Lonergan said. “We need to stop.”
Ryan Mello, the councilman who spearheaded the box store moratorium, responded that long-term quality of life issues outweigh short-sighted economic fixes.
“We’re not Anywhere USA,” Mello said. “ I don’t want to be like Houston, where there’s no zoning and everything goes.”
Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542