Matt Driscoll

‘Everyone feels like it was definitely worth it.’ Ribbon cutting celebrates a reborn Lincoln District

Celebrating a rejuvenated Lincoln District

Hundreds join a sunny celebration of a years-long rejuvenation of the Lincoln District, November 17, 2018.
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Hundreds join a sunny celebration of a years-long rejuvenation of the Lincoln District, November 17, 2018.

Back in April, Tom Pruett spoke bluntly about the difficulties his business had endured because of Tacoma’s ongoing Lincoln Revitalization Project.

The new amenities coming to life along 38th Street, like crosswalks, landscaping, utility improvements and even dog-friendly drinking fountains, were beautiful, said Pruett, manager of the longtime vacuum and janitorial supply store, Big Vac Inc.

Still, the toll the months-long and ongoing construction had taken on his business were on Pruett’s mind. He estimated that Big Vac had experienced a 75 to 80 percent decline in business, and on some days he was bringing in as little as $40.

“It’s kind of tough,” Pruett said with orange construction cones in front of his business. “It’s going to be very nice. It’s just getting to that stage.”

The good news for Pruett, the Lincoln District and the entire city of Tacoma is that stage — the finish line — has finally arrived.

On Saturday, a scheduled ribbon cutting will provide closure on a multi-million dollar project that, counting the planning stages, has stretched years.

Though a few odds and ends remain, the bulk of the work has been completed, and the city is ready to celebrate.

The project has included re-imagining 38th Street, helping to turn Lincoln into an actual business district as opposed to a four-lane stretch that cars zoom through, and reconfiguring South Yakima Avenue to create a street that can easily be closed to traffic for community events like the annual Lunar New Year Celebration.

It’s was also a multifaceted endeavor that focused on equity as much improvement. Every shiny new utility pole and needed traffic calming measure was matched by a genuine outreach effort, designed to put the long-neglected neighborhood — and its diverse cultural needs — at the forefront of every decision the city made.

Catherine Ushka, who has represented District 4 on the Tacoma City Council since January, embraced the long-term impact the Lincoln Revitalization Project stands to have on an area of Tacoma she represents.

Ushka said it’s already evident in the new businesses that have chosen to invest in the neighborhood — like the Starbucks at 38th and South G — and she expects it’s only the start.

“I have great hopes that it’s going to continue to gain moment,” Ushka said of the Lincoln District renaissance. “I‘ve been around long enough that I can’t predict it’s going to be the best place in the world, but I sure think it’s going to be.”

For Debbie Bingham, who has overseen the revitalization project for the city, the ribbon cutting marks the end of a particularly gratifying part of her career. Three years ago the city opened a Lincoln District office, even staffing it with a community outreach specialist fluent in Vietnamese.

Bingham has worked out of that office for two or three days a week since it opened. Looking back, she said it has been “really eye opening … to see the kind of relationships you can create when you’re on the ground there all the time.”

Ticking off a list of notable Lincoln Revitalization Project achievements — including artistic elements, raised crosswalks and the fact that businesses survived the inconvenience of construction — Bingham specifically noted that the effort has spurred new relationships between citizens and business owners that should serve the district well going forward.

While Bingham acknowledged that enduring the project was sometimes “rough” on a number of businesses, she believes that, ultimately, “everything we hoped and intended for has happened.”

“I think everyone feels like it was definitely worth it,” she said.

Asked to point to one element that embodies the spirit of the project, Ushka pointed to the clouds — specifically, the permanent public art that now fills the district.

Clouds play a prominent role in the artwork, tying into the theme of “aspiration.”

The artwork, Ushka said, “reminds a community that has not had equitable investment — or anything else — to dream big rather than be limited by any other expectations.”

It’s a reminder that seems fitting, and one that will hopefully carry the reborn Lincoln District into a brighter future.

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.