Chinese president’s Tacoma visit cost city, school district $94,511

Tacoma mayor Marilyn Strickland, left, and Lincoln High Principal Pat Erwin flank Chinese president Xi Jinping as they enter the gym during his visit to Lincoln High in September.
Tacoma mayor Marilyn Strickland, left, and Lincoln High Principal Pat Erwin flank Chinese president Xi Jinping as they enter the gym during his visit to Lincoln High in September. Staff photographer

When city officials heard China’s president would come to Tacoma, they wanted to be sure the Gritty City glowed.

Workers trimmed overgrown vegetation, searched for trash in alleys near Lincoln High School and repainted faded parking stripes along Yakima Avenue.

City police coordinated with the state patrol and U.S. Secret Service, and later secured the area around Lincoln High School where Xi made his historic stop during the second day of his Washington state trip.

City workers also filled dozens of potholes in the Lincoln District. Cost: $12,073.

That was a fraction of the total cost for hosting the visit, which lasted little more than an hour. By the time the roar of the motorcade faded and the scrum of international media had left, Tacoma had spent $79,150 on police, traffic control and other expenses.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Thursday the cost was “worth every penny.”

“We could not buy this much publicity for such a low price,” Strickland said Thursday. “… I’m still getting phone calls and emails from people.”

Some of the work would have been done anyway.

The city’s five-person pothole crew, for example, would have worked in a different area of the city if they hadn’t filled potholes in the Lincoln District, said Jeff Jenkins, assistant public works director.

“It’s not like this was new work for us. We are out repairing potholes all the time. But for this visit we rearranged our schedule to focus on this area instead of another area,” Jenkins said.

Tacoma Public Schools janitors burnished Lincoln until it gleamed. The district estimates it spent $15,361 to spruce up the Lincoln campus, which includes labor, beauty bark and power washing.

Principal Pat Erwin said overseas interest in the school has grown since the visit. Lincoln High featured prominently on Chinese state-run media, which was seen by hundreds of millions of people. It’s now considered a “famous school” among the Chinese, Erwin said.

“We’ve had tourist buses come by. … I had three people visit me, one of whom said I have the most famous goatee in China,” Erwin said.

Erwin said he’s had “multiple offers” from people to teach Chinese at the school, one woman from Shanghai offered to teach for free.

The Tacoma Police Department adjusted shifts to accommodate the visit and placed dozens of officers on standby in case protests turned violent. The state patrol handled the main and alternate routes for Xi’s motorcade, she said, and officers practiced driving those paths.

Of Tacoma police’s $34,369 bill, $30,753 was overtime. Only costs for hourly employees were included in the tally, Tacoma Police Department spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.

Washington State Patrol costs were still being calculated as of Friday afternoon. The Secret Service office in Seattle did not return a call seeking comment.

Tacoma Police also planned for a worst-case scenario.

“We’d even do things like check the operational levels of the hospitals to make sure they are aware if something happens,” Cool said. “If everything goes well, great.”

Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said staff in his office were redirected to carry out support functions for the visit, but that overtime pay wasn’t involved.

And that customized Lincoln Abes football jersey that was presented to President Xi? It cost $222.23.

Erwin paid for that himself.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542


News Tribune reporter Debbie Cafazzo contributed to this report.