June 29, 2006

Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center

Last week, I attended Government Technology’s Digital Government Summit in Tacoma at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, a new building downtown. The “Summit” was interesting, I went mostly to find out where the state information technology organization was headed, as a defensive measure, and I thought the facility was very nice.

I grew up in Seattle and so was trained from an early age to look down on that city’s local rival for leadership in the region. We had Seattle history units at least twice in my grade school career and the major theme was the wonderful destiny that was to be Seattle’s. Tacoma, of course, suffered by comparison, even though it did win the first rail line to Puget Sound. It didn’t help that, between the pulp mills (since reduced to one and that cleaned up) and the smelter (since demolished, though the toxic legacy continues), Tacoma’s air quality was, well, it smelled.

That’s very different now. Tacoma has grown up, even as Seattle has greedily grasped the destiny and fame it always knew it deserved. Tacoma has renovated what was a pretty seedy downtown. (Seattle had its own strip of downtrodden, and still does, but it had other sections of downtown that weren’t home to the homeless and drunken. Tacoma had little else downtown.) Union Station was renovated years ago, the State Historical Museum went in next door, the new Art Museum and the Museum of Glass anchor the waterfront side, new condos are springing up, old warehouses are being torn down and replaced with buildings like the Convention Center or renovated as offices, and Sound Transit is running a streetcar line through the middle.

It’s nice and the big, gleaming Convention Center looms over the center of it. It’s five stories of steel and glass, with some nice touches, especially the flooring on the ground floor that suggests a duckweed-covered pond, with a connected street fountain outside. For art, there’s an installation of a half-dozen rough-hewn beams suspended above the walkways and stairs in the vaulting front-side windows. They were obviously removed from an old warehouse – they show signs of nail holes for flooring or ceiling material. It’s not much as an artistic statement, but it is a nice juxtaposition of Tacoma’s industrial past with its hoped-for technological future.

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