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Private-public partnerships will propel Tacoma past Seattle

We finally know what the City of Tacoma is planning to do with its more than 100-year-old historic City Hall in downtown.

The City Council has approved the sale of the building to Eli Moreno and Surge Tacoma. They plan to redevelop the building for $4 million, split between $2 million in cash and $2 million in public benefits. The project will include restaurants, a bar, offices, coworking technology center, retail, and microapartments.

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The refurbishment will include a glass enclosed high-end restaurant. The bar will have a “speakeasy” theme and the housing will include 40 micro-apartments — roughly 250 square feet each — half at market rate. The other half priced as affordable housing. Pencil it out and that’s about $100,000 per unit, plus all the additional amenities.

This is very exciting for Tacoma. But for me, as a Seattleite, I find myself frustrated. This project is a perfect example of the power of a private/public partnership — combining developer expertise with the city’s underutilized land. Can you imagine, even in your wildest dreams, the Seattle City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan approving something like this? Never!

This is what happens when we allow private industry to find solutions. This isn’t rocket science. Private-public partnerships are not evil — they are the answer. Developers get things done, efficiently and effectively, because they are accountable to their business, their employees, and their own pocketbooks. Whether their projects succeed or fail, the outcome will have a large impact on that business. This is not true of government.

In Seattle, when the Showbox building sale was halted we lost $7 million in potential construction taxes. Those taxes would go into the general fund and be completely wasted by incompetent politicians who don’t care about being transparent, responsive, and accountable to results. Remember the entire Tacoma City Hall project had a cost of just half of those lost taxes.

In a dream world of fiscally responsible local politicians, a private/public partnership involving the Showbox would’ve included a tax credit in return for the developer building a new Showbox and two stories of dorm style housing for creators in our community plus 37 stories of market rate housing. Now that is a private/public partnership I can get behind.

I’ve recently stepped away from talking about parties and I’ve migrated towards the core pillars of fiscal responsibility, transparency, and accountability. If we can somehow get ourselves together — Democrats, Republicans, and independents — and start looking at how we solve the problems in front of us, I strongly believe we will be living in a better place that is cleaner, safer, and more equitable for all citizens.

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