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Museum of Glass

June 6, 2002

Tacoma vies to become a Northwest hot spot

  • The new Museum of Glass is expected to be a major contribution to the city’s tourism image.
    Special to the Journal

    Tacoma's burgeoning museum and entertainment district includes the Museum of Glass, the new Tacoma Art Museum and an expanded convention center.

    When its doors open July 6, Tacoma’s new $76 million Museum of Glass will firmly establish this renaissance city as a new Pacific Northwest tourism destination, local economic development leaders predict.

    For years, Tacoma has lived in the shadow of Seattle’s business, cultural and historic attractions, outclassed by its downtown shopping district, the Seattle Center, the Space Needle, Seattle Art Museum, Pike Place Market and -- more recently -- the Experience Music Project.

    Now, with the presence of its new international center for art, graced with the world-renowned glasswork of Tacoma native Dale Chihuly and other locally and globally recognized artists, Tacoma is becoming a competitive tourist attraction.

    Museum hub

    "Tacoma is fast becoming a hub for world-class museums and art, and the Museum of Glass is a big part of that," said Juli Wilkerson, director of the Tacoma Economic Development Department, which has even created a culture and tourism division.

    "Tacoma is fast becoming a hub for world-class museums and art, and the Museum of Glass is a big part of that."

    -- Juli Wilkerson,

    Director, Tacoma Economic Development Department

    "We already have the (new) Washington State History Museum and now the Museum of Glass and the Bridge of Glass," Wilkerson said. "Soon (we’ll have) the new Tacoma Art Museum, a unique Museum of Motorcycles and the one-of-a-kind LeMay Car Museum. What more could a visitor ask for all in one place?"

    The $25 million Tacoma Art Museum is expected to open by the end of this year. By mid-2003 the motorcycle museum will join the growing museum district, featuring vintage Indians, Harleys and other makes dating back to 1908.

    In 2005, the $75 million Harold E. LeMay car museum is due to open nearby at the Tacoma Dome, displaying hundreds of vintage vehicles from the Tacoma resident’s $40 million collection of more than 3,800 automobiles, the largest private vehicle ownership in the world, now stored in 58 buildings throughout the city. By comparison, Nevada hotelier William Harrah’s collection peaked at 1,400 cars.

    But, for now, the Museum of Glass has center stage.

    Ruthie Reinert, executive director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Convention and Visitor Bureau, sees the glass museum as an enticing and exciting venue for visitors, showing off a $12 million array of glassware created by Dale Chihuly, plus glass creations from artists around the world.



    But it will also be a strong tourism magnet because people will be able to see glass art being created in the museum’s "hot shop" studio, built under the 90-foot-high cone that is the museum’s most distinguishing architectural feature.

    "This kind of attraction has a lot of interest in today’s travel trends. People like seeing things created and knowing the story behind glass art," she said, adding that the motorcycle museum, too, will include a workshop where visitors will be able to watch motorcycle restorations.

    "We’re changing the image of Tacoma," Reinert said. "Our (promotional) tagline is, ‘The Art of Northwest Living,’ reflecting our love of fine art -- and Northwest living, which is indicative of our outdoor recreation and scenic venues as well."

    Media interest

    In the convention and meetings market, tour operators are already expressing more interest in the region because of the synergy of local tourist attractions, she said, adding that the development of the museum district, along with related Tacoma development in arts, entertainment and recreation, is "driving a lot of media attention to our destination."

    "There’s an incredible amount of (media) interest. We know that (representatives of) 250 news media, including 20 international media, will be here for the opening of the Museum of Glass and we’ve already noticed a lot more Tacoma feature stories in travel publications," Reinert said.

    This is the year that marks a decade of development for the previously downtrodden neighborhoods on Tacoma’s eastside, near Interstate 5. As part of the city’s master plan to change the destiny of Washington’s "City of Destiny," multimillion-dollar state, city and private projects have transformed the Pacific Avenue eyesores that tainted the entrance to the city for decades.

    In 1992, the restoration of the boarded-up Union Station led to the creation of the $51 million federal courthouse complex. In 1996, the $41 million Washington State History Museum was completed adjacent to the court buildings. Across the street, in 1997, a $33 million investment began transforming abandoned warehouses into the University of Washington-Tacoma campus, with retail stores on Pacific Avenue.

     Those developments led to building the $76 million Museum of Glass near the Washington State History Museum, with a dramatic, colorful, 500-foot-long Bridge of Glass linking the museum district to the $88 million redevelopment of the long-neglected Thea Foss Waterway, adjacent to the downtown core. Plans for the private-investor waterfront project include a hotel, apartments and condominiums, retail stores and an expanded marina.

    "The Museum of Glass is the first project to open on the Foss Waterway in decades," Wilkerson said. "The city of Tacoma is proud to say we helped make it happen. Our waterfront sat polluted and fallow for years, until the city decided to take on the responsibility to buy it and get it cleaned up. Now private development is going in all along the waterway and the Museum of Glass is a striking centerpiece for the area."

    Big visitor draws

    Excited about the opening of the Museum of Glass and the impact on Tacoma’s economy, museum director Josi Callan expects 160,000 visitors in the first year after its doors open.

    "The Museum of Glass, a key component of the redevelopment of the Thea Foss Waterway, will help make Tacoma a cultural destination for visitors," Callan said. "Its stunning architecture and lovely outdoor plazas that overlook the waterway will attract people and encourage them to explore this enjoyable new section of the city. There are already new residences, restaurants and businesses opening in the immediate vicinity -- the economic and cultural synergy is impressive."

    In anticipation of the city’s new reputation as an emerging tourism center, the $61 million, high-tech wired, 181,000-square-foot Greater Tacoma Convention Center is being built adjacent to the University of Washington-Tacoma campus and opposite the museum district.

     "When the new convention center opens in 2004, it will be seven times the size of our old one," Wilkerson said. "Across the street, the Museum of Glass will be one of the big draws for conventioneers and visitors. But it will also lead people to the Washington State History Museum, Tacoma Art Museum and the Motorcycle Museum. We can hardly wait to share with the world all the synergy and developing culture Tacoma has to offer."

    By the fall of 2003, Tacoma also expects to begin serving the museum district, college campus and the downtown core with its 1.6-mile, $22.5 million Link light rail project, carrying tourists to venues such as the museum district; the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, where symphonies, ballets and live theater are presented at the restored 1918-vintage Pantages and Rialto Theaters; and a downtown neighborhood filled with fine-dining restaurants, art galleries, intriguing boutiques and the attractions of Antique Row’s businesses in the core of Tacoma.

    All of those sights, plus the city’s 700-acre Point Defiance Park, with its zoo, gardens, scenic five-mile drive, beaches, hiking and cycling trails and boat marina; the Children’s Museum; the Pacific Northwest’s only African-American Museum; the Working Waterfront Museum on the Foss Waterway; and the Shanaman Sports Museum at the Tacoma Dome, will offer tourists one of the most concentrated entertainment centers in the Pacific Northwest -- topped off by the colorful pizzazz of the Museum of Glass.


    Terry Stephens is a freelance writer based in Arlington. He can be reached by e-mail at features@gte.net.

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