City Council wowed by new convention center spire design

City Council members got a chance to look at a model of a new and improved – and more costly – 400-foot-tall spire that would mark the entrance to the Greater Tacoma Trade and Convention Center. The convention center is currently under construction and is scheduled to open in fall 2004.

The redesigned tower model and presentation during Tuesday’s study session represented a possible move from a primarily architectural feature to a more functional structure.

The latest spire design features a four-sided tower with two levels of viewing platforms at 371 feet, a glass-enclosed elevator shaft, a winding external staircase for emergency egress and two floors of habitable space near the base that could be rented out for various occasions.

An earlier design concept envisioned a $2 million tower that served merely as an architectural piece outside the convention center. The new design is estimated to cost up to $8 million.

Studies are currently under way to determine if the revenue derived by making the tower more functional will offset the increased cost.

City Council members and other officials discussed ways of paying for construction of the tower.

Assistant Public Works Director Craig Sivley pointed out the city is still in the planning stages of financing the spire, describing it as “very marketable.”
He believes such a tower could attract up to $500,000 a year of corporate sponsorship. With an estimated 200,000 visitors a year, Sivley also contended the city could make up $1 million annually by charging visitors to ride up an elevator to the observation towers.

Another money-making option would be renting out space at the bottom of the tower for receptions or conferences, he said.

Councilmember Bill Evans suggested renting space to a telecommunications company to use the spire as a cell tower.

Overall, the City Council was supportive of the spire, although Councilmember Mike Lonergan was unsure whether taxpayers would approve the city using public funds to build the tower.

“I really like this,” said Coucilmember Sharon McGavick, who had compared the earlier, less functional spire design to a Christmas tree.

Councilmember Doug Miller said the uniqueness of the tower would make the convention center more marketable. “I think this is on the right track…and is really doable,” he said.

Councilmember Kevin Phelps said the spire would make the convention center and Tacoma stand out, stating, “I think a lot of this speaks to an overall vision.”

Council members looked into the new spire as part of a discussion about 11 capital projects – totalling about $250 million – designated by the council as priorities.

The spire and expansion of the convention center was No. 2 on the list, with infrastructure and neighborhood enhancements being No. 1.

The rest of the list includes Tacoma Dome expansion, Business District improvements, Tacoma Rail/Train to the Mountain, Foss Waterway, city-owned buildings, Ruston Way improvements, “Gas Station” Park, the Green Project and the Marine Science Center.

Also on the study session agenda was a progress report on Tacoma’s new police headquarters, four substations and warehouse building slated to open next year.

Voters approved a $34.3 million bond in February 2002 to pay for the new police facilities.

Plans call for a 3-story, 75,000-square-foot headquarters to be located at the site of the former Costco store.

The headquarters will be co-located with the warehouse on a 10.5-acre campus.

The 1-story, 3,500-square-foot substations will include community rooms, a community liaison office and serve as a base of operations for community policing.

The four substations are planned to be located at South 16th and MLK Jr. Way, Northshore Parkway and Norpoint NE, South 72nd and Wapato Park and North 26th and Baltimore.

“We’re very proud of this project,” said Bob Sheehan of the Tacoma Police Department. “It’s moving along wonderfully.”

Mayor Bill Baarsma agreed: “This is really exciting. This is extraordinary.”

An April 15 City Council resolution will designate the substation sites and approve agreements with various government and private organizations related to the substations.