Ground broken for Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center

Dignitaries from around the region dug into the ground Friday on the site of the future Tacoma Convention and Trade Center to officially launch the construction phase of the city’s largest capital project since the Tacoma Dome.

The convention center – located at the corner of South 15th and Commerce streets – will link the city’’s downtown commercial district, University of Washington Tacoma campus and Thea Foss Waterway.

““This new facility will have a major impact on our region,”” said Mike Combs, Public Assembly Facilities director.

Tacoma City Councilman Kevin Phelps, president of the Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitor Bureau, agreed: “”The convention center will the center stone of all development.””

The project will allow Tacoma to compete for conventions regionally and nationally and provide a jolt to the area economy.

“The future convention center is to be the site of the 2004 state Democratic convention,” Mayor Bill Baarsma pointed out during his address.

Annually, the convention center is anticipated to draw 275,000 visitors.

““Convention center attendees will spend money here – lots of it,”” Phelps said.

The convention center’’s estimated annual impact is $55 million to $75 million, he noted.

In addition, the nearly $90 million project will provide between 250-350 new, permanent jobs.

Hotel/motel taxes and a state sales tax credit are the primary dedicated funding sources for the project.

The building itself will encompass 240,000 square feet, including a 50,000-square-foot exhibit hall with a contiguous, column-free space and 23,000 square feet of ballroom/meeting space.

““It’’s a good day for Tacoma,”” said Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, who hailed the convention center as an example of the county and its cities working together to get things done.

““Regionalism is important to us,”” he said.

Following the afternoon’’s speeches and congratulatory plaque exchanges, officials and others involved in the project walked out to the site and used 19 silver shovels to toss some dirt.

An explosion of confetti followed the ceremonial digging.

The Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center is scheduled to open in fall 2004.

Officials engage in some ceremonial digging during last week's groundbreaking for Tacoma's new convention center. (PHOTO BY BRETT DAVIS)