LeMay car museum another step closer to reality

Basking in the warm glow of a hot summer day, city and museum officials, along with hundreds of members of the public, turned for yesterday’s “Rally for LeMay” at Tacoma Dome Parking Lot A.

Officials were also basking in the glow of an agreement between the LeMay car museum and the city, celebrating an agreement to build a museum in Tacoma for the world’s largest car collection.

On Tuesday night, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution where the city provides the land and parking – on 9 acres in the two lower parking lots west of the Tacoma Dome – and the museum finances the building and provides the automobiles.

The successful conclusion ends two months of sometimes contentious negotiations between the two parties.

At yesterday’s rally, officials provided some more details on the agreement reached between the museum and the city, introduced the selection of the museum’s architects and unveiled the museum’s latest acquisition, a rare 1948 Tucker.

The agreement calls for Tacoma to provide replacement parking of 500 stalls at an estimated cost of $8.1 million.

The city will own all displaced parking, Mayor Bill Baarsma said.

Also, the city will provide up to $1.6 million in offsite improvements, including utility upgrades and a public plaza.

Under the terms of the agreement, the city will deed over the property and build the replacement parking after the museum raises 75 percent of its construction costs, estimated at between $40 million and $100 million.

“These are the deal points, but not the point of the deal,” Baarsma said.

The museum will have an economic impact on the city, Baarsma noted, with 3,000 jobs created during the building’s construction, as well as the people who come to visit the museum in the future.

Chairman of the Executive Council for a Greater Tacoma Herb Simon called the museum a “great return on the investment.”

The creation of a “vibrant entertainment hub near the Tacoma Dome” will add to the city’s “showcase of high quality museums,” Baarsma said.

Twenty-six firms submitted designs for the building, reported LeMay Board of Directors Chairman Paul Miller.

“We hope the building is as much a work of art as the cars in it,” he said.

Toward that end, Polshek Partnership Architects of New York City was announced as the project’s architect.

“I can’t tell you how grateful we are for this commission,” said Jim Polshek, senior design principal.

Polshek promised an accessible building tied to the landscape of the area that would provide a way of “connecting the past and the future.”

Polshek will work with the Tacoma firm McGranahan Architects, Miller announced.

Following the speeches by city and museum officials, it was time for the main event: the public unveiling of an extremely rare blue 1948 Tucker, the one car the late Harold E. LeMay always wanted but wasn’t able to add to his collection.

After a ribbon cutting by officials, and the removal of curtains hiding the car, the Tucker was driven a short distance where LeMay family members exited the vehicle, and a crowd gathered around to get a better look and take photos.

Nancy LeMay, wife of the late Harold E. LeMay, said Harold would be in “seventh heaven” knowing his dream of a world class car museum in Tacoma was another step closer to coming true, not to mention the acquisition of the Tucker.

The LeMay collection, listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the largest private automobile collection in the world, contains nearly 3,000 vehicles.

The museum is to be home to between 900 and 1,000 automobiles and other transportation artifacts.

“It (the museum) will help show the automobile’s impact on our lives and our culture,” said David Madeira, museum Chief Executive Officer. “We’re at the beginning of a great American road trip.”

The progress of the LeMay museum is just the latest in a series of projects constituting a renaissance of sorts in Tacoma.

The Museum of Glass opened last month, and the Tacoma Art Museum is constructing a new building they will move into next spring,

Also, several other projects are in the works or under construction, including the Greater Tacoma Convention Center, Tacoma Link light rail, Thea’s Landing and Pacific Towers, among others.

“Man, I tell you, I am excited today,” Baarsma said. “Are we on a role in Tacoma or what?”