Shining a light on revitalized downtown: Fomer city manager and economic development booster honored

Thirty years ago, when most Tacomans equated downtown with derelict buildings, criminal activity, and the flight of businesses, Erling O....

Thirty years ago, when most Tacomans equated downtown with derelict buildings, criminal activity, and the flight of businesses, Erling O. Mork saw something else. Mork envisioned a landmark sports dome bearing the city’s name; a major university campus housed in charming and historic warehouse buildings; a beautifully restored train depot welcoming city visitors; and a waterfront greenspace connecting the urban core to Point Defiance Park.

“Ten to 15 years ago, you could fire a bazooka down Pacific Avenue and hit pigeons,” said Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma, during a ceremony yesterday honoring Mork, a long-time community and business leader. “Today there is a university, hotel, museums, cafes, streetcar and people.”

Simply put, Baarsma credited Mork with saving downtown Tacoma. Along with Puget Sound Energy (PSE) President and CEO Steve Reynolds and Pierce County Executive John W. Ladenburg, Baarsma honored Mork by unveiling a natural gas streetlamp on the corner of 17th Street South and Commerce Street. The lamp, which also includes a plaque recognizing Mork’s “vision and leadership in building a more vibrant and vital Tacoma community” was part of PSE’s annual Pioneer Award program. Mork received the award in 2003. Because of nearby construction of the Carlton Center, University of Washington Tacoma, and the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, the lamp could only recently be installed.

Mork was Tacoma’s city manager from 1975 to 1990, and director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Council from 1990 to 1999. A Tacoma native, Mork played basketball at Lincoln High School and taught at the University of Puget Sound. He was a driving force behind construction of the Tacoma Dome, creation of University of Washington Tacoma, restoration of Union Station, and redevelopment of Ruston Way.

Pierce County Executive Ladenburg described Mork as visionary. “No Tacoma leader of the past 25 years has done as much as Mork,” he said.

Mork modestly accepted the praise. “Many people were involved in this,” he said. He thanked his wife and city employees for their support throughout his career.

Though he is retired, Mork still advises other cities on their redevelopment efforts.

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