Tacoma City Council pushes to save Wash. State History Museum

Tacoma City Council approved a resolution Tuesday that strongly supports keeping downtown Tacoma’s Washington State History Museum open.

On Dec. 15, Gov. Chris Gregoire unveiled a proposed biennium budget that would save $5.2 million by closing the history museums in Tacoma and Spokane, eliminating state-funded education programs and outreach activities through state historical societies, and providing “skeleton staffing” to oversee facilities and collections. The move is part of a larger effort to close a $4.6 billion shortfall.

The resolution was introduced by Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who argues the museum, which opened in 1996, draws 105,000 people annually, is the anchor of Tacoma’s museum district, enhances Tacoma’s ability to attract conventions, and supports local retailers who have invested in small businesses. “It contributes to the economic, cultural, and educational vitality of Tacoma,” wrote Mayor Strickland in documents supporting the resolution, and “is a massive archive of Washington State history, making it like no other history museum in the Pacific Northwest. [It] is a showcase of our collective heritage, plays a key role in educating the City’s youth with extraordinary exhibits, and is a key link in the latest revitalization of downtown Tacoma. [It also] maintains a permanent exhibit of Pacific Northwest history and supports local retailers who have invested in small businesses, making it an immense contributor to the economic, cultural, and educational vitality of Tacoma.”

During city council’s meeting Tuesday, several councilmembers spoke on behalf of the resolution and keeping the museum open. Here are some of their comments.


I did want to bring forth a Resolution to make sure that it was loudly and clearly understood in Olympia we want to keep our history museum open in Tacoma. In the grand scheme of things with the budget situation, some people may not think a museum is as high a priority as other needs, but for us in Tacoma, this is really one of the pillars of our museum and university district. It helps small businesses who made investments in Tacoma. And it also keeps our downtown vibrant. And at this point, I hope we can work with our delegation in Olympia and people who represent other parts of the state to really make sure that this stays open. It’s not just Tacoma’s museum. It’s the state’s museum. It’s an educational institution. It’s a history institution, and something very, very valuable to all of us.


Many people say, ‘Well, it’s just a museum.’ But . . . as a business owner in that area, [I] have really seen firsthand the impact it has made on attracting and keeping businesses. Many of the small merchants along there would echo that people going to and from the museum definitely stop in their shops and spend money. As we were reading through this, I was remembering one of the times I was in the history museum was for my step-daughter’s wedding, and that it holds more of an aspect in our city than just a museum. It’s also a place where many people have celebrated weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and other special moments. And they’re able to do it right on our front doorstep, and that’s so important. And it’s just so good to see so many — the chamber, the downtown merchant’s group, the city — standing up and saying, ‘This is important, and we need to fight for this.’


I know citizens at home could be saying, ‘It’s the Washington State History Museum. What does it have to do with Tacoma? And why should I support it?’ Not only does it benefit our downtown core and . . . complements our museum district, but the Washington State History Museum employs people who live in the city. It also offers a wide variety of opportunities for citizens to come into the museum, even though it’s a Washington State History Museum. On Thursday nights, it’s open . . . during the art walk so people can go in for free to the museum. They offer tons of programming and educational opportunities — not just for schools across the state, but for our schools and teachers right here. So Tacoma benefits greatly from this museum and would lose a lot if that museum was to close. I’m going to support this resolution tonight, as I’m sure most of us will, but [I think] it’s so important for us to send the message to Olympia that it is important. The Washington State History Museum has a tag line that says, ‘History is not for wimps.’ And it’s not. And neither are times like this, when we need to stand up and fight for things like the history museum to remain open.


I think when you look at the city, especially on the east side of Pacific Avenue, and realize that between South 21st Street and South 15th Street, there are very few establishments. I mean, there’s the history museum, [and the] Federal courthouse, Tacoma Art Museum, and the Sprague building, which has United Way and the soon-to-be Children’s Museum. So in a four-block stretch, that’s — you know, four, five institutions, of which I think the Tacoma Art Museum, the Children’s Museum and the Washington State History Museum are the most retail-, pedestrian-, and consumer-friendly. And to see it be shuttered would be a step backwards for all of the development that’s happened in our city. And so, I’m glad this is forward. I also echo Council Member Campbell’s concerns. I think this is an opportunity, also, to assess from an urban design standpoint, making sure it can be all it can be. Not only for the museum, for its retail components, but also for how it connects to the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, so I strongly support this.


I think it was probably about six months ago I had the occasion to visit with [David] Nicandri, who is the executive director of the museum. We were talking about state funding and budget cuts and what the prospects look like. You know, there’s a lot of tough decisions to be made. We’ve had to make tough decisions. But I think the difference here, if it was strictly a museum and there wasn’t the kind of dynamics around it, I think it would be a harder sell for me to support this. But this is central to the revitalization of downtown Tacoma, and it’s kind of symbolic. And we already, unfortunately, have, like many companies, empty buildings, empty storefronts, and I think this would have a great psychological effect if this was to close.

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For earlier Tacoma Daily Index coverage, click on the following links:

Tacoma Mayor’s resolution aims to keep Washington State History Museum open (01/03/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1901532&more=0

Is History Museum History? Governor’s budget proposal would close state museum in Tacoma (12/15/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1893567&more=0