Tall order: Getting Tacoma ready for Tall Ships Festival

The Tall Ships Festival – featuring the Lady Washington and other grand international sailing vessels – is coming to Tacoma next summer.

Before then, however, the city and others involved have a lot of work to do to prepare for the spectacular event that is expected to lure 15 to 30 tall ships and draw as many as 400,000 visitors over the Fourth of July 2005 weekend.

Event organizers appeared at Tuesday’s City Council study session to provide some details and ask for city support.

Clare Petrich, president of the Port of Tacoma Commission, called herself and her colleagues “tall ship junkies” who have viewed tall ship events across the nation and Canada.

“We are learning from our neighbors,” she said. “We are learning from our friends across the country.”

Petrich said next year’s Tall Ships Festival is important to Tacoma because it celebrates the city’s maritime heritage. “It’s a huge history I don’t think we celebrate enough,” she observed.

Shipboard educational experiences, tours and related maritime adventures will be part of the event. In addition, museums, theaters, galleries, piers and parks will offer similar-themed activities. That will have the added benefit of training at-youth risk, Petrich noted.

Hosting an international event such as the Tall Ships Festival will raise Tacoma’s international profile, she said, and perhaps lure other world-class events to the city.

Doug Miller, executive director of the Tacoma Events Commission and a former member of the Tacoma City Council, agreed, saying he hoped the Tall Ships Festival would benefit the city’s other attractions for a long time to come.

The Tall Ships Festival would be a grand way to unveil the city’s downtown renaissance and renewal of the Thea Foss Waterway.

“We’re real excited about what that’s going to look like down Ruston Way into Commencement Bay,” he said of local waters being filled with tall ships.

“It’s relatively new for events like this to visit the Pacific Northwest,” he pointed out.

And officials plan to take full advantage of the expected economic windfall generated by the event. Assuming every person spends $69 at the Tall Ships Festival – the average amount spent per visitor – the event would bring in $27.6 million.

Increased media coverage of the event could generate an additional $6.9 million in spending in the area over the next five years, Miller said.

Organizers asked the City Council for a loan of up to $1 million to build a pier and other berthing space needed to moor large sailing vessels – including some up to 300 feet long – in the Thea Foss Waterway.

“This is an important ingredient,” said Don Meyer, executive director of the Foss Waterway Development Authority.

Plans call for construction of a 185-foot pier and other berthing facilities to accommodate the ships. The pier on Dock Street is expected to cost about $300,000, he said, while the driving of pilings and rental of floating moorage barges would cost about $700,000.

These facilities would have a long-term use beyond the Tall Ships Festival, he told the council.

Mayor Bill Baarsma directed city staff to look for ways to find the money, but pointed out it would be hard to find and said the cash would only be lent based on promises of a revenue stream from the festival to pay it back.

Council members appeared to agree that the money should not come from the general fund.

The 2005 Tall Ships Festival is part of the American Sail Training Association’s Pacific Tall Ships Challenge.

The tall ship fleet will assemble in Tacoma next summer following a trans-Pacific race from Japan to Victoria, British Columbia. It will coincide with the city’s annually Freedom Fair event celebrating Independence Day.

What: Tall Ships Festival 2005
Where: Thea Foss Waterway
When: June 30 – July 5, 2005
More info: Call 253/284-3277 or
visit www.TallshipsTacoma.com