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Originally published April 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 11, 2007 at 2:27 PM

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James Vesely / Times editorial page editor

Tacoma's four T's for the region

Glimmers of a region trying to fulfill itself come from all corners of Puget Sound, this time from Tacoma, where an initiative...

Glimmers of a region trying to fulfill itself come from all corners of Puget Sound, this time from Tacoma, where an initiative to merge imagination and academia into a creative combination has started.

In Tacoma and Greater Pierce County, "arts technology ecosystem" is being used, as well as other phrases of the millennium, to construct a newer version of how that city and its booming suburbs — reaching into Southeast King County — can think about the future. Recently, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber invited to town urban guru Richard Florida, author of "The Rise of the Creative Class," and its supplement, "Cities and the Creative Class." They worked on the vision thing, producing something the region should examine as a thoughtful exercise, part intellectual, part practical.

Clearly, the city is trying to reinvent itself. Astonishingly for Seattle and Bellevue residents, Tacoma offers a 10-year property-tax abatement for anyone living downtown.

David Graybill, president and CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, reports that this tax abatement stems from a state law of the 1990s that allows cities of more than 30,000 to excuse some residents of all taxes. In Tacoma, if you own property downtown, you are exempt from all property taxes for state, schools and city for a decade. The result, said Graybill, is the migration into downtown Tacoma of people living in some 1,400 apartments and condos. From a city core that had mostly low-income residents, the projected downtown residential units in the pipeline are another 1,800 — which will exceed Tacoma's target of 2,000 living units by 2010.

Florida offered four points that can be applied to any city, Tacoma to theTri-Cities:

• Talent: innovators, thinkers and doers who contribute to the regional economy.

Tolerance: inclusiveness and active acceptance of people from all walks of life.

Technology: investments in innovation and cutting-edge technology.

Territorial assets: unique features of regions that act as magnets for talent.

We'll forgive them the excessive alliteration and concentrate instead on the insights of the four T's. While "tolerance" is rarely described as an asset to a region, clearly it must be. Intolerance is going to keep out the creative class, or it will come in and change it anyway. That struggle can put a community back decades and limit its ability to function creatively. Racial intolerance, especially, can kill a city and a region quicker than a duck flies.

And while two other T's are obvious, "territorial assets" fits this region to a "T." Tacoma, Pierce County, Bainbridge Island, Bremerton all must be considered part of a regional dynamic that feeds into the larger pool. If we can reach to Everett for inclusion in regional issues, we can reach to Gig Harbor.

Asked what makes Tacoma's future rosy, Randy Balogh, a director at the city's major philanthropic organization, quickly said, "neighborhoods, which are unique ... and ready to blossom."

OK, I buy that, but neighborhoods are creatures of a greater city, and while Tacoma's downtown looks pretty good compared with 10 years ago, it must reach for the sidewalk vitality of a Portland, Bellevue and Seattle.

In the category of "talent," the city is including a representative of the University of Washington-Tacoma to put local artists online for sales and promotion. Artists = lofts = downtown.

Will all this work? Nobody knows, but regional aspirations are contagious.

Learn more:

• For the full report, www.creativetacoma.com

• "Cities and the Creative Class," by Richard Florida (Routledge).

• Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, www.tacomafoundation.org

James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: jvesely@seattletimes.com

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