Asia center dreams big, deserves home
Apartments, condos, entertainment, dining and shopping are taking root at the Point Ruston mixed-use development, near Point Defiance Park. Will an ambitious Asian Pacific Cultural Center land there eventually?
Amid the champagne bars and boutique bistros, a center that honors the artistry and heritage of Americans from Asia and the Pacific Islands would be a nice fit for Point Ruston.
Condos, restaurants and movie theaters are all well and good. But the more history and culture that Point Ruston can blend in, the more the waterfront development will avoid any sense of high-density sterility.
Since 1996, the Asia Pacific Cultural Center has maintained the history and social practices of Asian countries in Tacoma. But finding a permanent and visible home hasn’t been easy.
In 2003, after three failed attempts to land a long-term residence, the APCC purchased the former Tacoma Art Museum building at 12th and Pacific for $1.26 million. But after two years of deficit spending, it had to sell. It now occupies a leased building on South Tacoma Way.
Connecting the cultural center to a blossoming mixed-use community like Point Ruston is a smart move, and might mean the difference between failure and success. The APCC’s previous $118 million plan went nowhere in 2011 when the city declined to give up land for the project.
Executive director Faaluaina Pritchard is nothing if not tenacious; she’s kept the dream alive and found an ally in Point Ruston developer Loren Cohen. He offered to donate 5 acres, but the pledge comes with caveats: The cultural center couldn’t compete directly with projects or businesses already established or envisioned at Point Ruston, and the center must first secure financing.
The conditions caused the APCC to scale back its original $94 million plan, one that included a movie theater, grocery store and 47 studios representing the breadth of Asian nations. But even the truncated $61 million version will be challenging, given that the group has yet to raise $1 million.
Right now it’s eyeing EB-5, a federal immigrant program that offers international investors a fast-track to permanent U.S. residency if they’ll plunk down $1 million on an urban development. It’s how Yareton Investment, a subsidiary of Shanghai Mintong Real Estate Co. Ltd, plans to finance 40 percent of a 22-story hotel planned for downtown Tacoma. But using EB-5 appears to be unprecedented for a non-profit like the APCC.
Public funding sources, such as the $200,000 offered by the Legislature and $75,000 from Pierce County, seem like symbolic gestures compared to the total price tag. Nor will state or corporate grants get them close.
Foreign investment may be the APCC’s only hope, especially considering the possibility of expensive environmental workarounds on some parts of the Point Ruston property, which was contaminated by the long-running Asarco smelter.
The former smelter, once named one of America’s ten worst toxic sites by the EPA, serves as an applicable metaphor. Point Ruston’s commercial success is proof that a poisonous past does not preclude a brighter future.
It’s no secret Asian Americans once faced hostility in the Pacific Northwest — particularly in Tacoma when, in 1885, a mob of 500 forcibly evicted Chinese residents from their homes. A similar expulsion happened in 1942, when Japanese Americans around the Puget Sound were forced into internment camps.
Cultural centers and monuments won’t exonerate this shameful past. But like Chinese Reconciliation Park on the Commencement Bay waterfront, they give the public a chance to reflect and celebrate Tacoma’s remarkable transnational character.
We hope the Asia Pacific Cultural Center finds a permanent, prominent home in Tacoma at last.
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