By Zachariah Bryan
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
For Patsy O’Connell, founder of the Asia Pacific Cultural Center in Tacoma, this project is a long time coming.
After nearly 20 years, she is hoping for a slam-dunk development that will leave an imprint not only in Tacoma, but in the whole Puget Sound Region. A new 390,000 square-foot campus complete with 200 units of housing, a cultural center, retail and a grocery store/food court something along the lines of Uwajamaya in the International District.
“I want to make sure that the Asia Pacific Cultural Center is as equal as the Tacoma Art Museum, history museum, or international glass museum,” O’Connel said. “It’s important that we share, show, using the five senses. … How great would it be for other countries to know that America really embraces the immigrants and Asia Pacific people?
The project would be situated alongside Point Ruston, an under-construction waterfront neighborhood that will feature condominiums, apartments, a waterfront promenade, a nine-screen theater, dining, shopping and more. Ideally, the APCC would add a meaningful cultural flair to the $1 billion development.
APCC leaders noted all the regional benefits of the proposed project: It will attract tourists (400,000 a year, O’Connell says), create hundreds of construction and permanent jobs, create sales tax revenue through its grocery store, add to local entertainment through cultural performances, and help close the achievement gap for people of color through various youth programs.
And don’t forget the center’s most popular event, the Lunar New Year celebration, which already attracts thousands of people each year (9,000 this year) and which promises to attract even more in a bigger, more prominent space.
But, on the simplest level, the expansion would provide much needed space for the cultural center, which is currently feeling squeezed in its current location in South Tacoma. Currently, the space is too small or awkward for the number of educational, cultural, and language programs — as well as rental and resource services — that APCC offers.
“It is a good space for us, in this few years, but then what? It is far too small for the mission we developed and the vision that we own,” said Belinda Louie, vice president of the APCC board.
And certainly, the APCC is full to the brim with activities. Through partnerships with schools, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and other organizations, APCC offers a variety of educational, cultural and language programs throughout the year. It also provides rental space, acts as a resource center and throws on a popular Lunar New Year celebration with a different “host country” every year. This year, the Lunar New Year celebration was hosted by Pakistan and attracted 9,000 people.
Simply put, says Louie, “The timing is right, the place is right, the people right,” for a new home.
The problem? Well, money. The proposed APCC campus comes with a fairly steep price tag: $87 million.
APCC Executive Director Lua Pritchard says APCC will tap into the EB5 foreign investment program, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Washington State Department of Commerce, the Legislative Capital Budget, the Pierce County Development Block Grant, corporate sponsors, private foundations, and community fundraising.
But first comes the price of the land. There’s no ink to the deal yet, but the leaders at APCC and the developers at Point Ruston have had friendly conversations. To make O’Connell’s dream become a reality, APCC needs to come up with $5 million to purchase four acres of land owned by the Point Ruston developers, Mike and Loren Cohen, which the organization hopes to achieve during this legislative session in Olympia.
Pritchard says the project has the support of the 27th District legislators in Tacoma. “We are praying and working hard to make sure our project makes it into that (final budget) cut,” she said.
After they get the money to buy the land, O’Connell says, the floodgates for donors will open.
“If we do our due diligence and are able to have the land, we are able to go forward,” she said, “but right now we don’t have the land and there are people waiting to commit themselves.”
This is not the first time that the APCC has tried to find a permanent home. The organization looked into constructing a three-story, 381,000 square-foot building in downtown Tacoma in 2011 and, several years before that, it looked into the old bank building on Pacific Avenue which used to house the Tacoma Art Museum.
Originally, O’Connell wanted to turn the key for the new APCC building on the organization’s 20th anniversary, but she noted that was just one year away.
“Time is running out,” she said, stating that she is getting older and many other immigrants are also getting older.
She wants the center to be completed so that the history of immigrants — whether they be from China, Korea, Japan, Hawaii, Pakistan, India or any of the 47 countries that the APCC represents — can be preserved.
Despite the urgency that she feels, she appears comfortable taking things one step at a time.
“I always think optimistically,” she said, “that if I talk to one person who didn’t know about this project, and I can convince him that it’s important for our next generation, then I did my share.” (end)
Zachariah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com.