Why is Seattle trying to sack Tacoma?

The bidding war over Frank Russell Investments is a classic illustration of greed overcoming regional planning.
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Frank Russell Investments world headquarters in Tacoma

The bidding war over Frank Russell Investments is a classic illustration of greed overcoming regional planning.

Have you noticed the bidding war between Seattle and Tacoma over Frank Russell Investments? The company, which is an anchor of downtown Tacoma, asked for the best bids from the two cities to be in a few days ago. Right at deadline, Tacoma sweetened the offer again, throwing in 330 parking spaces. The B&O tax break, for instance, would amount to $56 million long term.

For a while in this drama, downtown Seattle property owners and the Downtown Seattle Association held off bidding. An old code of honor stipulates that Puget Sound cities don't bid against each other this way, since the goal is to keep the company here (as opposed to Tennessee, say), not to let local companies play one city off against the other. That code didn't survive the Great Recession (or the Great WaMu implosion), leaving all those vacancies in downtown Seattle.

No one seems to object, so I will. Not just on the obvious grounds of discouraging these kind of stick-ups, but also on regional planning grounds. The regional growth strategy, duly adopted and worshiped (at least verbally), is supposed to foster growth in metropolitan centers, particularly Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, and Tacoma. The point is to have several such centers, with residential growth alongside, so as to improve the job-housing balance — not to make everyone commute for 75 minutes to Seattle.

There's more. Tacoma's housing and cultural renaissance is coming along nicely, thanks to two big Medicis (the U.W. and Congressman Norm Dicks). Is it good policy to have the town crater like this and have to scramble for replacement companies? (It's taken decades for downtown Tacoma to recover from Weyerhaeuser's exodus to Federal Way, and these blows have a huge and lasting effect on a smallish city.) Also, is a Seattle raid of this sort a good way to make regional friends? Instead, it just revives the resentments (fully justified in this case) that Seattle grabs more than its fair regional share — and regularly pays the penalty in the Legislature.

If you were naive, you would think some leading regionalists would be protesting. One thinks of Bob Drewell, head of the Puget Sound Regional Council. Or Gene Duvernoy, head of the Cascade Land Conservancy and its 100-year plan the Cascade Agenda. Or Greg Nickels, head of the Sound Transit board. Or David Dicks, head of the Puget Sound Partnership. Or Gov. Gregoire. Or the Quality Growth Alliance, newly formed to combat global warming through smart growth, but laden with developers and their attorneys.

See the point? Just to run through that list is to understand how captive all these people are by major Seattle interests. There won't be a peep of protest. These are tough times, not times for silly old things like regional plans.


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