Published on February 8th, 2015 | by Kristin Giordano


Why won’t landlords rent to artists? Creative placemaking as an economic tipping point

What does Tacoma need in order to become a more dynamic city that attracts and keeps creatives?

Armory interior

Interior of the Tacoma Armory at 715 S 11th. This massive space is now a venue for events booked through the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts.

How do we, as a community and as artists, tap into creative energy to transform our city into a more dynamic, economically vital place?

What do Tacoma artists and creatives need? Is it live/work lofts? Is it affordable studio space? Galleries? A cohesive arts district? If there were an arts district in Tacoma, where would it be? Hilltop? McKinley? The Dome District? The Nalley Valley?

Post Defiance kicked off the conversation about “creative placemaking” in January; let’s keep it going.

Creative Placemaking was the buzzword at the Creative Space Tacoma event at Post Hall on December 4, which brought speakers from Seattle and Minneapolis to present examples of successful arts development projects.


Interior of the old Tacoma City Hall on Commerce and S 7th. This historic building has sat empty for years.

A recurring topic of conversation at this event and at others I’ve attended over the years revolves around the perception that there is a lot of vacant space downtown that could be leased to creative businesses. One potential solution involves subsidizing artists and arts businesses as a form of economic stimulus or an engine for urban renewal.

So “why won’t landlords rent to artists?” questioned speaker Teri Deaver of the national arts development company Artspace.

1120 Downtown

The interior of one of Spaceworks newest locations, a co-working space downtown at 1120 Pacific Avenue.

At the event, we broke out into groups to delve deeper into Tacoma’s creative needs. I posed the same question — why won’t landlords rent to artists — to an architect at my table who replied, “because it doesn’t pencil out.” Meaning it, we, are not economically viable; it makes no economic sense to offer reduced rent to artists.

I brought this up to a Professor of Urban Studies and he noted that many buildings were purchased by outside investors who view them as just that, investments. They’re sitting on them hoping it will pay off. They have no real interest or involvement in the life of the city.

Local organization Spaceworks Tacoma has been working tirelessly to place creative businesses in vacant storefronts around downtown and Hilltop. Spaceworks is finding ways to make it “pencil out” by brokering workable leases for artists and creative business owners, and by building relationships with leasing agents and building owners.

Spaceworks helps to reinforce to building owners the value of developing an interest and involvement in the vitality of our city.

Could we be at a tipping point, is there enough forward momentum to achieve the creative economy we’ve been talking about?

I recently reminisced with a friend about all the changes that have taken place in Tacoma in the last decade, and it was heartening. Think about all the businesses on 6th Avenue, Pacific Avenue, MLK, and St. Helens that did not exist ten years ago. If you weren’t here at that time, trust me. It’s quite a long list.

creativespacetacomaI can think of no reason not to welcome an Artspace project in our city.

I highly encourage taking the Creative Placemaking online survey by February 9. Oh, and the first 400 people who respond get an original letterpress piece by local artist Jessica Spring.

Featured image: the main floor of the Tacoma Post Office Building. The Tacoma Post Office offers studio and office space to artists and small businesses.


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About the Author

Kristin Giordano is a photographer based in Tacoma. She has exhibited around the world from Abu Dhabi to Tacoma. Her recent series “Landscape and Transformation: Photographs of Doha, Qatar 2008-2010” was selected as a finalist in PhotoLucida’s Critical Mass portfolio contest, and a selection of her photographs was featured in the journal Guernica. Recent public art projects in Tacoma include the installation Charismatic Megafauna and the Spaceworks mural Humans, Join US!™

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