Dave Rowlands was a decorated tank commander during World War II. A graduate of Westminster College and the University of Chicago, he was Tacoma city manager from 1956 to 1969, when he left to take a similar position in Huntington Beach, Calif. After leaving that city some years later, he spent three years as visiting professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy at California State University in Long Beach before returning to Tacoma in 1987. Today at 85, Rowlands looks back on a rewarding career and, in this installment of Q&A, one of the elder statesmen of city management provides his perspective on issues that confront his hometown.
Q: What were a few of your major objectives as Tacoma city manager when you came aboard?
A: One of my main objectives was to restore much of the city’s infrastructure, which had deteriorated over the years. The sewers were in trouble, and we needed separation of sanitary and storm sewers, development of new treatment plants and bridges. Ruston Way development also began in the ’60s. It was a time for reconstruction, developing street plans and the urban renewal program.
Q: What have been Tacoma’s major accomplishments since you left your job here?
A: There have been several. The Sheraton Hotel is one. The state historical society has done a nice job down near Union Station on Pacific Avenue. The University of Washington development was long overdue and so was the elimination of more pockets of decay along lower Pacific Avenue, so I think there has been a good effort to alleviate some of these problems. There is a good attitude in town today, and further development seems to be inevitable.
Q: What kind of development do you expect in Tacoma?
A: I think downtown is going to continue to be the commercial-economic center with more people moving downtown in much the way they do in the European cities.
I would not be averse to building on top of the parking garages downtown. Their foundations were built with that in mind, but it’s never been done. Then, new individual stores can be built around them to accommodate this new increase in humanity.
I think all of this will add to the vigor and vitality of downtown. And that will complement the commercial development. There will be more activity downtown. It’s inevitable over the next 10 years.
During the 1980s, a renaissance of downtown Tacoma was proclaimed when the Sheraton came in along with a few other developments. Then, the renaissance stopped. How can Tacoma avoid losing the momentum it has today?
I think by just a good program of bargaining.
The Tacoma Narrows Airport has been badly overlooked. That airport should be attracting light industry right now. Those businesses could be tied into downtown development.
The fact that Tacoma has an airport to accommodate corporate jets and modern entrepreneurs should be aggressively competed. The airport should be emphasized. Tacoma can’t back down. There are certain positions where you have to stand up and forthright and let the chips fall where they may. The bottom line is you have to make tough decisions.
Q: Is Tacoma overlooking anything in your opinion that could attract more business and people downtown?
A: We should bring back the covered escalades we had in the 1960s that brought pedestrians from Pacific Avenue up to Commerce Street and then to Broadway. They could be shut down during the late evening and restarted again the next morning. The escalades were put in for a purpose and they were well-received. When you get older, it’s a tough task to walk up the hills downtown. If they want to bring people back downtown, that’s my suggestion. It just makes sense.
Q: If Tacoma and Pierce County could attract one major company or industry in the next year, what should it be?
A: Pharmaceutical companies would be the ideal businesses.
They are involved in digital cybernetics and other technologies that this area is trying to attract. We’re wired and we’re ready for them. We have a good labor force here already. They would just be ideal.
Government, business and the schools must get together so we can prepare the employees for the jobs ahead. I think this is going to be a big revolution over the next 10 years. It’s absolutely vital.
Get the programs developed, then get on with it. Get it moving along.
There are too many meetings. You can meet and meet and meet forever. Come to conclusions, then go for it.
Q: What is Tacoma doing right?
A: The key is the Economic Development Board. It has the contacts, including the Port. For Tacoma to develop, the EDB must continue to develop.
Q: Does the South Sound need more high-tech or conventional business?
A: It has to be cognizant of both. Looking ahead sometimes means looking back, too.
The 19th Century was the Agrarian Age. The 20th Century was the Industrial Revolution. The 21st Century is the Technological Age.
You can’t ignore that. You want to prepare for it—maybe with certain non-polluting industries. But I think it should be a balanced approach. You don’t want an industry in here that will be in conflict with another. We need industries that are compatible.
Q: What business or industry do we absolutely need here?
A: High-tech. We need more high-tech industry than any other. We also can use our electrical supply and water supply to attract companies that can use them. We have a lot of available industry that is important in attracting new industry.
Q: Are their any basic changes in the way Tacoma should operate that could free-up money for other more cost-effective needs? If so, what are they.
A: The Metropolitan Parks system should be eliminated and brought under direct city control like public works or anything else. Second, Tacoma can’t afford Northwest Trek. Northwest Trek is too far from Tacoma to be our responsibility. I hope someone or a group will take that over.
Q: San Francisco has cable cars. Seattle has its monorail. What could Tacoma develop as a clever attraction?
A: I’ve always thought that a couple of old English double-decker buses would work very well in that role. They would be great for taking people out to Point Defiance or on tours of the city.
Q: Should the city attempt to work with the LeMay Auto Museum, which reportedly has four of the English double-decker buses right now?
A: “It would be just great if we could use one or two of them! It would lend a vitality to downtown that downtown badly needs!. The city has to be thinking of things like this.
Q: What is this area of the country lacking that other areas of the country already have?
A: Earthquake insurance! We can’t buy it here, and when the next major earthquake comes along, it could wipe all of us out. It makes absolutely no sense for earthquake insurance not to be available to everyone who wants to buy it.
Q: We need our legislators to get with the insurance companies and work this out.
A: You can buy tornado and flood insurance in the Midwest, why can’t you buy earthquake insurance in an area of the country that is prone to earthquakes?
Q: How will Tacoma have changed 10 years from now?
A: “We’re going to see more development downtown, especially by the influx of new housing. We’re going to have more speciality shops and restaurants. I think transit will make it possible to move about easier—down to Ruston Way, for example, and other places of action here. As we get more housing downtown, there will be a need for more retail stores to accommodate this increase in humanity.