As a public park, Lincoln Park in Tacoma is a failure.

One of the oldest and largest neighborhood parks, the 128-year-old park is among the most unused in the city.

Now what if I told you the City of Tacoma has the blueprint, political will, and partners to transform part of this deserted 10-plus acres into a business venture that would:

  •   Raise poor Tacoma residents out of poverty with jobs and business ownership;
  •   Create new community wealth by keeping dollars usually spent out of the country in Tacoma;
  •   Jumpstart the City Council’s vision of Tacoma as a sustainable city; and
  •   Cut into greenhouse gas emissions?

Late last year, the City of Tacoma invited a Cleveland insider to inspire high-ranking representatives of so-called “anchor institutions.” In other words, organizations anchored to Tacoma — local government agencies like parks, health, and schools, plus hospitals, housing authority, foundations, community colleges, and universities.

Why? The City Council unanimously approved a resolution in April 2017 to convince anchor institutions to pool their innovative thinking, power, and resources for the benefit of Tacoma.

Like Cleveland did.

A few years ago, Cleveland recruited similar partners, who discovered that Clevelanders eat a lot of greens. And in the winter, when Cleveland’s average temperature hovers around freezing, stores import nearly all of their greens from South America.

So the C-Town partners created what has become Green City Growers. On a formerly blighted urban wasteland — exactly the size of Lincoln Park — you’ll find a 3.25-acre, high-tech, hydroponic, glass greenhouse growing lettuce varieties, basil, and specialty greens year-round on shallow pools of nutrient-rich water.

The grocery stores in Cleveland don’t have to spend their dollars on South American greens, and they get to avoid the environment-damaging effects of transporting lettuce 5,000 miles.

Better yet, Green City Growers employs roughly 40 hard-to-employ locals, some with nonviolent criminal records, and immigrants in family-wage jobs. And the workers can gain an ownership stake in the operation.

“Plain and simple, it works,” Ted Howard, a Clevelander, told Tacoma’s anchor institution representatives last September. Howard now serves as president and co-founder of The Democracy Collaborative, which provides research, support, and evangelism around this idea of institutions pooling their power for their communities.

So, what about T-Town?

Some of Tacoma’s lowest-income families live in the greater Lincoln region.

Does Tacoma have a market for tons of greens? You betcha. Beyond grocery stores, consider the anchor institutions themselves. Hospitals, schools, colleges, and universities buy tons of greens year-round. And if you want a larger market, recruit local restaurants.

One of Tacoma’s top chefs and restaurateurs, Gordon Naccarato of Pacific Grill, says he’s in: “It definitely would be cool to have a year-round local source also owned by locals.”

Need a training program? Lincoln High School already features “Abes Acres,” the city’s premier horticulture program that grows food on a small scale for locals in need. Students could work in the greenhouse for credit and learn the latest in high-tech, hydroponic farming techniques.

Get creative and pull in the Tacoma Housing Authority to build subsidized housing on-site for the low-income families who work there — to eliminate transportation costs.

Now, we just need the City of Tacoma to reconvene its anchor institutions to commit resources, apply for grant funding, and start turning dirt.

A 1903 article in the Tacoma Ledger described a bright future for Lincoln Park, quoting Parks Superintendent Ebenezer Roberts: “Altogether Lincoln Park, although common enough in Tacoma, to be sure would be the envy of almost any other city under the sun.”

As a park, that future never materialized. Let’s get on with a new chapter that will lead to a greater economic benefit for Tacomans than anyone ever imagined.