Renewing Freighthouse Square

// Efforts are ramping up to revitalize what was once an iconic Tacoma landmark

When Tamara Clammer escaped the cornfields of Illinois in 1987 and moved to the Tacoma area, one of the first stops she made was to the local landmark Freighthouse Square. “It was like walking into a new world for me,” she said. “The building itself was so interesting, and I couldn’t even pronounce some of the names of the food in the food court. There was not a lot of culture back where I’m from, so Freighthouse Square was overwhelming to me in the best possible way.”

Now a Seattle resident, when Clammer thinks of Tacoma, the first thing that comes to mind is Freighthouse Square and the vivid memories she made there years ago – and she is certainly not alone. But during a visit last January, Clammer was distraught by the lack of activity in the colorful, once-vibrant building she remembered.

Clammer, in her position as a “Doer” for Seattle-based Brown Paper Tickets, is paid to help advance projects that contribute to the growth and development of the local arts community. She was inspired to focus her efforts on reinvigorating what once was one of her favorite attractions in the area.

“It wasn’t the vibrant place I remembered from before,” she said. “I wanted to find a way to do something that would give people a reason to come here.”

After sitting down with Freighthouse Square on-site manager Lonee Peschon, the two brainstormed ideas to help stimulate growth and renewed interest in all the facility has to offer. The result: the first Interactive Community Arts Network (I CAN!) celebration, which took place March 31 and is set to be an annual event. The event is designed to spur interest in this iconic Tacoma attraction by bringing together artists, musicians, performers and local movers and shakers to introduce Freighthouse Square to a new audience.

“We’re not trying to get people in the doors just to sell them something,” Clammer said. “This event is about giving people a reason to come back here and rediscover Freighthouse Square.”

The event attracted families from all over, and featured music by Shyan Selah, Jason Kertson, Heidi Stoermer, magic by Just Sage, a variety of workshops, an appearance by the Dockyard Derby Dames and much more.

“These very talented artists and performers from our local community have banded together to create an event that should motivate families to come out and have fun, be inspired and shop locally,” said Mayor Marilyn Strickland. “I CAN! is an example of the change happening in Tacoma residents’ thinking and behavior to ‘go local.’”

Freighthouse Square was built as the westernmost stop for the Milwaukee Railroad, and has been an iconic Tacoma landmark for more than a century. The structure is three city blocks long, five stories tall, and home to a diverse community of locally owned food vendors, artists, merchants and small businesses. Two restaurants, The Boxcar Grill and Seasonal Delights Café, have reopened since January.

Peschon is happy with the turnout from the event, and has already seen an influx in leasing inquiries. “The phone calls have started coming in, so the event did open some eyes to what we have to offer,” she said. “We also spoke with some musicians who want to be a part of Freighthouse Square and play on a regular basis here, so a lot of great things came out of this event.”

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