Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma compared the Center for Urban Waters to the first hydroelectric dam on the Nisqually River, the Tacoma Water pipeline from the Green River watershed, the Click telecommunications network, and the University of Washington Tacoma campus.
“This is a transformational event,” Baarsma said Wednesday at a groundbreaking ceremony for the multipurpose lab planned for the east side of the Thea Foss Waterway.
Elected officials and dignitaries said Urban Waters will create new jobs by establishing Tacoma as a center for marine biotechnology, and serve as a focal point for cleaning up Puget Sound.
Speakers included U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, and his son David, who is executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership. The partnership was created to clean up the Puget Sound, and it will be among the tenants of the building.
The City of Tacoma also will use the $36.9 million building for its environmental services laboratory, and the University of Washington Tacoma will conduct research in lab space.
Professor Joel Baker came to the UWT from Maryland to head up the Port of Tacoma chair in environmental science. Baker said the lab will help scientists learn more about the new kinds of toxins polluting Puget Sound.
Jim Waldo, chairman of the Urban Waters board of directors, recounted the history behind the lab, which grew out of an idea to build a waterfront aquarium to attract tourists.
“Over the course of the last nine years, this project could easily have never happened,” Waldo said.
He credited the early work of people including Bill Philip, the retired Tacoma banker, Sara Long, a consultant for the City of Tacoma, and Ray Corpuz, the former Tacoma city manager.