Last Thursday evening, April 20th, we hosted our monthly Chamber After Hours at Wane + Flitch in Tacoma! It was an exciting night of networking and our business community was given an inside look at how Wane + Flitch creates their beautiful custom live edge wood furniture pieces. Thank you to everyone who came out and made this such a fun night! We hope to see you at the next After Hours!
Where can you go to mail a package, find great happy hour deals, get a tattoo, rent office space, and experience a live DJ performance inside an old courtroom? In Tacoma, you can do all those things and more in just one building.
Court House Square is a hub of Downtown Tacoma, bringing people together for working, shopping, dining, and community events. But before it was this, it was built as Tacoma’s first federal building in 1910. In the time since, it has served many important functions to the citizens of Tacoma, most notably as a federal courthouse and post office.
Listen to Court House Square Director Jessica Johnston share her business journey and vision for the
historic space on the latest episode of Making It in the South Sound.
In 1990, the federal courts moved from the building to Union Station. For nearly 35 years, the top three floors of the building were completely sealed and unused. Throughout this transitory period, the post office remained active and open. In fact, this post office location has been connecting the Tacoma community to the rest of the world through the mail for the past 113 years. This may be why, to this day, many residents refer to the building as “The Old Post Office.” But these days, there is so much more than a post office that one can find in the historic structure now known as Court House Square.
The building was purchased by its current owners in 2012 with the idea to bring it back to life and make it once again a hub for the community. Since 2019, Jessica Johnston has served as the director for Court House Square and is leading the effort to bring this historic building back to life. Johnston’s relationship with Court House Square began as a tenant renting space for her bookkeeping and marketing business. Her background includes a mixture of property development, architecture, interior design, and restaurant and event management. Like many in the area, she visited the building to mail a letter and was surprised to see all the space had to offer in addition to being a post office location. When her predecessor left, she put her hat in the ring for the job of director and has been managing the day-to-day operations of Court House Square ever since.
Today, the 78,000-square-foot space boasts a wide variety of around 60 tenants. These include two restaurants, a coffee shop, three event centers, a coworking space, and, of course, the post office. Additional businesses and services include tattoo studios, therapy offices, accounting practices, writers, and branding consultants. On top of all this, Court House Square is frequently booked for both private and public events like weddings, graduations, birthday parties, and community markets.
One such event, created and led by Jessica Johnston, is “Businesswomen of Tacoma Table Talk,” a community event featuring female business leaders in Tacoma. These events are free and open to the public to gather, celebrate, and discuss women in business in Tacoma. Since the first of these table talks kicked off featuring Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber President/CEO Andrea Reay last summer, they have been a frequent and popular event for Court House Square.
Looking toward the future, Johnston says she is most excited to host more in-person events and gatherings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. She states that her favorite part of her job is seeing her tenants’ businesses thrive under the roof of Court House Square. All of this, she shares, is working towards the goal of making Court House Square once again a lively community space.
“It’s very interesting how it was built to be a hub for the community for different reasons, but now we’re revitalizing it, reusing it in a different way, and repurposing it so we all can still come in and enjoy it. I think it’s a lasting landmark that we’ll always have,” says Johnston.
This Member Feature story is part of a series by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber to promote stronger connections and increased engagement between the Chamber, its members, and the local business community. Member stories are non-promotional opportunities to share members' business stories with the community. If you are a Chamber member interested in being featured for a story, please contact Digital Marketing Manager Audrey Widner at email@example.com
Washington State Legislative Session Update
The legislative session is now down to the final few weeks; lawmakers are turning their attention to the state budget, and we are watching closely. Neither proposal (House or Senate) includes a major tax increase, and both would slow the rate of budget growth.
E2SHB 1110 was approved by the Senate Ways & Means Committee last week on a tight 13 to 11 vote. The amendment as passed by the committee would require cities with a population of at least 25,000 but less than 75,000 to allow the development of at least two units per lot on all lots zoned for single-family residential use. The previous version of the bill was 4 units per single-family lot for those cities. Most of these cities already allow 2 units per lot and the bill allows an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to meet the requirement. The new bill also requires the development of at least 4 units per lot on all lots single-family zoned residential lots within one-quarter mile walking distance of a major transit stop; and the development of at least 4 units per lot on all single-family lots if at least one unit is affordable housing. HB 1110 is now on the Senate floor calendar awaiting to be put to a full vote of the Senate; the bill must advance out of the Senate by Wednesday. Middle housing is a priority for legislative Democrats and Governor Inslee so passage seems likely but has not been as easy as many had anticipated given the diverse impact on many cities. AWC participated in a press conference last week lending its support.
E2SSB 5536, concerning the State Supreme Court’s Blake decision and the possession of counterfeit drugs and controlled substances was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on a straight party-line vote. The House versions (both the Community Safety and Appropriations Committee striking amendments) of the bill classify the offense of possession of a controlled substance and possession of a counterfeit substance as misdemeanors, rather than gross misdemeanors as the bill that passed the Senate did. The House Appropriations Committee approved a new version of the bill that encourages prosecutors to divert applicable drug offenses for assessment, treatment, or other services through a recovery navigator program (RNP).
E2SSB 5536 has been referred to the House Rules Committee and we understand a new version is being worked on. It is expected the House will consider this next version when it’s put to a full vote on the House so as to address the diversion issues. A main difference between where the Senate and where the House bill is heading is possession being a gross misdemeanor or misdemeanor.
Police Vehicular Pursuits
ESB 5352, permitting peace officers to engage in a vehicular pursuit only when there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a person in the vehicle has committed certain violent crimes received no action last week. The current law is “probable cause” for a lesser number of crimes. ESB 5352 remains in the House Rules Committee since March 29. One issue that seemingly has the bill high-centered is whether to include police pursuits for property crimes and, within that especially, auto theft. However, there seems to be enough opposition in the D caucus to this approach to make it tenuous for the Speaker to bring it to the floor for a full vote.
Update: The proposed measure passed the House chamber with a 57-40 vote in the early morning hours Tuesday, April 11th. The bill will now return to the Senate.
Last Friday morning, March 31st, we held our quarterly West Side Wakeup event at Boathouse 19 in Tacoma. Over 40 members of our West Side business community joined us at this breakfast event for lively networking and local updates. Speakers included Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber CEO/President Andrea Reay, Boathouse 19 general manager John Little, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber West Side board member Misty Harris, American Cancer Society Sr. Development Manager Julia Auve, and City of University Place Business Outreach Liaison Becky Metcalf.
Thank you to everyone who woke up bright and early to join us for this event! It was a pleasure to convene and connect with the business leaders and neighbors who make our West Side so amazing.
Join us for the next West Side Wakeup on May 26th, 2023, from 8:30-9:30am.
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