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Branding Tacoma

Local developer Blaine Johnson wants to re-brand his city.

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A consortium of developers, city officials and other Tacoma boosters has announced a re-invigorated re-branding effort that endeavors to tell the world why it really is a good idea to live in Tacoma. Though no official artwork, slogans or jingles have been generated, the people involved say the message will be clear — if you’re not impressed, you don’t know what’s happened here.

Local business owners and city officials have been talking about a coordinated effort to re-brand the city for about a year now, says local developer Blaine Johnson. “America’s No. 1 Wired City” has grown stale, he says, and no longer tells the story that needs to be told.

Moving forward, slogans such as “Discover Tacoma” will have to be supplemented with real stories of real things that have happened here. Slogans are useful, says Johnson, but don’t really do much to dispel worn out perceptions of the city or provide people who don’t live here with any reason to think that Tacoma has evolved.

“The natural direction beyond ‘Discover Tacoma’ is to tell people just how many tangible things have happened here — a sort of then and now sort of thing,” says Johnson. We need to change the sort of blighted, negative image that emerged after the (Tacoma) Mall was built.”

Beyond the need to update the city’s image lies a distinct need to invite people to consider buying from Tacoma’s inventory of condominiums, which will become increasingly harder to sell as the local housing market declines and news of a national recession spooks potential buyers. Johnson emphasizes that the vested interest is only part of organizers’ motivation, and that more residents will help breathe life into the community in a way that big corporations don’t.

The campaign will begin with a Tacoma condominium tour, which will invite Seattle-area residents down to consider living in more affordable homes in a town with a significantly lower cost of living. The tour will be preceded by more than 700 ads on KIRO Radio, AM 710, streaming Internet commercials. The ad campaign will culminate in a two-day tour of local condo offerings April 19 and 21. The tour will  include trips through nearly a dozen condo communities. It will begin at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, where Tacoma residents will toot the city’s horn and tell visitors why it’s worth a look.

“I’m still disappointed when I run into people who say ‘I never go downtown. I have no reason to,’” says Johnson. “I always ask them ‘Have you been there lately?’ Usually they say ‘No.’ That’s our challenge — to break the perception that its still a war zone down here. Tacoma’s revitalization isn’t a daydream any more.”

America’s No. 1 Wired City? Not exactly.

Though the slogan has been Tacoma’s claim to fame for years, the city really hasn’t earned the title — at least not when it comes to percentage of Internet users with high speed access, range of service providers and availability of wireless hotspots. Based on those criteria, America’s No. 1 wired city is Atlanta, Ga., according to a recent report from Forbes Magazine.

Measuring Tacoma’s so-called Internet penetration is difficult insofar as it is measured by big research companies such as Nielsen and Scarborough Research in conjunction with Seattle, which inflates our numbers.

Tacoma’s assertion that it is “America’s No. 1 Wired City” is an arbitrary one made by city officials who wanted to tout their accomplishments in creating one of the nation’s largest, publicly-owned telecommunications infrastructures, which included upstart Internet pipeline the Click! Network. Tacoma was included recently, as part of Seattle/Tacoma, as one of the nations top five blogging cities in a report from Scarborough Research.

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