How Point Ruston went from one of the most polluted places in America to ‘Tacoma’s back yard’

TACOMA, Wash. – One of the Northwest’s crown jewels sits atop what was once one of the more polluted sites in the United Staes.

Point Ruston is a waterfront village within a larger community that is drawing people from throughout Pierce Couny. The site was a copper smelter dating back to the turn of the 20th Century.

Loren Cohen, the site’s developer, said he grew up playing the Sim City video games.

“Here you have this opportunity with a true blank slate,” Cohen said. “It’s 100 acres with a mile of waterfront.

“It’s just like Sim City. We’re getting to really live our dream down here.”

The city within a city has sprung to life, with condos, shops, restaurants and bars now spread down the waterfront.

"This was one of the world’s largest smelters," Cohen said. "It was at one point producing 25 percent of the world’s copper."

It also left behind toxic soil, creating a Superfund site that took years to clean up. Now the property is booming back to life.

Ip Nguyen and his wife opened the Jewel Box Cafe at Point Ruston. He said business is booming - especially during the summer - and they like the development so much that they moved in.

"We both just looked at each other and said we’ve got to be down here," Nguyen said. "We moved in upstairs. We’re just couple floors up and we love it here. It’s all in one ... we don’t have to leave our house."

Cohen said the next steps are a public market, a hotel, and connecting the community to nearby Point Defiance Park. He said the people of Pierce County are already making it a place to visit.

"It’s sort of become Tacoma’s back yard," he said. "They come down here, not just Tacomans, but throughout Pierce County, they come to Point Ruston to hang out."