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Construction beginning on missing link between Ruston Way, Point Defiance

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Aug. 8, 2012 at 7:00 am with No Comments »
August 8, 2012 12:06 pm

A long-sought pedestrian link between Ruston Way and Point Defiance Park could become a reality within the next several months.

With good weather now and no unexpected interruptions, said Point Ruston developer Mike Cohen, park visitors could be walking on new path by year’s end. Park district officials aren’t as optimistic. They predict the new path will be in place a year from now.
Map of Point Ruston, Defiance
Point Ruston, the former Asarco mill site, is at left, the Tacoma Yacht Club basin is at center and the southeast corner of Point Defiance Park is above the basin.

Point Ruston is paying the lion’s share of the cost of linking its development on the former site of the Asarco copper smelter to the park. Cohen estimated the cost of that work at $6 million or more.

Point Ruston is a $1 billion-plus mixed-use development on the waterfront site of the former Asarco copper smelter. When it is fully built out within the next two decades, the development will include thousands of apartments, condos and single-family dwellings and a mixed-use commercial district.

Already, developers have signed up a medium-sized hotel, a multi-screen cinema and an organic grocery as tenants in the new development.

For the Metropolitan Park District, Point Ruston’s work on the park district parcel adjacent to its northwest boundary is the first step in an ambitious plan to transform the 26-acre southeast corner of the 698-acre park into a major new magnet for park patrons.

“We’ve been planning and talking about this for years,” said Curtis Hancock, the park district project manager. “This is a huge step forward.”

That triangular parcel, defined by Pearl Street, North 54th Street and Waterfront Drive, traditionally has been the park’s back alley. It is populated with park district maintenance buildings, a go-kart track and an undeveloped waterfront parcel that was once the smelter’s slag dump. Also on that site is the Science and Math Institute and parking for boat trailers. Those would be accommdated elsewhere under the redevelopment plan.

“The ‘triangle’ was never developed like the rest of the park because it was considered kind of a buffer between the smelter and the park,” said Steve Knauer, director of parks buildings and services.

The huge, industrial-age smelter closed down in the mid-’80s after pollution control regulations made it too expensive to update.

The smelter’s former owner, the federal government and private developer, Point Ruston LLC, have spent years cleaning up the smelter site.

As part of the Point Ruston project, the developer will cap the former slag dump that shelters the Tacoma Yacht Club basin from the bay. The club leases its land and the basin from the park district.

The slag dump is where the smelter dumped the molten waste from the smelter after copper and other metals had been removed. That waste cooled and formed a porous rock-like material.

The soil used to cap the slag will be removed from the hillside above the present yacht club access road. That hillside historically has been unstable with occasional landslides blocking access to the club.

Under the current project, that road on the southwest side of the yacht basin will be removed, and a new access road for the club will be built from the Point Ruston development.

Along the regraded hillside, the haul road for the dirt used in the slag dump capping project will be transformed into the new pedestrian path from Point Ruston into the park.
Interim path from Point Ruston to the park
This view show the former Asarco slag dump in green. Point Ruston’s developer will use soil from the hillside areas in yellow to cap that green area which will become a waterfront park. The soil haul road in red then will become an interim pedestrian path, the “missing link,” connecting Ruston Way’s pedestrian path with the park.

Once the cap for the slag dump is installed, that waterfront parcel will be planted with grass. Once that grass is established, said Knauer, the public will be allowed access.

Eventually the peninsula park area will be further enhanced with more soil and more landscaping to bring it up to full park standards.

The temporary path will connect with the “Waterwalk,” a bayside promenade along the water within the Point Ruston development that links with the end of the present Ruston Way waterfront path.

Once the temporary park path and the “Waterwalk” is complete, walkers will be able to stroll all the way from the park to the end of the Foss Waterway in downtown Tacoma without leaving the path.

As the park district secures more funds, it will build a waterlevel path along the route of the old Yacht Club access road to connect Point Ruston with the park near the ferry landing.

The temporary path will eventually be replaced by a wider permanent path ascending gradually from the water level to the park’s upper elevation.

The park district has elaborate plans to transform the green area near the present kart track to a public green partly surrounded by a semi-circular building the park district calls the “Colannade.” That building will house restaurants, shops and service function. On a promontory overlooking the ferry landing, Metro Parks plans to build an octagonal pavilion that harks back to a former waterfront pavilion at the park, said Hancock. That pavilion would provide space to be rented for weddings and other functions.
Park redevelopment
This rendering shows the ultimate redevelopment of Point Defiance’s southeast corner. A circular green, an events pavilion and a semi-circular colonnade will replace the go-kart track and maintenance structures. On the other side of Pearl Street, a building patterned after the original salt water pool at the park may house a view restaurant. Two pedestrian paths will connect Point Ruston with the park. One gradually sloping path will climb a regraded hillside. Another will follow the water where the old Yacht Club access road is now located.

Across Pearl Street from the pavilion, park plans call for construction a rectangular building that in some ways resembles the 1906 Nereides Bath building that contained a salt water pool heated to 80 degrees. That building, linked to the park access path, might be the site of a view restaurant.

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