This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
Green space is at a premium in downtown Tacoma, with few places where downtown workers and students can sit out on a nice day and maybe eat a sack lunch in the sunshine.
One of those few places – at South 21st Street and Pacific Avenue – is in danger of being lost forever. Don Pugnetti Park has been a little oasis of green for 25 years, dating to construction of Interstate 705. But now it’s fenced off with chain link and tagged with “No trespassing” signs. The barrier also blocks access to a century-old railroad monument.
Owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation, the pocket park was an Occupy Tacoma tent city for four months. The Occupiers are gone, but now WSDOT suddenly wants to shed the park for “liability” reasons and is seeking buyers. Maintaining the park isn’t an issue; a private company takes care of that as part of a deal to operate a nearby parking lot.
Neither the City of Tacoma nor Metro Parks is interested in buying the parcel, which sits just off the I-705 entrance into the city. Given the fact that WSDOT apparently wasn’t even aware it owned the park, it would be wrong for it to charge either the city, park district or other interested public entity.
What about the adjacent Washington State History Museum or the University of Washington Tacoma, which has classrooms across the street? If the maintenance deal were to remain the same, and WSDOT just turned the parcel over to them, no costs would be incurred.
We’ll admit to a little self-interest here. The park honors the late Don Pugnetti, a longtime News Tribune editor and one of Tacoma’s most civic-minded men. He was a strong editorial supporter of, among other things, the I-705 “Tacoma Spur” and construction of the Tacoma Dome. The park includes a memorial to him in a spot that is so appropriate, looking out over I-705 and the Dome.
At the entrance to the city, the park makes a nice statement about Tacoma’s values and its history. To let it disappear and replace it with – what? parking or a gas station? – would say just the opposite.