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UWT’s historic Prairie Line railway property subject of tonight’s city landmarks meeting

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Jan. 12, 2011 at 10:50 am |
January 12, 2011 11:26 am

As we reported today, the City of Tacoma struck a deal yesterday with the University of Washington-Tacoma that will convey to the university ownership of a stretch of the old Prairie Line railway right-of-way that runs through UWT’s downtown campus.

UWT wanted the property, which had been committed to the city from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway under a separate deal, to help the university complete a library expansion project.

In exchange, UWT agreed to grant the city several easements to the property and to develop and maintain the stretch as part of the city’s planned Prairie Line Trail.

Abandoned in recent years as an operational rail line, the old Prairie Line is historically significant in that it was the route of the first Northern Pacific train to reach Puget Sound.

With aging rails and railroad ties of the defunct line still stretching across campus, UWT officials initially had planned to remove the railway relics so that they could create a construction staging area for their library expansion project. (They also need full ownership of the corridor to construct a sky bridge across it from their existing library to a soon-to-be built annex.)

But after conferring with local historic preservation consultant Michael Sullivan, university officials are having second thoughts.

“We’ve delayed the removal until further analysis,” Milt Tremblay, director of UWT’s facilities and campus services, told me after Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“We heard there could be some historical significance, and we didn’t want to make a decision that couldn’t be reversed.”

The cautious approach comes less than a year after the UW-T inadvertently washed away the beloved “Alt Heidelberg” ghost mural from the side of its Joy Building during renovation.

The UWT’s Prairie Line property will be discussed at the city Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting set for tonight at 5 p.m., in the Tacoma Municipal Building North, 728 St. Helens Ave., Room 16. (Also on the agenda is an update on the Elks lodge project.)

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