It was something of an unusual venue for Tacoma City Council committee meeting – a roving group of committee members and followers traipsing the length of the Prairie Line Trail while being briefed by city staff, Tacoma Art Museum officials and the University of Washington Tacoma.
The meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee attracted about two dozen people Wednesday afternoon.
The trail is the remains of the old Northern Pacific line that delivered the trans-continental’s first trains to tidewater starting in 1873. The Burliington Northern-Sante Fe is gradually selling or trading the line from S. 25th Street to S. 15th Street to the University of Washington Tacoma and the city.
Ownership hasn’t been completely transferred yet (although the right of way through the UWT has been purchased by the state). But the city is already planning for how to transform the unused track and often overgrown right of way into a trail.
Here are a few of the updates that came out of the walking meeting:
_ Tacoma is ready to hire a design team to plan its sections of the trail above and below the UWT section. Elliott Barnett, a city planner on the project, said the selection could be made in the next two weeks.
_ The configuration of the trail between Pacific Avenue and S. 15th street has not been determined. This is the section for which the United Way of Pierce County has an option to buy from BNSF. Before preservationists and others objected the United Way’s plans to build parking and perhaps later a building on top of the tracks, the city had intended to clear the way for such a use by shifting the trail from the tracks to the shoulder of Hood Street.
_ Ryan Petty, director of Tacoma’s economic development office, said he continues to negotiate with the railroad for the remainder of the right of way. It has agreement for a 20-foot corridor from S. 21st to S. 23rd street and for the entire 80-feet right of way from S. 23rd to S. 25th streets.
_ The Tacoma Art Museum continues to refine designs for its renovated entry plaza. The rather bland plaza would be improved with an eye toward giving the museum more presence on Pacific Avenue, providing covered space for a sculpture garden and improving access to the museum from the parking lot below. That lot would be landscaped into what was termed a “maple grove.”
“It saddens us that the entrance to the Tacoma Art Museum isn’t as welcoming as the front porch of your own house,” said TAM trustee Steve Harlow. He said the museum is in the midst of a fundraising campaign and has raised $7 million toward its $17 million goal.
TAM executive director Stephanie Stebich said the museum wanted a significant public sculpture in the plaza, saying “we need a come hither.”
_ Stebich also said the plaza project is part of that fundraising but said that plaza funding will need some public money – from the city, county, state and federal governments. I had not heard her say that before and had thought that the TAM board and staff was looking only at private fundraising and grants for the plaza.
Said Stebich: “A lot of this is public space. We do think there is a civic value.”
_ TAM seems to have decided to make a significant change to the facade of the museum designed by Antoine Predock and opened in 2003. The black glass that shares the facade with a silver metalic cladding will be exchanged for lighter glass. The dark glass makes the museum “look closed,” Stebich said.
_ UWT facilities director Milt Tremblay said the school will meet with architects designing its segment of the trail Friday to see revised plans. The revisions were ordered by UWT Chancellor Debra Friedman is response to community concerns that earlier designs did not encourage bikes and did not reflect the history and architecture of the area.
“What is great about Tacoma is we get a lot of imput,” Tremblay said. He said there will be another round of public meetings once revised plans are completed.