A long-sought pedestrian link between Ruston Way and Point Defiance Park could become a reality within several months.
With good weather now and no unexpected interruptions, park visitors could be walking on new path by year’s end, said Point Ruston developer Mike Cohen.
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 built out within 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.
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 once was the smelter’s slag dump.
“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-1980s 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 current 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.
Once the cap for the slag dump is installed, that waterfront parcel will be planted with grass. Once that grass is established, Knauer said, 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” are 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 water-level 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 eventually will 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. That building will house restaurants, shops and service functions. 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, Hancock said. That pavilion would provide space to be rented for weddings and other functions.
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 saltwater pool heated to 80 degrees. That building, linked to the park access path, might be the site of a view restaurant.