Metro Parks Tacoma's $198 million measure passing

Staff writerApril 22, 2014 

Glacier, a male polar bear, dives into the water at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium last month. The polar bear exhibit is among the features at the zoo slated for upgrades under a $198 million bond measure.

LUI KIT WONG — Staff photographer Buy Photo

Metro Parks Tacoma’s $198 million bond issue was passing by a 2-1 margin in Tuesday’s election.

Executive Director Jack Wilson said he was “cautiously optimistic” leading into the election, held on Earth Day.

“This community inspires us,” Wilson said by phone Tuesday night from a loud, celebratory party. “We are committed to advancing and delivering the very best parks and recreation system in the country because this community expects it.”

He said Metro Parks staff will start work Wednesday by planning how to move forward with the bond projects.

The bond issue required 60 percent approval to pass. Nearly 64 percent of voters were in favor as of Tuesday. The Pierce County Auditor’s office has another 2,500 ballots on hand left to count, not including those that voters sent by mail at the last minute.

About a third of the proposal’s costs will pay for upgrades to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. Another third is dedicated to work at the system’s largest parks and most popular attractions, including waterfront areas and historical landmarks. The final third will pay for upgrades to neighborhood parks, including artificial turf for at least three athletic fields in Tacoma.

At the zoo, the bond will finance repairs and upgrades to the polar bear, sea otter, puffin and walrus habitats. The North Pacific Aquarium also will be replaced.

Without upgrades to the polar bear habitat, the zoo could never receive another bear because international zoo accreditation standards require different habitat standards than currently exist at the zoo.

Salt water must also be removed from the North Pacific Aquarium within five years or the zoo could not use the structure for another water exhibit. Metro Parks officials have said if they are able to replace the North Pacific Aquarium, the zoo’s philanthropic arm will raise money to convert it into a freshwater South American rainforest exhibit.

The ballot measure also includes $6 million for an East Side community center that would eventually replace the Eastside Pool and the Portland Avenue Community Center. But it cannot be built if other agencies don’t chip in another $24 million.

East Side resident Shalisa Hayes said Tuesday night she screamed when she heard the election results. She has advocated for the East Side community center since soon after her son, Billy Ray Shirley III, was shot and killed outside a Nalley Valley warehouse in August 2011.

“Although my mission started because of him, the center itself is really about giving the kids here on the East Side somewhere to go,” Hayes said. “I am very thankful and appreciative.”

Nine years ago, voters approved a $84.3 million Metro Parks bond issue by almost a 2-1 margin. With that money, the agency was able to attract another $46 million through matching grants and donations – tools it hopes to use again this time to complete more projects on its wish list.

Work from the 2005 bond issue is largely complete, and the last of the debt will be paid off by taxpayers in 2030. Property owners currently pay about $40 a year for every $100,000 of assessed value for the 2005 bond.

With the passage of the 2014 bond, property owners will pay an additional $58 per year for each $100,000 in property value. This series of bonds would be retired in 2042.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542

kate.martin@thenewstribune.com

@KateReports

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