It’s a lively day at a Metro Parks Tacoma board meeting when 30 people show up for the public comment session.
This week they came from all over the South Sound to share stories of family trips to Point Defiance Park to ride the go-karts.
The reminiscing had one goal: to keep TNT Family Go-Karts open while the park evolves.
It’s been here so long that it’s not going to be the same without it, said Jerry Silva, who told the board he’s been taking his kids to the track for 13 years and would do anything he can to show his support and keep the business at the park.
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However, their efforts Monday likely won’t change the minds of Metro Parks and the board members.
Metro Parks decided not renew the track’s lease several years ago, based on a new plan for the park that includes pedestrian and bike trails, a storm water system that would displace the track and its other amenities.
During Monday’s meeting, board President Tim Reid said he appreciated the visitors’ presentation regarding the go-karts but made no remarks indicating whether the park plan might be changed.
Asked later about the matter by The News Tribune, Reid said the work will continue as scheduled.
“The plans haven’t changed,” he said. “The staff haven’t come back and said, ‘More citizens have come up and said change the plan.’ They (staff members) like what’s going on down there."
As for comments made at Monday’s board meeting, “It’s one person trying to keep his business going, and he’s gathered all his friends and customers to testify,” Reid said.
Among those talking to the board was Narriana Silva, Jerry Silva’s 17-year-old daughter. She and others shared how sad she would be if the go-karts left the park after being there for 30 years.
“I went on my first date there and I was really nervous,” Silva said in an interview with The News Tribune. “I wanted to do something different, not like going to a movie, and I felt safe there because I’d been there lots of times.”
Other community members shared her sentiment of keeping the “fun for the whole family” element of the park.
Metro Parks has a different vision.
In 2005, the agency received nine concept plans for the waterfront portion of the park and only one planning team recommended keeping the go-kart track, said Curtis Hancock, program administration for Destination Point Defiance.
“Over eight months, the public comments narrowed the plans down to just one plan,” Hancock said. “Go-karts dropped off very early on in the process. ... The concept plan came from over two years, over 100 meetings and 1,000 people. Natural character was by far the top choice.”
Renovations at the park are to begin in early 2015.
The go-kart track and batting cages would be replaced by a trail, a bridge to the nearby ferry dock for pedestrians and bicyclists, open space for seasonal events, a parking area, public art and a Pearl Street entrance to the park.
The agency also is considering a lodge or conference center and various businesses that could offer year-round food and recreation.
“We know that some people utilize the go-karts, but we also know that 3 million visit the park,” Metro Parks spokeswoman Roxanne Miles said.
Previous comments from the public echoed that people preferred the natural elements and didn’t want it to be an amusement park, she said.
Troy Langley, owner of TNT Family Go-Karts, said that’s not what he’s heard.
Once he started letting the public know of the track’s imminent closure they were outraged, he said. That inspired him to fight for his business, which last weekend saw nearly 1,000 people drive go-karts.
Langley said he’s gathered more than 3,000 signatures on a petition urging that the go-karts and batting cages stay in Tacoma because there aren’t many “family-friendly” activities in the area.
Langley has been told this will be the last summer at Point Defiance for TNT Family Go-Karts. He was told he must begin moving in November and the track and batting cages must be removed by the end of the year.
Langley said he hasn’t found a new location and likely will take a year off to decide whether he wants to pursue the business at a new venue.
Either way, he said, leaving Point Defiance would be hard.
“I would be heartbroken for the kids,” he said. “For the first time a kid drives … it is really something to watch a dad and how proud he is.”