WSDOT will seek design decisions from Tacoma Amtrak Citizens Advisory Committee on new city rail station details

Architects and planners working on Tacoma’s new Amtrak station have pinned down the building’s basic dimensions and functional layout, but plan to ask a citizens’ advisory committee to choose among several variations of the building’s design details.

That was the word Thursday from David Smelser, head of the project to move Amtrak’s route through Tacoma from the waterfront to a line that cuts through South Tacoma. Smelser, who manages the Washington Department of Transportation’s $89-million Point Defiance Bypass project, said the proposed new station will be 180 feet long and about 10,000 square feet in size.

The new station, necessary because the existing Amtrak station is located on the waterfront line, is planned to be built in the central section of the 100-year-old Freighthouse Square at East 25th and D streets near the Tacoma Dome. The building is a former Milwaukee Road rail warehouse. WSDOT plans to purchase a section of the long, thin building as the new station site. Part of the warehouse will be razed, and the station will be built on it’s footprint.

The state said it plans three public meetings, two of which will be with an advisory committee appointed by the city, to iron out design choices for the structure. That committee last December reacted critically last December to a very early concept for the new station replacing the west end of Freighthouse. Both the location and the utilitarian design were wrong, the committee said.

In the eight months since then, the state has worked with the committee on picking a new location and design. That committee recently agreed to change the site to west-central part of Freighthouse. Now the state says it plans to present its revised designs.

Those designs, said Smelser, were developed with the committee’s standards in mind. The committee, for instance, sought a new design that respected the rugged timber construction of Freighthouse while being open and airy inside.

Smelser said the state’s hired architects have developed several variations of the design ranging from a design that employs large quantities of glass for the exterior walls to bring in light and to create a view of the platform beyond to a design that mimics Freighthouse’s wooden siding on the exterior.

“It’s like a light switch,” said Smelser. “The more wooden siding, the less light and view.”

The WSDOT will ask the committee to determine the right quantity of each.

An open trusswork ceiling would expose the building’s framework like in the rest of Freighthouse, but leaving that ceiling exposed also means keeping exposed much of the mechanical and heating and ventilation equipment that would be hidden in a more finished ceiling, he said.

The state said it plans to keep the structure under 10,000 square feet, in part because code requirements are much more complicated for larger buildings.

Once the preliminary engineering and design plans are done, they will be submitted for Federal Railway Administration approval in November. Once the FRA approval is received, final design will begin, said Smelser.

“That’s when we get down to deciding things like the paint colors.”