Tacoma Amtrak station clock tower proposals draw mixed reviews

The Tacoma Amtrak Citizens Advisory Committee is considering holding a nationwide design competition for a clock tower to mark the site of Tacoma’s planned new Amtrak station at Freighthouse Square.

The idea of opening up the design to architects across the country gained momentum among committee members late last week after three proposed tower concepts failed to win clear endorsement from citizens voting online.

More than 1,300 citizens voting online for the new station tower at best gave mixed reviews to the design proposals, all designed by Seattle architectural firm VIA, the Washington state Department of Transportation told the committee late last week.

None of the three preliminary plans for the 90-foot-tall towers outside the proposed Freighthouse Square Amtrak station received the endorsement of a majority of those voting in the Web poll. Two of the three design proposals garnered more negative votes than positive ones. And the leading proposal, a steel and wood design that mimics the design of a classic railroad trestle, failed to attain a majority approval. Some 49 percent of those voting in the poll liked the trestle design.

The two other designs polled even worse than the trestle-like tower. A modernistic tower with two parallel blade-like uprights was liked by only 30 percent of those who responded to the poll. Some 62 percent did not like the design.

A third design that WSDOT called the Ghost Tower won more public likes. the Ghost Tower was a rectangular frame wrapped in a decorative screen. Forty-three percent liked the design. Fifty-one percent did not. The remainder of those polled were undecided.

Tacoma Deputy Mayor David Boe, a local architect, proposed holding a national design contest for the clock tower.

The contest might yield a better design for the clock tower and bring national attention to the Amtrak station project, said some committee members.

Ian Munce, city liaison to the committee, said the city plans to discuss how the creation of amenities for the station will proceed during the next few weeks. The clock tower, the realignment and upgrading of East 25th Street adjacent to the station into a one-way street eastbound and further amenities are not part of the basic station construction project. That project is on a tight timeline to open in 2017.

Janet Matkin, a WSDOT spokeswoman, said the department is relying on the advisory committee to carry forward with the design process. Don Erickson, the committee’s chairman, said the committee expects to take up the design question again at its July 9 meeting.

The state, using funds from a federal grant, is rerouting Amtrak passenger trains through South Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont because of congestion on the present waterfront route along Ruston Way and along the Tacoma Narrows. The single-track Nelson Bennett Tunnel beneath Point Defiance Park is a major chokepoint on that route, which is seeing significant increases in train traffic because of oil and coal trains and increasing container train traffic.

The present Amtrak station is on the waterfront route. The new station is planned for the middle section of the historic former Milwaukee Road railroad warehouse. That warehouse now houses retail shops, restaurants, offices and a station for the Sounder commuter train.

David Smelser, project manager for WSDOT, said it is unlikely the clock tower could be built with any of the $82 million federal grant allocated for the Point Defiance Bypass. The state itself may have some funds available for the tower, however.