2 proposed Tacoma parks promise waterfront amenities — once the money’s raised

It’s easy to get excited about plans for two new parks in Tacoma, particularly when they include kayak launches and an elaborate playground for kids.

Coming up with nearly $12 million to pay for them is more challenging, but not impossible, as some money already has been raised, promised or earmarked in budgets.

The pair of downtown parks would be along the Thea Foss Waterway, which is taking its next steps in decades-long work to become a redeveloped recreational waterfront after being cleaned up as a Superfund site.

The Foss Waterway Development Authority is working to promote and raise money for the project, known collectively as the Foss Waterway Parks.

If all this park talk sounds familiar, it is. The authority has had the park plans in the works for a few years. Initial drawings were being developed in 2016.

Along the way, there have been some tweaks, such as renaming of one of the proposed parks for Melanie Dressel, the Columbia Bank CEO who died in 2017.

The authority, in partnership with Metro Parks Tacoma along with local and area sponsors, is moving forward to turn two longtime industrial zones into areas of waterfront recreation in Tacoma.

Waterway Park

Waterway Park is planned for Dock and D streets on Thea Foss’ southern end near the East 21st Street bridge.

The four-acre park would include a launch and storage for up to 200 “human-powered” watercraft (kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and paddleboards.) It also would have a boathouse (currently a building for Berg Scaffolding) to store rowing shells and sculls, and a workshop and restrooms.

Green space would be available for picnics and an off-leash dog park. There would be a direct connection from the Dock Street overpass into the park, as well as a parking lot.

In addition, “The park will connect to the Foss Waterway Esplanade from Dock Street via a bridge connected to the site,” according to Metro Parks Tacoma’s description.

Dressel Park

Melanie Jan LaPlant Dressel Park, 1147 Dock St., started as Central Park, south of the 11th Street Bridge and the Foss Marina parking lot.

It was renamed for the longtime Columbia Bank leader, who died unexpectedly in 2017 at age 64. In addition to Dressel’s vast public service serving on various boards in the area, “she had a love for children,” said Norm Gollub, executive director of the development authority.

“We felt it was a fitting tribute to name this after her,” he said.

The park is planned to be a 0.75-acre site where downtown workers could eat lunch amid a boardwalk, a bridge with a viewing platform over the shoreline and an elaborate playground with a tower and slide.

“This design was created in anticipation of dense urban development immediately north and south of the planned park,” according to Metro Parks Tacoma’s online description.

Some of that is starting to happen, most recently with the announced transit-oriented apartment developments near the Tacoma Dome and Freighthouse Station Marketplace (formerly Freighthouse Square).

The waterfront side of the property would include the 20-foot-wide Foss Waterway Esplanade, going from George Weyerhaeuser Jr. Park, 2101 Dock St. (also on Thea Foss’ southern end) to the northern end at Thea’s Park, 535 Dock St.

Visitors won’t have access to the water through Dressel Park. That’s to protect the soil “cap” that covers contaminated sediments from more than a century of pollution near the Thea Foss and Wheeler Osgood waterways.

Then and now

Years ago, nobody would have mistaken the two park sites as places to picnic or launch a kayak.

In fact, the stretch along the Thea Foss Waterway was a Superfund site and the spot for Dressel Park once was home to Consumer Central Heating Plant, which provided steam heat to downtown businesses.

The plant, with its 200-foot-high smokestack, was demolished in the 1980s, according to a state Department of Ecology history of the site.

The two park properties were included in the cleanup of the larger Commencement Bay Superfund site. That included removing mercury-tainted soil along the Thea Foss shoreline, plus laying down the soil cap to prevent future exposure to people using the site.

The work was finished in 2006. According to a 2017 report by the Ecology Department, the work at the site “remains effective in protecting the health of people and the environment.”

The Ecology Department is aware of the park projects, and the park project’s architects are aware of maintaining the cleanup requirements, said Marv Coleman, cleanup project manager and inspector for the agency’s Southwest Regional Office.

The next five-year site review is in 2022.

Public/private funding

The development authority is focused first on raising money for the roughly $3 million Dressel Park, with construction starting in 2020, before tackling the $8.5 million Waterway Park, Gollub said.

The project has just under $1 million left to raise to make it a reality. The public-private funding is drawing from several entities, including the city ($750,000 earmarked), Columbia Bank ($250,000) and Pierce County ($50,000), according to Gollub, with more donors to come.

Metro Parks has dedicated $465,000 in bonds for each park and anticipates providing another $500,000 through grants and other sources for Dressel park “as we get deeper in the design,” said Marty Stump, design and construction manager for the agency.

The Port of Tacoma has contributed $250,000 to Waterway Park, Gollub said. The goal is to start construction of the park in 2022.

The development authority has helped raise money for the parks, as well as spending money to buy land and improve it, Gollub said.

“My entire board has contributed to these projects,” he said.

“Prior to all of this, we purchased the properties and undertook about $1 million in environmental remediation ... and have done what we need to do to get these ready to be constructed over the past few years.”

The development authority also has set up funding for maintaining the two parks and George H. Weyerhaeuser Jr. Park after it hands the parks over to Metro Parks Tacoma.

“There’s a funding stream for maintenance, so from land proceeds we established a half-million-dollar endowment with Greater Tacoma Community Foundation,” Gollub said. “And beginning in 2026, $60,000 a year from our marina operations will go toward maintenance.

“We anticipate that should be sufficient by the time these parks are fully open.”

To raise more money, naming rights are available for the boathouse or launch area at Waterway Park. Both parks will have recognition walls and some amenities can be sponsored.

Metro Parks is conducting a business analysis for Waterway Park to see, for example, what makes sense in terms of boat and equipment rentals made available though the park system, or rowing clubs, vendors or other potential business partners.

Crown jewel

Adding the two parks is a continuation of efforts by the development authority and Metro Parks to transform the waterfront into a crown jewel for the city.

“People sometimes are surprised to see the waterway when they come here now,” Gollub said. “Particularly if they remember it during the cleanup.”

Now, people bring in their boats and go for dinner downtown, he said.

“We have waiting lists at the marina during the summer,” Gollub said.

He’s also seen more seaplanes coming and going, plus a cruise ship made a stop in September and will be back Monday.

The development authority “has done a great job” with the park projects,” said Stump of Metro Parks, “and I don’t see these getting hung up for lack of funding.”

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell


Those wishing to contribute can contact Norm Gollub at the Foss Waterway Development Authority, ngollub@theafoss.com or call 253-597-8122 or 888-328-8122. Payments can be structured over five years, starting with 2018.