After rocky start, public willing to discuss building performance area at Fort Steilacoom Park

A public meeting to discuss building a performance area or public gathering space at Fort Steilacoom Park got off to a rocky start Tuesday.

At least 30 people showed up to the meeting’s original location at the park and didn’t see signs indicating that the city of Lakewood had moved the meeting and start time because of weather-related concerns.

At nearby Lakewood City Hall, where the relocated meeting convened a half-hour later than planned, another roughly 30 people gathered to talk about the future of the park.

Their initial skepticism was evident.

"I think people are still sensitive about what we’re going to have," said Becky Hibbs who uses the park daily. "There is still an underlying feeling that we’re just going through the process but it’s already a done deal."

Lakewood Parks and Recreation director Mary Dodsworth did her best at the meeting to dispel that belief.

"We’re just talking about planning, we’re not talking about making a decision," she said. "We’re not talking about building something tomorrow."

Public feedback will shape proposed improvements at the park, she said.

By the end of the two-hour meeting, some attendees warmed up to the process.

Carole Weir, who walks her dog in the park every day, said she felt the meeting was better presented than the one held a year ago at the park.

At that meeting, park users and neighbors vehemently opposed a proposal to build an amphitheater near Waughop Lake. They cited concerns about noise, increased traffic and an impact on passive uses at the park.

"A year ago they felt this was a done deal," Weir said.

Husband and wife Bob Brown and Monika Roberts-Brown who volunteer at the off-leash dog park, said after Tuesday’s meeting they are happy an amphitheater won’t be built near the dog park.

But they also questioned whether a performance venue or gathering space is needed.

"We’d like to improve what’s there," Brown said. "I don’t want to see new features. I’d like to see us maintain what we have."

The Rotary Club of Lakewood approached the Lakewood City Council last spring with a pledge to dedicate $300,000 for a community project at the park. The initial proposal was to build an amphitheater.

After hearing from people outspoken against the idea, club members decided to withdraw the proposal and look at other options.

Rotary Club president Dave Coleman was at Tuesday’s meeting. He said he felt like the meeting ended on a good note, with people offering solutions to address their concerns.

"We’re here to say we’re still interested," Coleman said. "We’re raising money and we’re listening."

The next public meeting to discuss the proposal is scheduled for April 28 at 6:30 p.m. at Lakewood City Hall, 6000 Main St.