Imagine Tacoma – Fireman’s Park

After enjoying a wonderful May Day evening with the Puget Sound Revels at Tollefson Plaza last week, it was noticeable how ‘hard’ this community space is to really enjoy a downtown Tacoma experience (with the final insult of the pink concrete sitting steps leaving a pink chalk residue on everyone backsides – “Ack, I’ve been Baboon Butted”). So imagine a few minor, and a couple major, modifications to Fireman’s Park to make it more conducive and hospitable to such happenings in the future:

1. Level the Berm: Increase visibility to and from the park by reducing the berm along ‘A’ Street to less than 18” above the adjoining curb. Remove the understory landscaping to maximize visibility and increase lawn sitting and viewing areas.

2. Remove the Gazebo: This structure is ‘hidden’ away and seems to always be in shade from the Russell Building (and is at the noisiest part of the park). It also does not afford the best view of Mt. Tahoma and suffers from bad Feng Shui placement at the downhill end of South 9th Street. So – fence this area off as an ‘exclosure’ and landscape with good acoustic dampening vegetation towards the freeway entrance.

3. Open-up the View Points: Remove the wood planters from the view points to allow walking right-up to the edge of the concrete to take-in the view. Also remove the trees from the remaining planter and replace with overhanging vegetation (ala Freeway Park in Seattle).

4. Level the Lawn: Level the lawn areas – and increase in size – to make the park much more usable for events both programmed and unprogrammed.

5. Add Furniture: Maybe not free flowing table and chairs, but maybe secured chess tables and small picnic tables?

6. Future Pavilion: Located a pavilion at the second view point that had good visibility from a large portion of the park (with the grass lawn providing seating for watching).

7. Create an Identifiable Entrance: Use art to create a welcoming entrance to the park from South 9th Street.

8. Art: Use art to strengthen the visual axes within the park.

9. Viewpoint: The best view from the park is actually at the corner of A Street and South 8th (really – go see). From this vantage point you have a clear view of Commencement Bay, Mt. Tacoma framed within the arch of the Murray Morgan Bridge and even the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. Maybe this is a good point for art of larger civic importance?

10. Urbanize A Street: With the large right-of-way of A Street, add a sidewalk along the East edge to tie the street and park into the pedestrian experience (i.e. you can experience the park without having to enter it). There is probably enough space to incorporate back-in angled parking as well (discharging little Tommy towards the park rather than into the traffic lane).

11. Create Pedestrian Friendly Connection: Rework the pedestrian connections to the park so that pedestrian requirements control rather than the needs of vehicles leaving town.

12. See previous thoughts about the adjacent Fawcett Fountain.

So with all of the clamoring to entice the Russell Company to stay in Tacoma, how about entertaining some community park improvements to Fireman’s Park at their front door that we can all enjoy (and not just every Winter Solstice)?

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Krysta at BCPA

David – I usually agree with you on these and love reading your ideas.

But this one has me questioning – I like the gazebo and I like the hilly nature of this park. Leveling the burms, leveling the lawn and getting rid of the planters sounds like turning it into a blank feild with sidewalkss????

May 7, 2009 at 9:45 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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These are all excellent ideas — looks like you’ve put a lot of time into this. I’m sure city planning would appreciate your thinking.

I especially like your thoughts about removing the wood planters to open up the view of the bay. The current design ignores this extraordinary vantage.

Back-in angle parking would also narrow A street somewhat which would slow car traffic and help make the are more pedestrian-friendly. The park does seem “cut-off” by A street and not tied-in to the rest of the neighborhood.

So do you have thoughts for Tollefson Plaza or is it hopeless?

May 7, 2009 at 10:48 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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It’s funny this comes up on Exit 133 today as I was at Hal of a Sub at lunch and was thinking about what could be done in this area to revive it.  I’d like to see B of A and India Mahal removed so that could be sorta an entryway into Firemans Park -it’d draw people in off Pacific Ave and open the vista to Commencement Bay.  Then make something of Park Place North – like shopping or a modern movie complex to fit in with the Theatre District.  That’d be a great entertainment district!

May 7, 2009 at 11:14 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Erik B.

<i>1. Level the Berm: Increase visibility to and from the park by reducing the berm along ‘A’ Street to less than 18” above the adjoining curb. </i>

Yes, the park is a <span class=“caps”>CPTED</span> disaster. Much of it is obscured from the street.  The berms everywhere make it pretty useless for activities except for lounging.

Many of the fixes could be made pretty cheaply.

May 8, 2009 at 5:47 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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crenshaw sepulveda

I think <span class=“caps”>CPTED</span> is a disaster.  We are creating spaces that no one will use.  If a bum will not use a park, no one will use the park.  I know there are those that don’t want to share a park with the lumpen proletariat but if our grizzled wine loving friends are not compelled to use it you have a good sign that no one else will use it.  This is not my theory, this is pure Jane Jacobs, chapter and verse.

May 8, 2009 at 7:22 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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1. Level the Berm

Absolutely.  My pure speculation is that the berm was intended to provide shelter from the busy City.  Once you are off 9th though, A is a little one way, one lane street.  #10 will also help provide this protection – but only do the parking if it is back-in.

2. Remove the Gazebo

Bringing your lunch to work is becoming more common.  Eating outside is great on a sunny day, but there are few places you can eat your lunch outside the office if the weather is less than ideal.  I know the pavilion is suggested as #6, but I’m an advocate of more covered spots rather than less.  (Anyone have suggestions on outdoor brown bag spots for drizzly days?)

Krysta @ 1: a blank feild with sidewalkss????

Actually, I still see a lot of topography in the attached drawing as well as nooks and divided spaces.  It looks like the park would generally remain sunken from the street, but the street would be able to see into the park – though notably above most wheel heights, thereby limiting street noise.

I like the design proposal.  My only concern is the list nature.  I can see people saying, “This is a great list. What can we do now?  Hmm. Remove landscaping; check. Tables & chairs; check. Art; check & check. Remove the gazebo; check.  Angle-in parking; check. Great; now we’ve implemented 50% of the recommendations.  If people don’t love it, we won’t bother with the rest.”  There is no such thing as half a vision.

May 8, 2009 at 2:04 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Great ideas, however Firemen’s Park is not a destination location, or likely to become one, there are simply too many more compelling location to recreate nearby. The main use seems to be a respite for nearby business people and office workers during business hours. Increasing pedestrian flow and park visibility is an outstanding idea, but removing or adding back in parking is not. Firemen’s is located in the Central Business District (<span class=“caps”>CBD</span>), the district was created to support and develop business in DT Tacoma. Any improvement must promote that mission, so rather than moving the bank or India Mahal, the best I would hope for is a mom or dad pulling into a parking space by the park, banking at B of A, eating lunch at Indian Mahal and then taking the little ones into the park for a run and a stretch. Or walking over to Hal of a Sub at lunch and then eating on the grass.

Most office buildings have more than 20% vacancy, Russell is threatening to leave, and many of our shops’ numbers are off. While it is nice to dream, any assessments or costs to businesses must ultimately produce tangible returns, at least throughout this cycle.

May 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Morty @7:Increasing pedestrian flow and park visibility is an outstanding idea, but removing or adding back in parking is not…so rather than moving the bank…

Just to be clear, the initial proposal did not suggest removal of any buildings in exchange for parking.  Rather, it suggested using some of the absurdly wide one lane of A Street for that purpose.

Otherwise, generally agree, though I do have to point out that, “The Tacoma central business district showed 2.82 million square feet or rentable space in the quarter, with a vacancy rate of 10 percent and total absorption of negative-36,322 square feet.” (source)

May 15, 2009 at 1:35 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I would love to see a simple swingset in the park.

May 15, 2009 at 6:11 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Thanks for the article, I am a big believer in Tacoma, but I only wish the article were true, 10% vacancy is excellent even in a robust market. So the article is saying that office buildings are 90% occupied in the <span class=“caps”>CBD</span>. Think about that 90% number and start walking from Fireman’s Park, look at The Provident, The Washington, Frontier Bank, 1015 Pac, I can go on and on. The office space above the parking garage has only leased 10-12k so far…the biggest lease I know of in Down Town this year is Met Life at 16k sq ft….. but I digress. I love the design the effort and enthusiasm, we all have got to keeo thinking, and I agree with Mary, a simple swing set would be nice.

May 16, 2009 at 3:34 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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@7:  I was thinking that the jist of Frost Park could be where India Mahal/ BofA is and therefore opening up vistas off of 9th and Pacific as well as David’s idea of vistas off of A street.  Then, Park Place North and Frost could be made into something like a mall of cinema complex (to complement the Theatre District).  Whoever re-does Park Place North (if it’s not a solely office building venture) would probably not do it unless they have access to the corner of 9th and Pacific (where Frost is).

May 16, 2009 at 3:08 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mofo from the Hood

You know what would make this park interesting? Some native northwest animals.

I’m thinkin’ squirrels (people love to chase squirrels), racoons (it’s really fun to watch them pick up things with their paws), kittens (who doesn’t like kitten’s?), and a herd or two of deer.

May 21, 2009 at 4:36 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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