Tacoma City Business Preview for the Week of May 17, 2016

There's not a whole lot of business expected for this week, with a cancelled study session, and a brief regular council meeting agenda, but there are a few items of interest.

Prairie Line Trail 

A consent agenda resolution on this week's agenda accepts a $400,000 grant from the Washington State Historical Society, along with a $40,000 City contribution, for the Prairie Line Trail Historical Interpretation Project

UW Tacoma completed its portion of the Prairie Line Trail last year. The City of Tacoma has been working on plans for the sections it will be responsible for, which will extend the trail north and south of the UWT campus. The south section, extending through the Brewery District, has completed the design phase. The north segment, connecting the rest of the trail to the Foss Waterfront, is just about ready for construction. The City is also beginning design work for a park next to the trail where it crosses over Pacific Avenue, on more a recently acquired piece of property.

The trail and surrounding area play important parts in Tacoma's history. The Prairie Line refers to the original rails laid to connect the Northern Pacific Railroad to the Puget Sound in 1873, beating out Seattle for that historic, and very practical distinction. That trail lent a defining shape to the downtown that grew up around it, and continued to play a major role in commerce and travel. Before all that, the area was a cultural center for the Puyallup Tribe. The interpretation project will help share the trail's stories with the public.


Wave/Astound Broadband

Remember Wave Broadband, the company that made an offer for a long-term lease of Tacoma's Click! network? A few weeks ago we wrote about the first reading of an ordinance that would give Wave Astound Broadband a ten-year telecommunications franchise agreement to construct, operate, maintain, remove, replace, and repair fiber-optic communications facilities within public right-of-way areas. That ordinance is back for a final reading this week.

When it was discussed at the April 26 council meeting, the franchise was described as related to a contract the telecommunications company has to supply service to Pierce County libraries, requiring it to be able to lay lines through some parts of Tacoma. It was also explained that the contract would not cover cable service. The council action memorandum related to the ordinance says "Wave Astound Broadband, LLC is applying for the option to construct its own network within the jurisdictional boundaries of the City of Tacoma by way of directional boring, trenching or overhead construction methods." The first reading got less than full-throated support from the council, but no real indication that anyone intended to oppose it.


Other Items

The week of May 15-21, 2016 will be proclaimed as both National Police Week and National Public Works Week in the City of Tacoma.

The council will hear a City of Destiny Poetry Slam Presentation at its Tuesday meeting.

Individuals will be appointed and reappointed to the Sustainable Tacoma Commission.


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The city will likely get the history wrong regarding the Prairie Line.  There will be noble intentions but mediocrity will likely be the result.  Look at the efforts to improve the usefulness of Tollefson Plaza, a creation of the city’s engineering department that is relatively sterile compared to vibrant Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland.  The most significant spot where such shortcomings will likely be apparent is along the stretch of the Prairie Line just north of the Tacoma Art Museum.  That segment should honor the legacy of John W. Sprague, Civil War general and first mayor of united Tacoma who served as the railroad superintendent who drove the Northern Pacific’s first rail line into Tacoma.  He is the namesake for the masonry building housing United Way’s Betye Martin Baker Center. Sprague’s decision to extend the NP with a spur line into Seattle in the mid-180s is interpreted in that city as making its the railroad’s western terminus.  Yet until the mid-1890s Tacoma reigned as the NP’s rising terminus city, a place where Seattleites planning rail trips to the Midwest had to spend the night at a hotel before boarding a transcontinental train.  In line with TAM’s important new collection of art of the American West, the Prairie Line near TAM should honor the ambition of Abraham Lincoln to tie together the nation sea-to-sea with a railroad.  As much as the landscape along the trail should recall in plantings with alpine firs, apple trees, and grasses the great ambition of the NP to bring agriculture and civilization to the West, sandstone and filigree iron, as showcased on the old NP Western Headquarters built in 1888 at 621 Pacific Avenue, should be part of the landscape proposed for that area, to reflect Eastern American design influences in Tacoma.  Indeed, decorative ironwork from the old Portland Hotel is displayed at Pioneer Courthouse Square.  Tacoma become the economic second fiddle to Seattle after the mid-1890s, based on both the Great Northern Railroad reaching that city and the Klondike Gold Rush trade centered there, but with the Prairie Line’s commemoration the story of the ambition to bring the railroad to the West shines brightly through the ambition of Sprague and his boss, NP leader Charles Wright, and the throngs of rootless newcomers who came west to build New Tacoma, which became a united Tacoma in 1884, with Sprague as the first mayor.  City staff members should be careful to consult with historians at the city’s museums to make sure that the Prairie Line by TAM celebrates the civic ambitions of Tacoma in the halcyon days of the 1880s when, in the spirit of Manifest Destiny, it adopted the City of Destiny nickname.  They should keep in mind the lofty thoughts of the late University of Washington faculty member poet Theodore Roethke who, in the opening stanza of “The Rose” wrote that:  “There are those to whom place is unimportant.  But this place, where sea and freshwater meet, is important”.  So it is with the Prairie Line coming down a ravine toward the estuary of the Puyallup River in the early 1870s.

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