Friday, July 14, 2006

A Beginning and a Finish

This posting is the final one in our series identifying the ten great public spaces in Tacoma's downtown. Today's entry marks the physical beginning of Tacoma's urban waterfront, has been selected as a site for numerous civic purposes, and is the center of some ongoing improvements that may lead to a more "activated" future.

A three-acre green space reclaimed in the 1990s, Thea's Park provides a welcoming gateway to what will one day become the longest waterfront walkway in the nation: 1.5 miles of boardwalk, public event plazas, marinas, shops and cultural centers stretching along the urban Thea Foss Waterway’s western shore. The park was one of the first and most highly visible projects to redevelop this significant urban waterway.

Commanding expansive views of Commencement Bay, the Puget Sound and the constant activity of Tacoma’s busy port, Thea's Park has the backdrop of many historic downtown buildings and is adjacent to the renovated Dock St. Landing, one of the few remaining warehouse buildings that once lined the waterway. A beach located at the north end of the park has replaced what was previously a rubble-strewn shoreline. A low, curving seat wall separates this beach from the boardwalk, incorporating interpretive messages that describe the history of the waterway. A centerpiece globe marks the location of Tacoma's sister cities with stars.

Thea's Park has already enjoyed a starring role in many civic events. On Sept. 11, 2002, the City of Tacoma dedicated its new peace monument here. During the Tall Ships Festival, flags of all participating nations were displayed and national anthems played here; Thea's Park also served as a center for live entertainment.

Thea's Park has always been a favorite spot for local street skaters. Known as the S-Ledges by skaters, the park features wavy foot-high concrete ledges surrounded by a broad slab. Recently, an organization named Skaters for Public Skateparks has built and maintained a large granite-edged manual pad, which cost less than $3,000 and was designed to provide a model for similar installations in other parts of downtown. The effort has started to open dialogue between skaters and downtown property owners; if successful, it will also go a long ways towards activating this great public space.

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