Surplus Lincoln District street lamps could fund neighborhood improvement projects

Dozens of ornamental and iconic street lamps that once illuminated the sidewalks and streets in Tacoma’s busy Lincoln International Business District — but were replaced earlier this year — could soon serve the neighborhood once again.

In March, the City spent approximately $125,000 to replace 31 ornamental street lights (as well as 20 standard street lights) with new and similar-looking, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs (see “LED street lights coming to Tacoma’s Lincoln International Business District,” Tacoma Daily Index, March 2, 2015). The old fixtures were repackaged in boxes that were used to ship the new light fixtures, and offered up by the City last month (see “Tacoma to donate iconic Lincoln District street lamps,” Tacoma Daily Index, April 29, 2015). “Several community members have told me they were interested in the fixtures,” Debbie Bingham, the International Program Development Specialist in the City of Tacoma’s Community and Economic Development Department, told the Tacoma Daily Index last month. “This is one of the reasons we put them up for surplus — to see if someone can reuse them and not simply recycle them.” Bingham noted the light fixtures are over 20 years old, yet have no historical significance other than “possible sentimental significance to the community.”

In following with the City’s policy for processing surplus property, the street lamps were available to government agencies first, then available to non-profit organizations beginning on May 4, and (if unclaimed) the general public beginning on May 11.

This week, an ad hoc steering committee in Tacoma’s Lincoln International Business District, which is centered at South 38th Street and South Yakima Avenue, partnered with Safe Streets to claim the surplus street lamps in the hope of eventually auctioning them off to raise money to help pay for improvement projects in the neighborhood.

“We just thought it would be a great community-building project, something we could do together,” explained steering committee member Leslie Young. It’s still unclear what types of projects the old street lamps could pay for, but some ideas include wayfinding signage, banners promoting the neighborhood during street events, or a community kiosk and bulletin board, according to Young.

The street lamps aren’t historic artifacts per se, but they are neighborhood symbols that could draw a fair amount of interest from locals. When the Tacoma Daily Index recently published an article about the street lamp donations, one person posted the following message on our Web site: “Cool! I hope there are a few left by the 11th.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Tacoma City Councilmember Marty Campbell, whose council district includes the Lincoln International Business District. “It’s not often that we, as a City, can surplus something and the local community can turn around and use it for public benefit.”

As for the non-profit, community-building organization Safe Streets, the project could be an opportunity to bolster its presence in the neighborhood.

“[Our] role in this project is as a non-profit partner with the Lincoln Business District steering committee, working to improve the vibrancy of the district,” said Safe Streets Development Associate Traci Kelly. “We feel the project has the potential to raise awareness and support for the district.

“We will continue working with the steering committee to ensure this project promotes the district and has a positive outcome for all involved,” added Kelly.

Campbell applauded Safe Streets’ involvement. “They have been around for as long as those street lamps have been around,” he said. “They were in a position to partner with the neighborhood. They are trying to get more involved in neighborhood business districts. This helps with their mission of being more engaged with the community.”

For now, the street lamps need to be moved out of a City storage facility by the end of this month. The steering committee and Safe Streets will probably spend the next several months working with neighborhood residents and business owners on how to move forward with a fund-raising auction.

“The main purpose for this, in my eyes, is that it’s a fun, community-based project,” said Young. “Raising money is great. But that is only a small portion of it.”

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and author of A Reporter At Large and Wah Mee. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.