Tacoma City Hall shows support for Tollefson Plaza skateboarders

The City of Tacoma is moving closer to temporarily lifting a ban on skateboarding in Tollefson Plaza as part of a three-month pilot program that could begin later this month.

Currently, skateboarding is prohibited in the largely underused plaza, which is located near South 17th Street and Pacific Avenue, in downtown Tacoma. A proposal presented by Tacoma City Councilmember Marty Campbell (see “Skateboarders could soon be welcomed in Tollefson Plaza,” Tacoma Daily Index, June 15, 2015) would remove “no skateboarding” signs from the area and allow the activity between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. If approved by Tacoma City Council, the three-month Tollefson Plaza Skateboarding Pilot Project would begin on Sun., June 21, which is also the annual, internationally-recognized “Go Skateboarding Day.”

“As our City continues to revitalize downtown, and as skateboarding moves in from society’s margins, the time is now to allow skateboarding in Tollefson Plaza,” wrote Councilmember Campbell in a June 11 memo to Tacoma City Council (the memo was co-signed by Mayor Marilyn Strickland and Deputy Mayor David Boe). “I will be in communication with local stakeholders during and after the pilot to gauge how it is working for the neighborhood and whether the policy should continue after three months.”

The proposal was discussed by councilmembers during a study session Tuesday at Tacoma City Hall. “Probably just to remove the signs that say, ‘Do not have fun in this space at all costs,’” said Deputy Mayor Boe. “I think this is just great to see the pilot program, get some activation in the space, and I look forward to monitoring it over the next three months.”

Here are some of the other comments made by councilmembers on Tuesday regarding the proposal:

Tacoma City Councilmember Marty Campbell

As you know, for several years we have had the ‘Go Skate Tacoma’ event in Tollefson Plaza, which is actually part of an internationally celebrated ‘Go Skateboarding Day’ on or around June 21. It has been one of the best activations that we have had in Tollefson Plaza. A lot of people, when they first look at Tollefson Plaza, they think it was designed as a skate park and not as a central plaza for our city. That being said, one day of the year we celebrate it, and the rest of the year we tell people to go away. But we know . . . of the need to include skateboarding in our transportation master plans. It’s fast moving from a fringe element—or something that is kind of on the outskirts of society—and more toward something that is not only everyday transportation but also a recognized—soon to be recognized—Olympic sport. It’s something that’s moving into the mainstream and I think we need to do a better job of embracing it throughout our city.

One thing the organizers of ‘Go Skate Day’ have [done] every year is try to do a point of civil advocacy where they are doing something to make the community better and more accepting of skateboarders. In the past, it was a resolution from the mayor and city council. This year they want to take down the signs that say ‘No Skateboarding’ and just allow a very passive use during regular hours, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., through the summer. Their contention is that it has been going on all along, we just need to acknowledge what’s going on there, and we have better things that we could be addressing our time with. I have had discussions with the convention center, the Marriott, TAM, the Glass Museum, the History Museum, UWT, Two Koi—so everyone who surrounds it, they’re OK with it, they see the activity, they see the skateboarders coming and going, and they said they were OK with the three-month pilot and just see what comes out of that.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland

You can’t wonder why a space is empty when you have signs that say ‘No’ all the time. This is one way to activate a space and have more people enjoy it.

Tacoma City Councilmember Victoria Woodards

I had the pleasure of being downtown—I think it was last week or the week before last—and on the corner of Old City Hall and Pacific Avenue, I was walking back to my car and there were a whole bunch of skateboarders there. I was concerned about their safety as they were jumping the curb and ending up in Pacific Avenue. I appreciate [Councilmember Campbell] bringing this forward and giving them an opportunity to have a space where they can skateboard, it is allowed, and it’s safer than where they were last week when I saw them.

Tacoma City Councilmember Anders Ibsen

I think this is a great idea. This really reminds me of another positive example of claiming space. It’s a very positive example of people bringing positive energy and reclaiming space with activity they love. I think this is a really worthy issue to study. I support 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.