Open space or Children's Museum? Future unclear for planned Foss Waterway conservation site

Will it be the future site of the Tacoma Children’s Museum? Or will it be an open space and hub for launching non-motorized watercraft into Foss Waterway?
Those are the questions that surround the future of a three-acre parcel of land at the south end of the Foss.
The topic was discussed Feb. 26 at City Hall, during the Tacoma City Council’s regular study session. The site was originally set aside as passive open space for visitors to launch kayaks or canoes, or just enjoy a respite from nearby downtown. The Foss Waterway Development Authority (FWDA) purchased the site in 2005 with money provided by the Pierce County Conservation Futures, under the provision of Washington State law. The original vision was sparked by Citizens For A Healthy Bay, a Tacoma-based advocacy group. Last spring, the Metropolitan Park District completed a study that outlined future use of the site.
The site currently houses an old building that kayakers and boaters would like to rehabilitate for storage.
But the city got involved when the museum considered relocating outside Tacoma, possibly to Fife. With former Councilmember Bill Evans’s support, organizers began to look at the Foss site as a future location for the museum.
The interest has led to a number of questions:
— Can the site be re-purposed for the Children’s Museum?
— If not, would building in facilities and storage space for watercraft enthusiasts as part of a museum construction plan suffice?
— If FWDA returned the money used to purchase the land, would covenants over its use be lifted?
— If the site isn’t permissible for the museum, could other FWDA-owned land be used for open space in exchange for building the museum on the site?
Those are some of the questions posed by FWDA executive director Don Meyer, in a Feb. 22 letter to Pierce County Prosecutor Gerald Horne.
The FWDA will host two meetings to discuss the issue. The first, an open house, is scheduled for March 10, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., in the Phoenix Room at Freighthouse Square, 430 E 25th St. The second, a public hearing, will be held March 19 at 5:00 p.m. at the Fabulich Business Center, 3600 Port of Tacoma Road.
FWDA held two public meetings earlier this year.
Tacoma City Council is expected to revisit the topic at a future study session.
During Tuesday’s meeting, councilmembers shared differing viewpoints on the site’s future. Some felt the issue was between FWDA, Pierce County, and the Children’s Museum. The city shouldn’t be involved in the decision. Others, however, felt that since former Councilmember Bill Evans had been onboard supporting the idea early on, the City should take a position.
“I believe we really do need to consider this, given our fingerprints are on this,” said Councilmember Jake Fey. “We really need to step up, discuss, examine alternatives, and be clearly on the record. We ought to be sending a message to the Foss Waterway Development Authority.”
But Councilmember Rick Talbert disagreed.
“It was my understanding this was not a decision the City of Tacoma would be making,” he said. Talbert added that he favored seeing the site serve as a home for the museum. “I think this would be an appropriate place for [the Children’s Museum]. The exposure of young people to the Foss would be a strong benefit of keeping the museum on the Foss.”
Councilmember Spiro Manthou agreed.
“I support [the museum idea],” he said. “But it was clear there were hurdles we had to overcome. Hopefully, we can make it happen. We need to make a statement if we want it down there.”
“I honestly don’t think this site is the end-all, be-all for the Children’s Museum,” said Councilmember Mike Lonergan. He argued the site was not near any bus connections, and visitors would be better served if the museum relocated elsewhere in Tacoma. “Maybe Freighthouse Square, where they could use that activity,” he added.
Councilmember Julie Anderson disagreed. “I would counter and ask if this is the best site for open space,” said Anderson. She argued that if the site were used as open space, most people would drive to the site.
She also said the final decision should come from the FWDA, and not the city. “Foss Waterway Development Authority has the decision,” she added. “I agree our role is small. But the impact is huge.”