Public art part of $2M Old Town Dock rehab

When the $2 million renovation of Old Town Dock is completed next year, it will include a variety of amenities for visitors: new deck, hand rails, gazebo, and lighting. It will also include public art by Tacoma artist Chandler O’Leary.

“I’m developing a design for a series of intimate, illustrated pieces that draw the viewer into a playful search around the Old Town Dock space,” O’Leary commented in an interview that appeared Thursday on the City of Tacoma’s arts blog. You can read the complete interview online here. “Each piece is a small vignette — a window into the details of everyday life and work in and around the dock, throughout history and into the current day. These scenes — some hidden, some in plain sight — give a sense of the importance of Old Town Dock, and its central place in the lives of thousands of Tacomans. The search for each piece draws viewers into the space, and invites them to explore the layers of history, geography and visual interest inherent to the place.”

O’Leary also designed the etched glass artwork that is part of the downtown Tacoma Link station near South 11th Street and Commerce Street.

“Because there will be many small images, there is an opportunity to place the pieces in a variety of locations, heights, angles and vantage points,” O’Leary added. “I want to encourage viewers to go searching for these images, so some will be more readily visible than others. Some will be at a child’s eye level; others will be up high. Some will be visible from a distance — still others might be a pleasant surprise, close at hand. And at least one will be visible only from the water (as in a boat or kayak, etc.). The result, I hope, will encourage visitors to take advantage of all the Dock’s features, and to develop a sense of curiosity and play within the space.”

The rehabilitation of Tacoma’s 139-year-old Old Town Dock on Schuster Parkway is anticipated to begin this summer, according to Metro Parks Tacoma officials.

Wayne Williams, Metro Parks Tacoma Director of Operations, and Larry Dahl, Metro Parks Tacoma Board President, updated Tacoma City Council on the project during a study session at City Hall on April 10.

According to Williams and Dahl, construction permits for the dock are in place, design plans are 90 per cent complete, and construction is expected to begin in August. “People in the area are very excited,” Williams told councilmembers. “We have an active steering committee that has been involved in helping with the design and will continue to be an asset as we move into discussions about future opportunities for programming.”

Williams and Dahl also told city councilmembers a plan is under way to fund rest rooms adjacent to the dock.

Old Town Dock, located at 2123 Schuster Parkway and stretching out into Commencement Bay, dates back to 1873 and has been a hub for a variety of activities: a wharf for commercial fishing vessels; a chance to get closer to the water while visiting Tacoma’s Old Town neighborhood; a place for emergency services such as the Coast Guard and Tacoma Fire to hold rescue exercises; and a quiet spot to cast rod-and-reel and do some fishing on a sunny afternoon.

In July 2008, however, it was closed to visitors after the city’s public works department deemed it a danger to visitors. The deck is deteriorating and the structure lacks a handrail. In 2009, underwater inspections revealed structural deficiencies. The following year, a public meeting was held in Old Town to share the results of a structural survey that aimed to assist in the repairs and modifications required to reopen the dock and outline the next steps. A five-person advisory group was created to guide the process. Two assessments were completed to determine the extent of damage and establish a project budget. Later that year, Tacoma City Council awarded a $319,000 contract to Reid Middleton to perform design, permitting, and construction support services for the repairs. The City contributed $159,500; Metro Parks contributed $159,500. Last year, Tacoma City Council approved an additional $30,890 toward the project to cover additional design services.

The rehabilitation project will replace the pier’s deficient piles, deck, gazebo and flag pole, according to Metro Parks Tacoma’s Web site. It will also include a new hand railing, lighting, and fire suppression. The transient moorage dock will be repaired and finger piers replaced. According to the City of Tacoma’s construction projects Web site, the rehabilitation is scheduled to be completed by June 30, 2013.

In November 2005, Tacoma voters approved an $84.3 million bond measure to fund a variety of park improvements through 2013. The park improvements include $5.5 million to be directed toward matching funds for the promenade extension through the Asarco site to Point Defiance, reconstruction of Old Town Dock, new site lighting and furnishings, and utilities, rest room and concession renovations.