Repairs ahead for Frost Park fountain?

It is arguably the most visible corner in downtown Tacoma. A memorial for a fallen Tacoma police officer. A gathering place for a grassroots community of artists. But Larry Frost Memorial Park, located at the corner of South Ninth Street and Pacific Avenue downtown, has seen better days. Its cascading fountain that stretches from Commerce Street to Pacific Avenue hasn’t worked for a long time. And it has become a wasteland of broken concrete and scattered litter.

That could change soon.

Tacoma City officials are considering whether to direct money toward repairing the fountain and restoring the park to its original grandeur.

According to city officials, the list of needed repairs is long: multiple leaks in the walls and floors of the pool; potential underground pipe damage; water pump repairs; pressure washing; and a waterproof sealant. “Public Works received an updated estimate for repairs of about $40,000,” noted Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson in his April 14 weekly report to City Council. “It is anticipated to be completed by the end of summer. The repairs to the Frost Park pool would require Streets and Grounds to use about $40,000. The 2011 maintenance and operation budget allocated $20,000 for the grounds section. This would eliminate their ability to purchase supplies needed to plant and maintain other City landscaped areas and parks.”

Still, during City Council’s April 5 study session, Anderson noted that if the city wanted to spend money on the repairs, $40,000 would be “found in the capital program in one of the general accounts and [staff] will transfer the money from there, capital money, over to the repair.

The issue has worked its way through City Hall since February, when Councilmember David Boe asked for a report on how many of the city’s downtown fountains were operational. According to that report, which was shared during City Council’s March 5 committee of the whole meeting, three out of four of the city’s fountains were operational: Broadway Plaza (South 11th Street and Broadway); McCormick Park (South 10th and Fawcett Avenue); and Tollefson Plaza (South 17th Street and Pacific Avenue). A fourth fountain was not operational: Frost Park (South Ninth Street and Pacific Avenue). At the time, the estimated cost for repairs was $20,000.

On March 22, Councilmember Boe revisited the topic during City Council’s study session and stressed the importance of fixing the fountain.

“One is it’s our front door,” said Councilmember Boe. “I know people say, ‘Ninth Street, can we do something about this?’ We have this garbage can of a fountain — that’s what’s happening. It’s turning into a litter bin. What does that say about us? People use [the empty fountain] as sidewalk and benches, and it’s not designed for that.” He said he was concerned about liability issues related to people sitting in sections of the fountain that have drops of eight feet to concrete. “I believe we should be spending money securing that or putting hand rails in or guard rails in so we don’t have an accident. If we’re doing that on a fountain that’s not running, why don’t we take the money and fix the fountain? Because for me, I think we have a liability issue there because the fountain is off.” Councilmember Boe added that a broken fountain in such a highly visible part of downtown sends the wrong message to visitors and residents. “You’re concerned about storefronts being empty. It says something when you go some place and the fountains aren’t on.”

“We’ll review the liability,” said City Manager Anderson during the meeting. “I guess the fundamental principle on something like this is if we spend $40,000 there, we can’t do it somewhere else. If council wants to go forward with that repair, we can let you know what we can’t do [in other areas].”

Frost Park is named after Larry Frost, a 29-year-old Tacoma police officer who was shot and killed on Sept. 9, 1977. In recent years, a group of local artists has gathered on Fridays at noon for friendly chalk art competitions.

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