Waterfront site eliminated, Children's Museum regroups

Two months after backing out of a plan to relocate its museum on a site originally planned for a boat launch and open space along Thea Foss Waterway, representatives of the Children’s Museum of Tacoma told Tacoma City Councilmembers yesterday they would make a decision on where to relocate by year’s end.
That location will likely be in downtown Tacoma, according to the museum’s executive director, Tanya Andrews. But she added that other neighborhoods have not been ruled out.
“We want to be accessible to the biggest group we possibly can,” said Andrews, who spoke during Tacoma City Council’s weekly noon study session. Recently, a developer in the city’s Hilltop neighborhood has expressed interest in collaborating with the museum on its new location. Andrews said she would be meeting with that developer for a visit to the area in the next week.
Though the museum has not selected a location, Andrews did outline a criteria for a new facility and location. It includes:
— a new facility should offer 25,000 square feet of space, with 13,000 square feet for museum space, 5,000 square feet for administrative offices, 4,000 square feet for visitor services, and 3,000 for back-of-house use. It should also offer 25-30 parking stalls for museum visitors, and be able to accommodate 125,000 visitors annually;
— a new facility should offer approximately 10,000 square feet of open space for outdoor play. “I really feel like we are lacking that in our downtown core,” said Andrews. “We don’t need to own a park. But could we locate ourselves near a park?”
John Folsom, chair of the museum’s site selection committee, said the museum has raised $1.6 million so far. In addition to clarifying the museum’s site selection criteria, the committee and museum staff plan to meet with Tacomans throughout the summer to fund-raise and solicit input in order to make an informed decision on where to relocate.
Earlier this year, the museum took a hard look at open space along Thea Foss Waterway as one potential relocation site. 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 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, Metro Parks Tacoma 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.
The idea sparked debate between the museum, City Hall, and Tacomans who wanted to see the site preserved as an open space and boat launch. In March, the museum announced it would back away from the plan.
The Children’s Museum was founded in 1985, the result of a planning study conducted by Metro Parks Tacoma. This year, it expects to serve approximately 40,000 visitors in its 3,500-square-foot space downtown. In recent years, it has seen the number of children and families it serves rise approximately 10 percent annually. A majority of the children it serves are eight-year-old and younger.
“It’s important to the City of Tacoma, and I’m pleased downtown is the focus of its future site,” said Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma.