Tacoma Urbanist

Mar. 26, 2008 at 12:19am

Tollefson Plaza Redesign by Architect David Boe

In light of Tollefson Plaza failure to have any life since construction, the City of Tacoma has hired Danish consultant Lars Gemzoe who is going to see what can be done about Tollefson Plaza.

Today, I received by email a re-design proposal by architect and Vice Chair of the Tacoma Planning Commission David Boe:

The new building would have market stalls on the first and second level and have a rooftop garden.  There is alot of potential here.  The building frames the sidewalk well with glass.

Here was the accompanying email in part:

Erik, attached is a sketch of what my comment on Tollefson Plaza ‘might’ be.  What do you think?  David

 (and the art mast looks sort of semi-religious – was not my intent...)

on Exit 133, Boe comments Tollefson Plaza re-design:

Maybe the Danish consultant will tell us to fill it in. Plug the vacant hole with active covered space for market stalls or similar. Make it two stories tall with a public roof garden on-top. Connect it to the Convention Center above the Link. Incorporate artwork at the apex of the corner and niches for statuary (Goddess of Commerce+). Just a thought…
(Boe also gives some additional analysis below in the comments as to the need for the re-design)


Planning commissioner Boe suggestion would go a long ways toward connecting the two areas of downtown and adding life in the area.  Place for a market of some kind.  Right now there are north and south sections of downtown with a huge dead zone between.

Whether one reads Jane Jacobs, material from Project for Public Space, Kunstler, Tollefson Plaza was a predictable failure.  Jacobs would likely call it one of the "promenades that go from no place to nowhere and have no promenaders."  Or as summed up in an American Institute of Architects article:

One other key point of Jacobs is her belief that open space for the sake of open space ... is often detrimental and simply unused.

When Kunstler comes to Tacoma, I predict he will be far more critical in assessing Tollefson Plaza.

Successful plazas magnify the areas around them and have activities like restaurants or other activities on their edge which spill into the plaza.  Tollefson Plaza is cut off on all sides by a roadway, train tracks and its own wall by the Marriot.  It is predictably dead.

Did the city ask the question of whether a plaza placed at this location with this design would be successful or not?   Did the architect of the project ever suggest that this would work?  There are others that know the history better that I.  However, I suspect that the city simply thought "open space" in the abstract is in itself was somehow beneficial and needed to do something with this parcel.

 At any rate, its a dead zone downtown that has alot of possibilities for some use and life.

The city is right to hire a consultant to try to make use of the area.  They should consider Boe's redesign suggestion or a variation of it and implement it.  The sooner the better.

comments [48]  |  posted under tacoma, tollefson plaza


by NineInchNachos on 3/26/2008 @ 9:03am
now it looks like a 1900's battle ship, which is an improvement i suppose

by Erik on 3/26/2008 @ 11:29am
now it looks like a 1900's battle ship, which is an improvement i suppose

Yes, also if you examine the picture Boe places in the Goddess of Commerce on the top of the building.

In fact, he designates a "mast" on the front of the building.

by KevinFreitas on 3/26/2008 @ 12:10pm
Wow, thanks for sharing Erik. Though having the open space is nice, having something truly more usable there might be the answer in the end. Don't give up yet since there will be some attention focused there again soon. If programming Tollefson fails then I think it would be time to move on. Haven't even tried programming it yet so I don't consider it having failed... yet.

by Erik on 3/26/2008 @ 12:21pm
Wow, thanks for sharing Erik. Though having the open space is nice, having something truly more usable there might be the answer in the end.

It will be interesting to see what results of the programming work on Tollefson Plaza. Perhaps we could give it another year and see what happens.

Implementing Boe's proposal however, could be a better and more continuous use of the space though than an occasional event. Thus, I don't see that option as giving up on anything, just as an improvement.

by Jake on 3/26/2008 @ 12:23pm
We don't want to jump the gun. The city might have a large hotel built next to the convention center, United Way has said they would like their parking lot developed, the UWT is growing, a Russell Campus might be built 2 blocks away.

Something needs to be done to the plaza but filling it in should be a last resort and the last resort shouldn't happen unitl the neighborhood is fully developed.

by boearc on 3/26/2008 @ 12:53pm
Great urban spaces start with great edges - the frame for the space so to speak. Tollefson has only three sides to the frame. North: Marriot Hotel - as noted above, no interaction with the space was designed - maybe it still could be but only at the upper level as I understand there is great big whacking electrical gear on the Pacific Level. East: Pacific Avenue could be a good edge with a bit of work (and as noted above - with development on the East side of the street). West - er Southwest - per South Southwest - the Link creates a barrier to allow any interaction - so the hypotenuse is forever barred from access to the plaza. Given the 'triange' shape - one of the hardest shapes to make effecient for anything except for slicing pie - why not fill it in and create actually habitable space and then put the public space 'on-top?' No one is going to get married in Tollefson Plaza - but would they on the roof of Tollefson Triangle?

by Erik on 3/26/2008 @ 12:58pm
Thanks for the analysis David.

At a very minimum, the Danish consultant Lars Gemzoe the city is hiring should include a re-design as a possibility in his scope of work to at least examine the issue since he is getting paid.

Then hopefully Kunstler will give his take on Tollefson Plaza on 4/23. That should give us a variety of viewpoints along with yours.

by Nick on 3/26/2008 @ 4:13pm
I actually like David Boe's idea of some vendor stalls - I think that could act as a catalyst to creating a street-vendor area which is something that has been lacking in Tacoma so far.

What if the vendor stalls were built into the hillside where the steps are now? then the plaza could remain relatively open while also providing means of drawing people into it. Plus we'd be getting something we haven't had yet - street vendors!

by NineInchNachos on 3/26/2008 @ 4:25pm
Amen: bring on the street vending!

by izenmania on 3/26/2008 @ 4:32pm
A lot of the problem with the plaza right now is that no one is trying. I'd like to wait and see if the programming agreement gets the space used before talking about spending public funds on re-doing a space we just made.

by Erik on 3/26/2008 @ 4:35pm
I actually like David Boe's idea of some vendor stalls - I think that could act as a catalyst to creating a street-vendor area which is something that has been lacking in Tacoma so far.

Yes, what it could be is a semi-permanent market with stalls.

Otherwise, one has to lug their tent out every week. The stalls could simply be opened up by unlocking them and having an instant roof that pops up from the raised door.

If there were enough of them, there could be some serious synergy going on with small vendors of different kinds.

Also, with a permanent station a great variety of vendors could be there as they don't have to move their goods every time they close.

I see Boe also re-connects the retail on the first floor of the Marriot with the new structure. Right now, there is just this dead utility alcove between the Marriot and the backside of the red cement bleachers of Tollefson Plaza.

by Ben Ferguson on 3/26/2008 @ 4:56pm
I was one of the designers for this project and I am finally going to weigh in. I normally avoid these blogs but I am tired of having this project bashed continually.

The report "Creating a Great Civic Square" by the Project for Public Spaces gives a lot of information about this public space. The goals stated in the executive summary are:

"Developing a strategy to draw people onto the Plazaq to enjoy it on a daily basis;

Generating foot traffic throughout the area to support businesses and attract retail;

Programming and managing the Plaza on an ongoing basis;

Finding a steward for the Plaza;

Using the Plaza to establish a lively gateway to the downtown."

As far as I can tell none of these items has been realized and it appears that the majority of the effort relating to the plaza has been spent attacking it and coming up with plans on how to erase it from Tacoma. Perhaps if this effort was better spent following the other recommendations from the Project for Public Spaces we would currently have a vital urban square.

In the conclusion of the Executive Summary you will find this:

"Pacific Plaza has the potential to become downtown Tacoma's central square. It could serve as a unifying force, connecting downtown's great places and providing a "front porch" for local institutions and civic organizations to express their missions. It has the infrastructure required to become a great event space. Now that there is a vision for the Plaza, the City and the Downtown BIA should demand greatness from all the new development in the downtown core, working with developers who are investing in nearby sites to build premium projects that take advantage of the economic and social benefits to be reaped from a well-managed, active public square."

Clearly this consultant that we all value and paid money to come visit our city believes that this public space should be erased and filled in with another building.

For the record I began the design process for this project with a copy of Small Urban Spaces. The design began with attempts to overcome the obvious difficulties of grade, a site bisected by a light rail track, limited budget and no government agency or organization willing to manage the project. The process of gaining buy-in from the public in meetings, from the City of Tacoma, Metro Parks, Sound Transit, the Courtyard Marriot, the Convention Center among others was no simple task.

There was a program that was developed, requirements for infrastructure and the hope for small scale and large scale events, potentially separate and running at the same time. There was a desire to heal the pedestrian circulation route from Commerce to Pacific and to enable the disabled to not need assistance to get down the hill. We also highlighted the main circulation route for the accessible as the same route that the able bodied would take. All of this circulation can continue despite two simultaneous events, on the upper and lower spaces. All of this was designed over the carcass of a removed street. Any of you who have ever had to design something over a right-of-way will know how complicated this can be.

I am very proud of the solution that was obtained. I think that this space is a foundation that many different and varied activities could thrive in... if it was managed.

This is not to say that the project is perfect. There is a long list of items that I am disappointed with. Every complicated project is full of compromises and the projects of the other architects on this blog are no exception. Given the environment that was present when it was built, given the budget we had, the constraints that were present, I am immensely proud of the space that was created. If anyone on this list has had the challenge to design a civic square for a middle to large city and did a better job I would like to go visit it. If you improved on my work I would applaud you.

At another time I will give some of my own suggestions on how to invigorate the plaza we have. I suggest that those of you that are truly trying to improve Tacoma shift your own efforts towards the same goal.

by intacoma on 3/26/2008 @ 5:16pm
I'm excited to hear your ideas, when will you share? I think turning that area into a large skatepark would be great

by Erik on 3/26/2008 @ 5:22pm
Thanks for weighing in Ben.

Given the environment that was present when it was built, given the budget we had, the constraints that were present, I am immensely proud of the space that was created.

Hindsight is always 20/20 so you are right that its not fair to completely judge what you had to work with then with how it is viewed now. Plus, no one knows your restraints at the time. All they know about is the result now and a desire to improve it.

This is not to say that the project is perfect. There is a long list of items that I am disappointed with. Every complicated project is full of compromises and the projects of the other architects on this blog are no exception.

What are they? Are they similar to the one others have noted here and elsewhere?

Are there some design changes that, having observed some time passed now, you believe could improve Tollefson Plaza?

Finally, do you think that Boe' proposal to add some vendor spaces to Tollefson Plaza has a likelihood to add more life into the area than exists now?

by ensie on 3/26/2008 @ 5:25pm
Ben - Great to hear your input. I think a lot of people feel the way that I do. I have no problem with the space itself; I appreciate open spaces and parks in downtown areas. My problem is, as many people have expressed, the fact that no one has taken any responsibility to manage the space, which you make abundantly clear in your comment.

I'm not a huge fan of the new project design - I'd prefer to keep the space open. Look at the plaza/park at Westlake Center in Seattle, which is never empty. I'd love to see something similar for the existing Tollefson Plaza.

by Voronoff-the-Ghost-Critic on 3/26/2008 @ 5:27pm
Easy solution:

An open-air market a la Seattle's Pike Place or
Saturday Market in Portal Land, it doesn't take much for the farmers and vendors to show up, especially if it was like an extension of the spring and summer farmers market.....

Invite Street Performers to Mob the Empty Square.
Yes I am talking about LIVE MUSIC!
Impromptu Mime-Clown-Statues!
Jugglers, Live Painters, Dancers,
I thought Tacoma was a real live City.
Or maybe someone should start installing
art sculptures there anyway to get some public reaction/commentary. Or Or Or
keep talking people.
talk talk talk, type type type.....

by NineInchNachos on 3/26/2008 @ 5:36pm
at the end of the day we have a concrete pit that won a design award.

this absurd disconnect and ultimate failure is a beautiful tribute to the unknowable mystery of the human experience.

this is something we can all celebrate to some degree.

by NineInchNachos on 3/26/2008 @ 5:55pm
lets not forget that frost park suffers from many of the same challenges: adjacent heavy-traffic road, speeding trains/mass transit, butted against featureless concrete wall... however frost park has an extra side being square in shape so the tragedy averages out. Now compared to the Triangle you have no 'non threatening' side portion to average the bad sides out against.

Crap! I just thought of something!!!

we swap the names of the two parks. You solve the drug-dealer-in-park-named-after-cop problem of Frost Park... and you solve the lifeless/Triangle problem of Toff. Square!

by Ben Ferguson on 3/26/2008 @ 7:00pm
"invite Street Performers to Mob the Empty Square.
Yes I am talking about LIVE MUSIC!
Impromptu Mime-Clown-Statues!
Jugglers, Live Painters, Dancers,
I thought Tacoma was a real live City."

This is more along the lines of what I am talking about. When this project began I began to champion for a new way of managing the city. A way that would encourage the kind of small personal encounter often found in vital cities. Nothing happened.

After the plaza was open I went and met with a couple council members. I explained that without a REASON to go to a public plaza, nobody will.

I urged them to change the policy that keeps street vendors from obtaining licenses for non-event days. After years this still has not happened. I encourage street vendors at festivals to call the city and ask for a change. How can this be difficult to complete?

I urged them to make it legal for street musicians to play in downtown. It hasn't happened. They are only allowed to play on the Bridge of Glass because it is over state land.

I've been told by a local restaurant that they have tried to sponsor events on the plaza but that they've been rebuffed by whoever is in charge. This part is second hand so don't quote me, but the reason I remember is they were told that for-profit organizations and businesses are not allowed to rent the space. Only non-profits are. If this is true then it is truly shameful.

I'd like to see some furniture in the project. We had benches and water fountains in the original design. We had about 18 additional cherry trees along Pacific Avenue. Places for people to sit and gather in the shade. Some places to sit with your face to the activity and other places that are more secluded.

We even added power and water along both sides of Pacific Avenue so that we could support a whole bunch of booths in an event that required a shut down of Pacific Avenue.

If it were managed we could have tables with chess boards, tables with umbrellas and movable chairs so that people could have informal opportunities for community. We could have places to sit up top and down below. Some people might sit on the steps near the water.

If the plaza were managed we might have actual events there on a regular basis. We put lots and lots of power spread all over the plaza in the upper and lower areas. We put open conduit so that wires could be pulled under the ground service to a couple zones in the lower bowl.

Some ideas for events might include an artist market or Third Thursday summer evening movie nights where the Grand Cinema and Metro Parks collaborate to put the large inflatable movie screen near Pacific Avenue and people would sit in the entire large amphitheater. They could play Grand Theater style movies like Little Miss Sunshine or A Fist Full of Quarters.

An idea that I think would be simple and fun would be to create a 'Free Speech Zone' daily from 11:30 to 1:30 in the lower bowl near the center of the apex (the small amphitheater with the grass terraces flanked by stadium stairs). There would be a list at the managing group that held a single slot for any non-event day. On a first come-first served basis individuals or groups could sign up and be the center of attention. Maybe you would get a comedian wanting to hone his act, or maybe a Kindergarten wanting to put on a version of Pinocchio, or maybe you'd get a crazy guy who would want to would firebrand us all with his version of reality. In any case you could come down to the Plaza, grab a sandwich at Quizno's or grab a dawg at the Hot Dog stand in the plaza (post-revised vendor ordinance), sit in the grass and watch the show. You'd always know that there was something going on.

The list of things to do is only limited by our ideas and some organizations willingness to manage it.

If we collectively discussed how to get the city leaders to step up and take ownership of this parcel it would go a long ways towards improving things.

It only took a couple weeks to change the name of the place and it has taken years to allow vendors to sell their wares. If the city is not willing to turn on the lighting control panel that lights the grass steps and upper trees at night (which has timers to turn on and off automatically if it is turned on) can we really expect these big goals to be realized?

This plaza needs leadership and political will. Is there enough interest in this city to encourage our leaders to step up?

by NineInchNachos on 3/26/2008 @ 8:19pm
We don't need leaders. We just need to do it. If The Friday Night feed can get away with it so can we. Did George Washington need a permit? No! He just fucking did it. So lets Make George Proud!

Cry baby architects aren't going to solve our problems. It is the people who rise up, those are teh problem solvers.

Jim Dires says we need to act like pirates. So lets act like pirates god damn it!

by morgan on 3/26/2008 @ 8:47pm
What a great dialog! Mostly civil too!

I just wanted to refresh memory caches about a previous post on the BIA Blog (one of Paul's last posts before leaving):

Tollefson Plaza Management Contract Nearly Done

A licensing agreement between the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and the City of Tacoma to create a pro-active management entity for Tacoma's central public square is nearly complete--so much so that details were shared yesterday with members of the Tacoma City Council's Government Performance & Finance Committee.

As presented to city leaders--and yet to be approved by either party--the proposed license would have the following provisions:

The license allows the Chamber to be the “primary manager” of the Plaza, based on recommendations made in 2006 by the consulting organization, Project for Public Spaces, and also on Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square;
The Chamber intends to develop a schedule of ongoing activities in the Plaza to promote more foot traffic and increase the visibility of the Plaza for community uses, and will be programming the Plaza, managing relationships with public and private sector partnerships and marketing the Plaza to the public;
The City, including the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, retains the right to program the Plaza for events, and the Chamber also must allow use of the space for constitutionally protected activities;
The full-time City events coordinator that will oversee the event permitting process will be expected to coordinate with the Chamber on use of the Plaza;
The City will not pay a fee for the Chamber to manage the Plaza, nor will the Chamber pay the City a fee to use the Plaza--the Chamber’s services will be funded through fees, sponsorships, and other fundraising;
The agreement will be for a two-year term with two renewal periods allowed for a total of six years.

Ben: it's great to have you a part of this discussion. I think we sometimes lose perspective of where we are now versus where Tacoma was then. A lot has changed in just a few short years. But I agree, we need more leadership and political will.

Re: vendors -
One unknown in my mind is where are the street performers and sidewalk vendors? Are there enough of them around here? I know just to get some of the farmers market vendors to consider coming up for another day is nearly impossible. I know this because I have tried. They are booked up with other street fairs but also have a life maintaining their farm, bakery, cheese factory, etc. To this end, Tacoma should be focusing on growing homegrown entrepreneurs. We can't rely on others to do it for us. Granted, saving Russell is important, but where are the next Russell's going to come from and what are we doing to make it possible for them to start in Tacoma?

by CA on 3/26/2008 @ 8:49pm
I like the idea of summer night movies in the plaza. If Pacific Grill or the Harmon could serve beers up there on the upper level overlooking the plaza(and the movie screen) Im there!

by KevinFreitas on 3/26/2008 @ 10:09pm
Great call CA. And thanks to Ben for chiming in. This space hasn't even been given a chance at life yet. The post on the BIA is good but I see lots of red tape in the space's future. Let's just use it. Open it up, free reign for 6 months. Music. Movies. Juggling. Food. Skateboarding -- whoops! Toss some plants and a few picnic tables and some shade in the mix and we'll have an amazing place on our hands.

by thriceallamerican on 3/27/2008 @ 9:22am
I, for one, would like to see how David Bowie would redesign Tollefson Plaza...

by thriceallamerican on 3/27/2008 @ 9:30am
(Cool Escher-esque staircases like at the end of Labyrinth, perhaps?)

by Erik on 3/27/2008 @ 9:50am
Great urban design discussion. One of the best I have seen on the blogsosphere given the participants.

If there is one thing Tacoma needs is for architects, through the AIA or independently to be more active in the urban design in the city.

Reading through David Boe's and Ben Ferguson's posts, there is actually little conflict.

Ben states that he was given a task and did the best he could with it. He had alot of restrictions. With the exception of the extended stairs which cut off the plaza from the retail space on the Marriot, I agree with him. I don't think Ben was ever given the discretion of whether to fill the area with buildings (that Boe suggests) or to build a plaza.

However, I also agree with David Boe's statement that because the parcel had all three of its edges cut off from other activities, it was inappropriate to designated as an "open space" as it was doomed to be a dead zone as it has been from day one:

Great urban spaces start with great edges - the frame for the space so to speak. Tollefson has only three sides to the frame. North: Marriot Hotel - as noted above, no interaction with the space was designed - maybe it still could be but only at the upper level as I understand there is great big whacking electrical gear on the Pacific Level

by boearc on 3/27/2008 @ 12:16pm
Great urban spaces do not require programming to make them work. The real issue here is that due to the decision to run the bLINK on this route - Tollefson Plaza was 'left over' space that great effort has, and will, be spent to infuse the space with activity. So - why did the Link go here - because is was a political decsion that did not inlcude enough study of the urban design ramifications of the route. Yes we have 20/20 vision now - but that hasn't stopped this type of political planning to continue unabated. Maybe we need consultants to study this behavior?

by Jake on 3/27/2008 @ 1:04pm
" it was doomed to be a dead zone as it has been from day one:"

But lets not forget Downtown Tacoma for the most part is a dead zone. Sure it can be somewhat bustling during the lunch hour but almost any other time it is dead. I think we want a Westlake Center or Pioneer Park but we don't have the people mass or business mass to create it.

Where are the neareast residential units? 3 blocks? 5 blocks?
Where is the nearest well known retailer bringing folks downtown? Maybe the UPS Store? The UPS Store where the city has to continually subsidizes its rent??

Yes there are problems with the space but if Downtown isn't even lively why should the plaza be lively?

by thriceallamerican on 3/27/2008 @ 1:10pm
David, if the LINK hadn't transitioned up a block in this location, then where? Keeping it on Pacific would have been unfortunate, limiting the ability to continue the streetcar up the hill. And while it would have been better to get it all the way up to Broadway (so that the extension could more easily go up St. Helens), at least having it on Commerce will allow it to continue up the hill on Stadium Way. Or are you saying that we shouldn't have built the LINK at all?

by NineInchNachos on 3/27/2008 @ 1:35pm
The link should have been routed through the Chinese tunnel network.

by Erik Hanberg on 3/27/2008 @ 1:43pm

I've heard that moving the Link to Commerce was a political decision, as well. It is a narrow street with two pedestrian walkways and it's the alley essentially to both Broadway and Pacific. It should not have a streetcar on it.

The Link should have gone straight down Pacific and ended somewhere right near Drakes and the Matador where there are ... you know, already people. Pacific is as wide as it because it originally had a street car running down it.

I heard (through those pesky rumor mills) that a City Council person in the mid 90s caused the shift to Commerce for his personal business reasons. Don't know if that's true or not.

As to going up Stadium Way, I've heard it's too steep for the Link, but that might not be true (or perhaps was true when I heard it 5 years ago, but technology has fixed it).

by NineInchNachos on 3/27/2008 @ 1:49pm
coolest thread ever!

by thriceallamerican on 3/27/2008 @ 2:36pm
Erik H, as far as I know, Sound Transit has long wanted to extend the LINK to TCC...though maybe that was at the behest of said mid-90's councilman (who I'm thinking might be the same councilman who used to have a stake in the Landmark...at least that's the only person I can think of offhand who would have an interest in getting the Link up the hill).

I don't think Stadium Way is too steep...that is, until you get to those nasty corners up by Stadium, where things get a bit questionable.

Pacific has great foot traffic and width for a streetcar (duh, as you say it was built for it), but the big caveat is that it essentially dead-ends after Old City Hall, unless you're going to make the investment to extend it out to Old Town. (Which isn't a bad idea, but is expensive given that it would travel quite a distance through a non-populated area.)

I'm still gonna say Broadway was the way to go, given that it has excellent foot traffic, could serve the farmers market and theaters, and would be able to serve the St. Helens neighborhood quite nicely if extended. Granted, we missed that chance already. But to pull this back to the original topic, even with the poor choice of Commerce as the street to use, we had to make that transition up the hill SOMEWHERE.

(That was ramble-iffic...not sure I made any central point. Hmmm...)

by boearc on 3/27/2008 @ 3:01pm
I hate to continue this - as we are getting off-subject (my fault) but the bLINK is a light-rail - totally inappropriate for the route is it on now and proposed for the future. BUT, Sound Transit needed to get a light-rail up and running to show it can be done - fortunately Tacoma was the...ah, how do aI say this, the most ammeniable to having it constructed here (as far as I know, no one is riding any other Sound Transit light-rail at the moment are they?). So, the solution was a street car that could have stopped every other block - not a light-rail (a sledge hammer to crack a walnut - but at 4x+ the cost!). As for route, from an urban design standpoint, it probably should have stayed on Pacific as mentioned OR it could have crosses Pacific at 25th and hooked into Broadway THROUGH the UWT campus - being more mid-hill would make it more conducise for other development and it could have used the vestigages of Olmstead's plan to access Jefferson/Broadway/St. Helens (all the way to Division and etc. (and while light-rail can make the grade at Stadium is would turn-over rounding the corner - and imagine it with school buses and morning/evening northend traffic).

by thriceallamerican on 3/27/2008 @ 3:08pm
David, you definitely have my agreement on streetcar vs. light-rail. Going through UWT would have been brill, and sounds like you're on board for the benefits of being on Broadway/St. Helens, etc. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, I guess. Anyway, sorry in retrospect for the subject derailment. (Haha, derailment! Ba-dum-dum-CHING!)

by NineInchNachos on 3/27/2008 @ 3:41pm
deeply fascinating! This material would make for a great podcast download.

by morgan on 3/27/2008 @ 10:45pm
Thrice: like Landmark, the other one is still around... and reads blogs.

Ok, like I've asked before on Frost Park: what can we (as people who care) do to make Tollefson Plaza more usable? How do we soften the edges? Programming is one thing, but I agree with David, the space needs to stand on its own and attract users with or without programming. I hate the idea of scrapping it and starting over, that would be wasteful. Can we do more than just blog about it?

Not to get off topic again, but I see other issues coming down soon from the very same entity that contributed to Tollefson. Remember this? Effort to Save Downtown From Sound Transit Plan Gains Ground There are going to be several opportunities to create more Tollefson Square-like plazas. Are you ready?

by Erik on 3/27/2008 @ 11:33pm
Programming is one thing, but I agree with David, the space needs to stand on its own and attract users with or without programming. I hate the idea of scrapping it and starting over, that would be wasteful. Can we do more than just blog about it?

As David describes, there are three sides of Tollefson Plaza.

The hypotenuse: this boarders the LINK track time which is unlikely to be moved. No opportunities here.

The west side adjacent to Pacific Avenue: The city is unlikely to move Pacific Avenue. No "softening" opportunities here.

The North Side by the Marriot: This side is the only one to do anything with. The section of the red cement staircase could be removed to connect Tollefson Plaza with the retail space on the first floor of the Marriot. That might also encourage a tenant to rent out the retail space in the Marriot the activity of which could then spill over into Tollefson Plaza.

by Erik on 3/28/2008 @ 12:57am
Great urban spaces do not require programming to make them work.

Ones with active edges like these?:

by NineInchNachos on 3/29/2008 @ 9:01am
Tollefson Plaza's Design Inspiration:

strip mines...

Sarlacc Pit (aka wabacha)...

by NineInchNachos on 3/29/2008 @ 9:06am
I offer hope. I have donated this bronze colossus to the tacoma city planners for a token 'donation fee' I sincerely hope they decide to look to the future instead of dwelling on failure.

tollefson Plaza

This is how Tollefson PLaza MIGHT be. Also check out the view of the Tacoma Art Museum from the park...
Tacoma Art Museum

by fredo on 3/30/2008 @ 12:35pm
I was originally thinking we needed some fragile glass-art down there that the local teenagers could have some interactive fun with but now that I see the bronze colossus, I like that better. Nice illustration. Regarding the street vendors, I don't think we need anyone but the henna-tattoo lady, she always draws a big crowd.

by urbanX on 6/7/2008 @ 4:49pm
This is a difficult situation.
The problem with the "programing" idea is that any space you have to program to get people to inhabit, is not working.
Despite beautiful design, this is a "non-space". If sod was put down on the plaza floor it would at least give us a green space rather than a huge expanse of concrete (this is why the skate park makes an interesting option).
A major obstical (sp?) that is almost insurmountable is that great squares and plazas work due to activated edges and with all the edges of this space being major roadways and the link rail that is impossible. The one possibility to activate those edges would be to put food vendor booths all around them and then fill the interior with tables and umbrellas. (the grass would still be nice).
there have been no food vendors downtown because for years it was against the law. the law is changed but no one knows that so it would take some promotion perhaps by the chamber who hopefully will become the organization activating the plaza.

by urbanX on 6/7/2008 @ 4:52pm
after reading more i see the law has not been changed for vendors. that is ridiculous. i hope it is incorrect. i also see that the city needs to open the space up to both profit and non profits. the restrictions of the city govet. seem to be a commone ailment for activating things here.

by rithean on 6/7/2008 @ 7:23pm
I know I am a bit late for posting a comment on this topic, but ever since the first time that I saw the plaza I thought that it needed something in the middle. A fountain would be nice. Something big and moving to stare at, since if you are going to sit there the only thing to see right now is traffic, and if people want to see that they can look anywhere.

Yes, developing it with small vendor stalls might be nice, but I don't think the space is quite large enough to fit a permanent variety of vendors. Shopping space should be covered, because contrary to many designer's visions.. it rains here. You could fit some seasonal vendors in there, but then the space would be dead the rest of the year, unless there are events that use it.

If we move up the hill a few streets, say Court D where all that parking is, that whole street could be turned into small vendor area with plenty of space for everyone. There could even be a year round enclosed public market building. A block could be closed to traffic. Put some restaurants in there with seasonal outdoor seating areas. Add some additional variety of business. It is still close to the link, but there is more space for more activity.

by Erik on 6/7/2008 @ 8:32pm
Yes, developing it with small vendor stalls might be nice,

The area is dead...because it is dead. It needs more humans and more activity built in either temporary or permanent vendor stalls. The more the merrier.

by ALT on 6/8/2008 @ 11:09am
The area is dead...because it is dead. It needs more humans and more activity built in either temporary or permanent vendor stalls. The more the merrier.

Thank you Erik! R.R's Chalk Challenge proved that all you need to do is start something. Invite people. Frost Park is certainly not the largest and most impressive looking place, yet in the past few months it's been teaming with positive activity every Friday.

Create a recurring event for people to participate in on regular dates at T. Plaza. Even if you just get a trickle of people in initially, the activity and energy they generate is enough to capture others' attention and encourage them to join in. I've found this principle applies to just about everything. For example, as long as I have one person come up to my vending booth, others become curious and likewise come over. If no one is there - no on comes over. In order to get that one person I have to make an effort to engage their interest.

If we want to utilize T. Plaza, we have to invite people - give them a reason to go there. Just remember that an object in motion tends to stay in motion: Keep consistently creating events that garner attention and life.

by Erik on 4/27/2010 @ 12:39pm
Tollefson Plaza Update:


Call to Artists

Tacoma Arts Commission seeks artists for creation of highly-visible temporary installations and performance art

The Tacoma Arts Commission invites artists and/or artist teams residing in Washington and Oregon to submit proposals for the creation of temporary site-specific artwork as part of Artscapes. Opportunities include the creation of outdoor installations and/or performance art for Tollefson Plaza and temporary installations for a variety of interior window spaces in downtown Tacoma.

Outdoor Tollefson Plaza installations and/or performance art will be presented for one month each starting in June, 2010, and commissions for Tollefson Plaza are $2,000 each. Interior storefront installations will be displayed for three months each starting in June, 2010, and commissions for interior storefront installations are $500 each.

Artscapes is a temporary public art opportunity that encourages the development of contemporary art designed to enliven our streetscapes and everyday experiences. Artscapes is a project of Spaceworks Tacoma a collaboration between the City of Tacoma, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce and Shunpike to activate empty storefront spaces in downtown Tacoma with creative uses.

Deadline for submissions is May 7, 2010.

The Call to Artists is attached and can also be downloaded at www.tacomaculture.org/arts/opportunities.asp.

Naomi Strom-Avila
Cultural Arts Specialist
City of Tacoma
747 Market Street, Room 900
Tacoma, WA 98402