Lively discussion about Theater District revitalization set for Feb. 22

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Dozens gathered for the September 2017 Art Walk, organized by Spaceworks Tacoma, which gave community residents opportunity to see the Theater District up close and offer input on what revitalization of the neighborhood should look like. Photo by Kenya Shakoor

Tacoma’s Theater District, home to numerous theaters, theater groups and complementary art-focused small businesses, is set for a transformation.

City of Tacoma, Broadway Center for the Performing Arts and Pierce Transit are working in collaboration with community stakeholders to redesign the transportation and cultural hub bordered by 9th and 11th streets between Broadway and Pacific Avenue.

The revitalization project called TRANSFORM was launched last spring when the project partners contracted with Seattle-based consulting firm Walker Macy to be the project’s planning consultant. Spaceworks Tacoma was also enlisted to begin community engagement efforts. Several community engagement efforts have transpired over the past year, including a September Art Walk presented by Spaceworks. Heather Joy, manager of Spaceworks Tacoma, said that during the Art Walk attendees got to experience the activity of the theater district and the possibilities of what changes were possible. Residents and transit riders were asked their opinion of what could work in the district.

“We’ve had over 500 responses from the community already and we want to make sure that we are engaging the community along the way,” Joy said.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, the project partners will check in with residents and community stakeholders and inform them of the progress of the project, while also receiving additional feedback via a non-traditional form: non-fiction, essays and poetry.

Spaceworks partnered with Tacoma-based creative writing organization Creative Colloquy to solicit submissions from residents. The prompt asked: “What are your feelings on this project? Do you believe there is value in re-energizing our Theater District or not? How and why?” Many works were submitted and accepted, and five submissions have been selected to be read at the Feb. 22 event. The five submissions will be read by their respective creators, save for one who can’t make it.

“We thought maybe this would offer a different platform to allow people to share their ideas,” Joy said. “We wanted to partner with (Creative Colloquy) to get some quality submissions. (The submissions represent) a broad spectrum of ideas, which is what we really wanted.”

Joy said the next public event will be in April when the planning consultants present concrete revitalization projects that could take place. And then in July, Joy said, the project partners will present the final plan to the community.

“From there Pierce Transit could use that plan in the redevelopment of the site, and we would want to encourage other developers to consider this plan when doing new projects,” Joy said.

Joy said comments from the public have focused on the importance of discouraging new development from taking away from art and creativity in the downtown; sensible residential development that doesn’t lead to gentrification; preserving the historic architecture of the buildings; helping people walking at night in the district feel safer by adding more lighting, more amenities, and more restaurants, to make it more lively.

Part of the planning, Joy said, includes considerations in how to better utilize the Theater on the Square in the center of the district. In the summer, a major event there is the Farmers Market, but Joy said most of the time the park sits dormant. Theater on the Square is the hub to Pierce Transit’s bus turnaround there. Groups that organize events at the Square go through Pierce Transit to reserve the space.

“We’re looking at how best that space can serve its purpose and who should best manage that and whether that is through a change in ownership, or lease, we’re not sure, but we’re exploring that during this process,” said Janine Robinson, project manager for Pierce Transit on TRANSFORM.

Part of the planning around the Square also includes improving transportation access into and out of the area.

For more information about the project, call Dmitry Mikheyev at (253) 682-1725 or visit tacomatheaterdistrict.com.

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