Submitted by Metro Parks Tacoma.
It began as a gas station, became an abandoned toxic lot, was cleaned up and will soon be reincarnated as a tricycle-friendly park. Gas Station Park, at 4801 South Park Ave., Tacoma, has just passed into Metro Parks Tacoma ownership and operations, with a design development partly completed that will see the pocket neighborhood park turned next year into a tree-lined play space encouraging sustainable transport, community art and neighborhood safety.
The park is just one of many improvement projects funded by 2014 Tacoma voter-approved bond money.
“Gas Station Park is a hidden South Tacoma gem,” said Hollie Rogge, Metro Parks’ deputy director of neighborhood and community parks. “We’re excited to make it shine again for the community.”
Newspaper advertisements show a gas station occupying the corner of South Park and 48th Streets since at least 1919. Abandoned, then demolished in the early 2000s, the station left a toxic mark on the neighborhood, a layer of dangerous chemicals leaking from underground storage containers and permeating the compacted soil. It became a derelict eyesore.
In 2004, the site was acquired involuntarily by Pierce County through tax forfeiture and sold to the City for $13,320. The City spent $100,000 from an Environmental Protection Agency grant and $35,000 from Exxon Mobil to clean it up, and the South End Neighborhood Council – who had long advocated for its use as a park – agreed to develop and maintain it.
But it takes a lot of work to keep a park safe for the neighborhood. Equipment aged, a mural on the south end of the half-basketball court faded, fences needed repair and a tree unfortunately planted in the shallow topsoil threatened to send its roots into the toxic waste safety cap.
Enter Metro Parks Tacoma. In 2019, the agency agreed to take on the renovation, and on October 26, 2021, after several years of discussion and pandemic delays, the City Council resolved to grant Metro Parks both title and stewardship of Gas Station Park. It was formally accepted by the Metro Parks board on November 22. At just 0.2 acres, it will become one of the tiniest in the agency’s cluster of neighborhood parks.
The City is also granting Metro Parks $320,000 to help with the renovation. Other funds come from $50,000 in 2014 voter-approved Metro Parks Tacoma bonds, $504,700 from a Washington state Commerce Grant, and $2,224 in open space fees. One percent of that budget, $5,000 will be put into a public art fund per Metro Parks’ public art policy.
So what will Gas Station Park look like? The renovation will reflect both Metro Parks’ “neighborhood park” designation and input from park neighbors themselves via pop-up and public meetings.
“People wanted a safe place to come play with their kids, to have some trees and green space,” explained Kristi Evans, Metro Parks’ capital projects manager.
The existing play equipment will be replaced by a sturdy structure, plus swings and an explorer climbing dome. Open lawn will encourage more play, and two picnic tables will sit under a shade canopy.
But the most fun addition is probably the trike track, which will wind around the tiny park past a play “gas station” in a nod to the site’s neighborhood history. There will even be dotted lines in the center, to encourage all riders to learn road rules – very useful for progressing to the bike lanes along nearby Yakima Street and beyond.
“Gas Station Park has truly gone from a toxic gasoline past to a clean future of sustainable transport,” says Evans, smiling.
Evans and her team also had to work around the environmental restrictions of the site. A scarcity of water and the existing soil cap meant low-water, low-height plantings only within the current park footprint. Outside that footprint, though, four proposed parking spots on Park Avenue will be replaced by five street trees, with four more along the South 48th edge and five others along the eastern perimeter, outside the soil cap area. In an area historically deprived of tree canopy, those 14 trees will become a welcome, healthy addition to the neighborhood’s shade and air quality.
Metro Parks’ neighborhood parks are usually designed without parking, since they are primarily used by neighbors within walking distance. A central ADA parking spot will remain, giving access into the park’s side entrance for wheelchairs, bikes and strollers.
As well as becoming a fun play space with a beloved backstory, Gas Station Park fills a crucial role in closing Tacoma’s green space accessibility gap. According to The Trust for Public Lands, over 25% of Tacomans don’t live within a ten-minute walk to a park or green space, an important factor in increasing health, longevity and quality of life. Thanks to this tiny park, the community living between Park and Pacific Avenues, from South 43rd to South 52nd Streets, will now have that access.
The next step for Gas Station Park is more outreach, as Metro Parks reacquaints the community with the plans developed pre-pandemic and gauges interest in any alternative names for the park.
Evans expects the design development to be completed in all detail by early 2022, with bidding in summer and construction completed by the end of 2023.
FOLLOW: Find renovation updates at www.metroparkstacoma.org/project/gas-station-park/.
ASK: Send design questions to Kristi Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Abigail Vizcarra-Perez at email@example.com.