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Developers park proposal would save public money

For five years, Metro Parks Tacoma has had a plan for the future Peninsula Park on the former Asarco site. That plan includes an amphitheater for outdoor concerts on the waterfront site near Point Defiance, which offers spectacular views of Puget Sound and the Olympics.

But public dollars for building and maintaining new parks are scarce. Peninsula Park would be years away from reality – if not for an offer by private developer Mike Cohen.

Not only does Cohen propose building and maintaining Peninsula Park – with what he describes as “substantially the same plan” as the one drawn up by Metro Parks five years ago – he wants to contract with concert producers to bring in big names like those who perform at Chateau St. Michelle and Seattle’s defunct Summer Concerts on the Pier series.

Cohen says he would work with Metro Parks on issues like shuttling concertgoers to the site, which would have limited parking.

The legalities – contracts, permitting and review processes – still need to be worked out, but Cohen’s proposal is intriguing. And this kind of public-partnership is exactly the sort of arrangement the park district has identified in its strategic plan as something it needs to do more often. An example of an existing partnership is its relationship with Anthony’s Restaurants, which operates Anthony’s at Point Defiance.

Cohen isn’t making the offer out of altruism. He’s a businessman who assumed responsibility for cleaning up the slag peninsula in order to buy the property for his adjacent Point Ruston condominium project. He figures he can do a bare-bones remediation to fulfill his obligation, or he can create an amenity that will enhance the value of his condos.

Although Cohen would prefer that Metro Parks created and maintained the park, he sees that as too far down the road for his purposes. Metro Parks spokeswoman Lois Stark said it would be at least five years and probably more like 10 before the district would be able to do what Cohen proposes doing by summer 2009. And there’s no guarantee the park district would be able to find the $2 million needed the build the facility – much less the ongoing money needed to maintain it.

The one negative to the proposal is that public access to the park would be restricted when it’s being used for a concert. Cohen estimates that would be between 10 and 20 dates annually.

But the tradeoff – getting a public park built and maintained by private dollars – is too good to pass up. The prospect of having a prestigious summer concert series on Tacoma’s waterfront would be icing on the cake.

Give input: A public open house on the Peninsula Park proposal will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. today at Metro Parks headquarters, 4702 S. 19th St., Tacoma.

This article originally appeared in The News Tribune

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