Raising funds for $21 million reconciliation park is not easy

By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Art in the Chinese Reconciliation Park (Photo courtesy of CRPF)

Recent efforts to raise awareness and funding for the Tacoma Chinese Garden and Reconciliation Park have brought the project back into the city’s consciousness.

The park, located on North Schuster Parkway, was initiated in 1991 by local philanthropist and citizen Dr. David Murdock.

When Dr. Murdock and his wife moved to Tacoma in 1991, the two came across an old news article that detailed the expulsion of Chinese citizens from Tacoma.

An influx of Chinese had settled in the Pacific Northwest in the 1880s to work on the railroad.

When an economic recession hit after completion of the railroad, an anti-Chinese movement quickly swept the nation. In 1885, Tacoma’s then-mayor and its leading citizens infamously exiled the city’s Chinese community out of town, and were celebrated for it.

Disturbed by this news and painfully aware that the city needed to resolve its past, Dr. Murdock submitted a citizen’s proposal for a symbolic, physical space to reconcile for Tacoma’s crimes in 1885.

The Tacoma City Council invited 18 people from the community to serve on a citizens committee and act as a sounding board for the project. The Tacoma Chinese Garden and Reconciliation Park was proposed as a result. In 1993, the Tacoma City Council unanimously approved the project.

The citizens committee eventually disbanded and a more formal organization developed, known as the Chinese Reconciliation Projection Foundation (CRPF).

The CRPF is a nonprofit in Tacoma that advocates civic harmony through its projects, such as the Chinese Reconciliation Park. Although the park belongs to the city, the CRPF works closely with the City of Tacoma to support them in building the park and securing its funding.

This is how Theresa Pan-Hosley first became involved. Pan-Hosley’s work with the local Chinese community earned her an invitation onto the citizens committee. This eventually led to her becoming president of the Foundation and overseeing CRPF’s multiple civic projects.

“One of my biggest challenges is getting funding in place so we can proceed as we want,” said Pan-Hosley. Between making pitches to legislators and hosting annual fundraisers, Pan-Hosley admits there is still difficulty in securing the necessary funds for the park’s original construction plans.

Timeline for the park

Construction first broke ground in 2005 and revolves around four building phases. Phases I and II have long been implemented, and includes waterfront trails, beach restoration, Chinese garden landscaping, and the Fuzhou Ting pavilion, a gift specially donated by Tacoma’s sister city Fuzhou, China.

Funding was recently secured for Phase III, which will see modest additions to the park, such as a parking lot, lighting, landscaping upkeep, and interpretive signs to guide visitors around the park. Phase III will be built and installed by 2015.

However, Phase IV details some of the park’s most ambitious additions yet. The final stage involves the installation of a multicultural pavilion, which would house classrooms and serve as a community space, in addition to a new courtyard, waterfall, and a bay-viewing terrace and pond.

The total cost for the park currently sits at $21.7 million, with the unfunded Phase IV comprising an estimated $12 million of that cost.

Pan-Hosley expects the multicultural pavilion to act as the park’s centerpiece. It would double as a key meeting area in the community, as well as an education center where classes would be held, focusing on Chinese art and culture.

“How much does the community really know about Chinese culture?” asked Pan-Hosley. “This is part of the reason why I feel like this multicultural pavilion is important. It will not only educate people about Chinese culture, but people can explore and showcase their own culture to the community.”

Funding the park

Former state representative Dennis Flannigan first became involved with the CRPF after making a donation to the park during its early stages. He was invited to sit on the board. Flannigan recently retired from the CRPF’s board after serving for 10 years, and has been instrumental in securing funding for the park during his tenure. He cites increasing Tacoma’s multicultural harmony as the primary reason for his involvement.

“The larger difficulty with funding the multicultural pavilion is that, while funding is still difficult, others are wary of committing to something that requires full operation and maintenance,” Flannigan said, adding that the CRPF is trying to figure out what kind of endowments would sustain a school.

“It’s one thing to build a school, but it’s another thing completely to staff it.”

Funding for the park stems from state and federal grants, the city’s own capital dollars, and private donations that CRPF secures. During the past 20 years, nearly $10 million has been used to fund the first three phases of the park.

Lihuang Wung serves as the intermediary between the city and CRPF. In 2009, Wung took over as the project manager overseeing development of the park. He works closely with the CRPF in putting together state and federal grant applications, and he sits on the Foundation’s board.

Wung notes that Phase IV comes with its unique set of financial challenges.

Grants are increasingly more difficult to obtain, he said, and a limited city budget means that funding for city projects is scarce, especially for social services.

“We are in the process of deciding whether or not to break up Phase IV,” said Wung. “Since the project started 20 years ago, we have installed structures in the park according to our original master site plan. But since the plan faces new budget constraints, we need to ask ourselves, what strategies do we have for the park moving forward?”

Due to the large amount of funding needed for Phase IV, Wung says that the team may look into alternative forms of funding, or break up Phase IV into smaller phases, and figure out how to finance them individually.

Still, even though the park faces funding difficulties, the board never loses sight of its primary goal for the future.

“I would like it to have a dynamic cultural life,” said Flannigan. “Not just for Chinese people or to enhance perspective, but I would also like to see a cooperative relationship between other Asian cultures. To me, ‘reconciliation’ is a word that houses all cultures — not just a reference to the past relationship between Tacoma and its Chinese citizens.” (end)

For more information, visit the park website at www.tacomachinesepark.org, or see www.cityoftacoma.org/planning.

Vivian Nguyen can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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