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Go Polar

It took a couple years, but Tacoma has its holiday ice rink

Nothing says “holiday spirit” like falling down on ice skates. Courtesy Tacoma Art Museum

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It's time to go polar. Thank the Tacoma Art Museum, Franciscan Health Systems and a bunch of other nice folks who have transformed Tacoma's Tollefson Plaza into a full on Polar Plaza, complete with arts, activities and a covered, open-air ice rink open to anyone brave enough to strap on a pair of skates.  

Polar Plaza is, at its heart, an attempt to bring life to a patch of land that has been, well, a little barren for the past few years. Tollefson Plaza has been criticized by many as a hefty investment with little return for the community. On-again, off-again efforts to turn the public plaza into something noticeably public have met with limited success. If downtown were brimming with daytime shoppers, Tollefson Plaza might attract a few people. But until then, organizers say, it's up to local organizations to make it a destination.

"It is a challenge," says Cameron Fellows, deputy director of finance of administration for the Tacoma Art Museum and a key organizer for Polar Plaza. "How do we create something that makes people want to come here? This is about making a destination. The area doesn't have a natural draw. So we need some density, and Tollefson needs some activity."

Fellows says discussions about Polar Plaza have been swirling for a couple years now, and were largely inspired by a similar attraction in Bellevue each holiday season. In Tacoma, it took some coordinating to rally the support needed to erect an ice rink in the heart of downtown. Members of the Tacoma Pierce County Chamber, Downtown Merchants Group and the Tacoma Art Museum spent a couple of years mulling it over and drawing supporters, finally finding the resources needed to transform the plaza into a mini winter wonderland.

Weather permitting or not, on Sunday, Dec. 4, Tacoma Art Museum will host Let It Snow, a free community festival running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Enjoy dance performance by toddlers and youth from Metro Arts and Grant Elementary, music from the Rainier Ringers and portraits in spoken word and image from 20 local presenters. Create an ornament to hang on the community tree at Polar Plaza. This celebration invites everyone to bring canned food to donate to FISH Food Banks. Four cans get you $1 off admission. You‘ll also have a chance to meet the AM 880 KIXI Street Team and shop at the Euro-style Holiday Market, featuring lots of local artisans.

Let It Snow is only the first of a whole family of activities and special events planned during Polar Plaza's two-month occupation.

"Part of the reason we wanted to do this is to show that Tollefson can be used in ways that benefit the community," says Fellows. "We hope to make it an annual tradition."

Polar Plaza is in full effect until January 2, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. The central attraction is a covered ice rink big enough to accommodate about 150 people. Ticket prices are easy enough to swallow, with admission running $8 and skate rentals $2. Organizers also have lined up a series of day and nighttime attractions that they promise will make for a stellar skating experience. ??

[Tollefson Plaza, opening day Nov. 25 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., through Jan. 2, 4-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, $8, $1 off active duty military and family, $2 skate rental, Pacific Avenue and South 17th Street, Tacoma, website]

LINK: Franciscan Polar Plaza events

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