Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

March 2, 2009 at 1:49pm

Return of the Kalakala

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Kalakala
Steve Rodrigues is on a mission
. If he has his way during the next several years, the current owner of the MV Kalakala will transform the discarded, historic vessel and a prime piece of waterfront property into a crowning jewel on Tacoma’s waterfront.

Plans for the Kalakala would involve complete renovation and dry docking of the ferry at a site secured along the Thea Foss Waterway, between the now defunct Esplanade Condominium project and Thea’s Landing. Rodrigues has already secured seed funding for all phases of his dream, which he has dubbed the Columbia Gardens and MV Kalakala Project. The name honors both the vessel and a theme park in Rodrigues’s home town of Butte, Mn. The theme park was wiped out in the early 1970s to make way for a copper mine. And while Rodrigues laments the loss of Columbia Gardens, he is dead set on saving the Kalakala. Listening to him talk about it, you’d be hard pressed not to believe that he’ll do it.

“It’s been serious since the day I bought the Kalakala,” says Rodrigues, who purchased the vessel in a bankruptcy sale in 2003. “I have a different mindset that all things are possible if you believe.”


It may be that faith that has carried Rodrigues through nearly 10 years of struggle to find a home for the wayward ship. The ferry has bounced around Washington for years, and docked in a small inlet near Taylor way in Tacoma, awaiting renovations. His new plan would involve complete renovation and mounting of the ferry on a site currently owned by Seattle Inn at the Market owner Bob Thurston, who has abandoned plans to build a hotel there. Rodrigues has secured a deal with Thurston for transfer of the property for an undisclosed sum. The renovated Kalakala would become a multi-use attraction, and would include a 130-room hotel; some condominiums; an indoor winter-themed amusement park, complete with plenty of snow; restaurant; observation tower and corporate skyboxes. Rodrigues says he is prepared to complete this project as an entirely private venture, and has worked hard to remove all political barriers to it completion. His project team, meanwhile, boasts some big names, including London-based design firm S333 Architects, Economic Research Associates and PCL Construction, currently best known as builders of the new Seattle Monorail. Rodrigues will go before the Foss Waterway Development Authority tomorrow (Tuesday, March 3) to pitch the project, and hopes to begin moving forward with the agency’s blessing.

Kalakala HS_Cafe
Meanwhile, Rodrigues is battling to get his hands on four additional ferries that were part of the state’s original fleet. Those ferries have been sold to a Mexico-based scrap metal operation, and currently stand to be cut up and resold or discarded. Rodrigues says he would like to purchase them himself, use scrap from two of the vessels to help renovate the Kalakala, restore the other two, and put them back into service. He has drafted a petition, which he hopes to use to convince state lawmakers that the historic vessels are worth saving.

“Our project is designed around historic and community values that will also stimulate and attract other economic developments for other private projects that are currently delayed,” says Rodrigues. “Our project can bring more than just monetary value into the community.”

Kalakala Womens Lounge - 09
Kalakala Womens Lounge - 07
Kalakala Womens Lounge - 02
Kalakala Womens Bathroom - 05
Kalakala Womens Bathroom - 03

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