After the Alaskan Way Viaduct, city sees 'a waterfront for all'
The latest proposal to remake Seattle's waterfront is being compared to the 1962 World's Fair in terms of its wide-ranging impact on the community. Now comes the funding part.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Hot tubs and a gondola climbing from Alaskan Way to First Avenue are out.
But a heated saltwater swimming pool on a barge, a seasonal roller rink on a pier and a mist machine — for those days when nature doesn't provide its own — are still part of the vision for a transformed Seattle waterfront.
Celebrated landscape architect James Corner on Thursday presented the latest iteration of plans for parks, pathways and public plazas along Elliott Bay from the stadiums to Belltown.
The city also is about to get the price tag: $420 million, about half of which would come from a local improvement district funded by downtown property owners, with the rest from city taxpayers and private donors.
When combined with other current and proposed waterfront projects — including state funding for a rebuilt Alaskan Way and a November bond measure to rebuild the seawall — the total value of improvements to the area could exceed $1 billion.
The City Council on Monday will get funding recommendations for the park portions of the project.
The finance subcommittee of the Central Waterfront Committee, a group that has been meeting for the past two years, is recommending a mix of public and private funding that would carry the project forward over the next seven to eight years and correspond with ongoing work on the Highway 99 tunnel and the proposed seawall reconstruction.
The finance committee also is endorsing the creation of a nonprofit, Friends of the Seattle Waterfront, to provide ongoing fundraising and advocacy.
Similar nonprofits have helped sustain other ambitious park projects around the country, including Millennium Park in Chicago and the Corner-designed High Line in New York City.
Members of the finance committee said their funding plan is both realistic and achievable.
"We went into this worrying about the scale," said Gerry Johnson, a Seattle attorney and co-chairman. "We've emerged being very confident that this is something we can accomplish."
The city has previously created local improvement districts for the downtown bus tunnel and the South Lake Union streetcar. Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, said her membership has long acknowledged that downtown property owners who benefit from the waterfront improvements should help pay for the project.
While many questions remain to be worked out, including the extent of the district and how much should be paid by whom, the $220 million target "is a number that we think is a good starting point for discussion," she said.
Echoes of World's Fair
For several years the city has been planning for what the waterfront could look like when the Highway 99 tunnel is completed and the Alaskan Way Viaduct removed in 2016.
John Nesholm, an architect and the other co-chairman of the finance committee, compared the waterfront plan to two of Seattle's major civic undertakings — the 1962 World's Fair and the Forward Thrust initiative in the late 1960s that built the Kingdome, cleaned up Lake Washington and built dozens of public swimming pools and community centers. At the time, it was the largest parks bond measure approved in the United States.
"Those initiatives were for all the people," he said. "In terms of potential impact, the waterfront redesign is on a similar scale. It's about creating a waterfront for all."
Since Corner's last public presentation a little more than year ago, the city has held a series of public forums. What emerged, said Seattle Planning Director Marshall Foster, are refinements that make the design fit Seattle.
People told planners they wanted to be able to visit and use the waterfront in all weather, much as Green Lake is used today, Foster said.
In the current waterfront plans, a promenade would stretch 2 ½ miles along the bay and be wide enough to accommodate runners, bicyclists, strollers and dog walkers, he said.
A second popular request was to open up the waterfront to adjacent neighborhoods by improving the pedestrian connections on east-west roads.
A landscaped walk would extend from the stadium district along Railroad Way South in Pioneer Square to the foot of South Washington Street, where a restored beach is planned.
Landscaped walkways also are planned for Columbia and Seneca streets. Union Street would feature a large covered escalator rising from a rebuilt waterfront park and public plaza between the aquarium and the historic piers.
Corner has proposed a water feature at the plaza that could squirt jets or mist in warm weather, but be turned off for holiday celebrations or special events.
Planners and designers are continuing to develop a proposed walkway from Pike Place Market to the aquarium. About 10 million people visit the Market each year but only 1 million make their way down the hill to the aquarium.
Corner's original proposal for a grand "fold" — a large descending traverse of the hillside — struck critics, and Market partisans, as too big and imposing.
Ben Franz-Knight, executive director of the Market, said the evolving plans now call for a connection more in scale and style with the Market's historic character. The design would allow retail shops, restaurants and housing to extend downhill from the Market. City planners are now calling it a "view walkway."
"They've refined the design and really embraced the Market, as opposed to it feeling imposed on us," Franz-Knight said.
Piers 62 and 63, formerly the concert piers, are planned for active recreation. The swimming-pool-on-a-barge idea comes from Europe, where they exist in Copenhagen and Hamburg. The barge would include changing rooms and showers. The saltwater would be heated. The barge could be covered in winter and used as a stage, the city's Foster said.
The pier also would feature a seasonal skating rink, a spot for kayak rentals and steps down to the water.
Ken Johnsen, waterfront project manager, said the feedback from the public has had two strong themes.
"What we heard so much was, 'Give us opportunities to get closer to the water and give us something to do.' "
Finance committee members say they're well aware of the deep cuts the city has made to the Parks and Recreation Department budget as revenues shrunk with the recession.
That's why they're recommending the nonprofit to serve as a stewardship and fundraising organization.
But members say the city would have to provide ongoing funding for a park that would be both expensive to maintain and heavily used.
"We think the public will want to continue to support this," said Gerry Johnson.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.