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    Seattle's Stramp: a swirling confection could finally link the Market and the waterfront

    A rich, multi-party plan proposes a new “front porch” for Seattle. Sloping ramps, rooftop gardens, broad terraces, new stalls, cafes and housing -- and some killer views of Elliott Bay.
    Rendering of new Market development

    Rendering of new Market development James Corner Field Operations

    Its still at least three years before the viaduct is bashed to bits — something I am eagerly looking forward to. Big Boring Bertha is having her teeth realigned in Japan but is scheduled to make an appearance sometime this summer. I hope someone is planning a gala “barge-in” for her arrival, complete with fireboats and firecrackers.

    Meanwhile, planning for a remade waterfront is proceeding apace. One really grand idea to emerge from all the meetings, memos, working groups and workshops is a new, sweeping connection between the Pike Place Market and the water’s edge.

    For the past year, the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority, the city and a consultant (James Corner Field Operations) have been developing detailed designs for a spectacular, zig-zagging, stepped route between the Desimone Bridge, which spans Western Avenue, and the Seattle Aquarium on Alaskan Way. Imagine a creative mash-up of M.C. Escher’s stair drawing, Chutes and Ladders and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

    The scheme, developed with the help of Seattle architects Miller / Hull, is an assemblage of different ideas from various parties, including the Market PDA, James Corner Field Operations and the Seattle Aquarium, each with its own funding source and schedule. Although this plan has not yet been formerly approved, it is a part of the overall waterfront development plan, which will be carried out once the viaduct is removed in 2016. What might have been a divisive fight among different groups has become a kind of love fest. The end result could be a real shared “front porch” for the city, something originally promised by the James Corner Field team.

    The ambitious design features wide, cascading staircases, gently sloping ramps that switchback along the slope, verdant roof gardens, broad terraces, projecting overlooks, a plethora of shops and cafes, new rows of market stalls, glass covered walkways, market-rate and low-income housing, and live/work spaces for artists. It seems as though everybody’s wish lists have been packed into this seesawing confection. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you.

    At the very top, Steinbrueck Park would be expanded to the south and sloped upward towards the currently dead-end Desimone Bridge. The bridge was supposed to connect to a planned drive-through (yes, you read that right) Market building on Western Avenue that never happened. A clutch of shops and a 16-foot wide passageway would be built beneath the jutting extension of Steinbrueck Park. The passageway would allow disabled people to navigate from Western Avenue down sloping ramps to a central public plaza.

    The Desimone Bridge would open onto a terrace that would extend the market stalls, which now occupy that space, north and south beneath an arcade that affords panoramic views of Elliott Bay. Grand steps would descend down to the parcel known as PC-1, a lot that has been the subject of numerous, unrealized plans over the years. In the current scheme, PC-1 would become the central public plaza.

    A new apartment building would be shoehorned in south of the stairs. Both market-rate and subsidized units would be available, continuing the tradition of the Market PDA to provide both. The apartment building would be capped by a green roof and connected to a lower concourse in the current multilevel market building across Western. Live/work units for artists would line the lowest floor and abut the main, sloping walkway. Steps, ramps and sloped planting areas would weave together in twists and turns down the slope. This dance-like flourish is the Market’s contribution to the scheme.

    The shallow, trapezoid-shaped parcel between the sloping promenade and the current Market Parking Garage would also be available for some quirky apartment development. Dave Miller, principal of Miller / Hull architects, admits that until they find an unconventional developer, that parcel would remain a chasm overlooking stacks of parking levels.

    Once the viaduct disappears, city-owned right-of-way becomes available. A landscaped lid would cover a new east-west street that will rise up from Alaskan Way and link to Belltown. The lid continues stepping and sloping, like fabric tossed over a pile of boxes. The Aquarium wants to use this new area to expand its exhibit space. The lowest tier of the connection, with steps down to the current street level, would spread north to Pier 61/62, and south to a new waterfront park, both flanking Pier 59.

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    Posted Mon, Feb 25, 8:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    Making the Public Market the central feature of the new Waterfront design is the right direction. East West pedestrian corridors along all the streets leading to the Waterfront eventually lead back to the Market. It is the Heart that pumps the blood to all the other organs; Pioneer Square, The Waterfront, the Sculpture Park and Westlake. Western Avenue is an important element as is the existing Hillclimb. Pedestrian access via Belltown is essential too. In principle this Market focus is the right thing to do and will give the post-Viaduct Waterfront something to build the key designs around. It is time to orient the "backside" of the Market towards Seattle's Waterfront and the incredible views. One danger however is all the West facing designs. The sun can be brutal to anyone who attempts to display wares or have view residencies along a revamped "stramp". Better to adjust these buildings, studios, residencies and stalls to face North or Northwest. Otherwise the killer view will indeed be a project killer.


    Posted Mon, Feb 25, 8:39 a.m. Inappropriate

    Because the lost capacity caused by replacing the viaduct with the tunnel will result in 30 to 40 thousand commuters a day trying to find a way through downtown, you might consider another modification to Erickson’s “stramps” by adding some streets to handle the congestion.

    Let’s see…steps + ramps + streets = STREEMPs.

    Say WAh


    Posted Mon, Feb 25, 2:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    I can appreciate the pleasure these entities feel as they enjoy planning all this extravagance for the new condo owners who will be coming. I hope they, and not WE, pay for it. And I applaud jmrolls for pointing out the obvious. Unless the "You Can't Get There From Here" department becomes exponentially better at blocking every avenue of escape from the terrible tunnel, and presuming we aren't waiting 20 years for them to extract the boring machine from its grave in the mud, I look forward to seeing the condos and those using any of these places (assuming any of them get built) enjoy lots and lots of fumes and pollution from the gridlock outside their doors and all around them for miles.


    Posted Mon, Feb 25, 3:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    It's a mystery to me why the Battery Street subway must be closed, just because the viaduct is demolished. It's perfectly serviceable as an
    extension of Aurora Avenue, and as a distributor road to the waterfront, the Market, and Elliot Avenue and points West. It's already there. We're going to need all the downtown streets we can get, particularly ones that are underground and out of the way. Perhaps some highway engineer or planner can explain why this arterial is being lost, or if anyone has even thought about it.


    Posted Mon, Feb 25, 4:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    Sounds great. Any place online where we can get a better look at this design? The rendering here is hard to read, and Google doesn't seem to be helping.

    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 1:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks for the thoughtful article Mark. PaulBellevue, you can review the plans in more detail on our project website: http://waterfrontseattle.org/The_Project/


    Posted Wed, Feb 27, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

    We know three things.

    First, it will be ungodly ugly.

    Second, it will win architectural awards.

    Third, it will be over the top expensive.


    Posted Wed, Feb 27, 1 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks MFoster for the link. It's a great plan, and exciting. I can't wait to see it happen.

    Posted Fri, Mar 1, 8:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    This effort, like a lot of the money spent by our local government, appears to serve special interests - particularly downtown interests and developers - rather than the common good. This is pretty common in Seattle, and I'm getting really tired of it.

    The tunnel is a horrible choice - less capacity, no downtown on-ramps or off-ramps, and a toll. It appears designed to push traffic onto the surface streets and I-5. But it serves the interests of the developers and the downtown elites, so that's what we get instead of a solution that would serve us all. Think about it - no one going to or from downtown would take the tunnel because there's no on-ramps or off-ramps. So it only works as a by-pass. But no one who is coming or going from any point further south than Georgetown or coming to going from any point further north than Greenwood would be on the 99. They would be on I-5. So the tunnel only works as a bypass for people going between Ballard and West Seattle. For everyone else it is pretty useless.

    The SLUT is another waste. It's faster to walk than to wait for it and no one pays the toll (they actually make it hard to pay - you can't use your ORCA card), but it flatters the vanity of the developers and downtown elites, so that's what we get instead of additional bus service that we need.

    The parks levy, libray levy, and community center levy all held neighborhood projects ransom to big, splashy downtown projects. You want your dreadful little neighborhood library to be replaced with something decent? Then you'll have to pay for a "world-class" vanity project downtown.

    Now the downtown elites and developers want a school downtown when there are 326 empty seats just minutes away at Lowell. All to flatter their vanity and pad their wallets. We have to invest in public resources that increase the value of their private assets.


    Posted Fri, Mar 1, 3:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm no fan of the tunnel but I have trouble understanding your logic. A tunnel that bypasses downtown somehow serves the downtown interests? That doesn't make any sense. Wouldn't downtown interests want a good way to drive downtown?

    With regards to this park -- it is a public park. It no more serves downtown interests than Discovery Park serves Magnolia interests. Unlike Discovery Park, you will be able to easily access it. Believe it or not, lots and lots of people live, work or visit downtown every year. These people will be able to enjoy this area. If they build nothing (or simply sell the property) then the public won't be able to enjoy it. The folks that would benefit most from a situation like that would be -- yes, you guessed it -- downtown interests and developers. The folks who live and work in the big towers enjoy views like this all of the time -- now folks who aren't so lucky can enjoy this area too.


    Posted Sat, Mar 2, 12:04 a.m. Inappropriate

    It seems like building above the Great Northern Rail Tunnel could be a major challenge.


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