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Seattle's waterfront: Visions of hottubs & gardens, but where's the cash?

A designer reveals his latest update for a massive waterfront park that would stretch 26 blocks along Elliott Bay once the Alaskan Way Viaduct is demolished.

There would be viewing platforms that reveal vistas of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. And cantilevered walkways made partially from glass, which would transmit sunlight to migrating salmon as they travel along the bay’s seawall. A small beach would extend west from Pioneer Square, with water lapping the nearby sidewalk at high tide. 

These are a few of the details in the latest “schematic design” for a Seattle waterfront park and open space that would stretch 26 blocks from the Stadium District to Belltown and, according to the Department of Planning and Development, provide about 20 new acres of city park space. The park’s designer, James Corner, presented his plan for the space to an audience of several hundred people at Seattle Center on Wednesday. The design is about 30 percent complete and should be mostly finished by 2015, said Department of Planning and Development planning director, Marshall Foster.

The project could fundamentally transform Seattle’s waterfront. But hundreds of millions of dollars that would be needed to pay for the proposed park remain unsecured. Building the park will also hinge on the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The overpass is set to be torn down in 2016, shortly after the new Highway 99 Tunnel is scheduled to open. The tunnel project, however, is on hold for at least six months while the lead contractor repairs the machine digging the underground roadway.

The park would cap a multi-billion effort to remake the waterfront, which involves not only swapping the viaduct for the tunnel, but also replacing the Elliott Bay Seawall and rebuilding the surface road on Alaskan Way. 

The cold realities of public finance and broken boring machines aside, the design offers a sweeping contrast to the downtown waterfront as it is today, separated from the rest of the city by the viaduct and the din of traffic flowing on top of the structure.

“For 50 years now we've been looking through a crumbly, deteriorating double-deck freeway, and we've been fenced off from our waterfront,” said Jean Godden, who chairs a City Council committee that oversees waterfront issues. “It's time that we had a front door to our city.”

Corner believes that the front door designed by his team reflects the city. 

“A lot of things we’re doing here we wouldn’t do on another waterfront,” he said. At one point during his presentation he called the design “peculiar to Seattle.”

The design, Corner said, tries to avoid “chintzy,” or “ritzy” devices, and strives to provide a “tough” and “pragmatic” place for strolling, viewing, biking and exercising. The designer’s firm, James Corner Field Operations, also led-up the design of New York’s High Line park, which is set atop an old railroad bridge, near the Hudson River in lower Manhattan.

There are nuanced flourishes. For instance, terrazzo concrete surfaces, embedded with small stones taken from the shores of Puget Sound. And “tabled” crosswalks, matched to the height of curbsides, which would prevent pedestrians from having to step down into the street. Wooden swings would provide a place to sit while taking in the panorama of Elliott Bay. There would be hanging vines, fir trees and 5-foot-tall tufts of swaying grass.


A proposed viewing platform would extend west from Union Street, over Alaskan Way. Image: City of Seattle

There are also grander highlights. One is a viewing terrace at the west end of Union Street, which would extend like a diving board over Alaskan Way, providing a perspective reminiscent of the one from the Viaduct. Another is a half-inch deep rectangular pool that would reflect the city skyline and, according to Corner, enable “people to take off their shoes and socks and get their feet wet.” The pool would be bordered to the east by massive "sea stack" boulders and water jets spraying mist.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Two mentions of the rebuilt Alaskan Way. No mention that it is planned to be at least 6 and actually I believe 12 lanes of traffic blowing past. So, nasty, smelly, viaduct NOT at street level, or thin screen of immature trees between all these happy, frolicking new urban dwellers and bicycle and transit riding visitors and GROUND LEVEL traffic exceeding that the viaduct carries? Hmmm. Another brilliant "vision" from this Corner character.

The only thing with which I can agree is his distaste for the gondola. The only thing that I'd like about it would be if it would inconvenience or annoy the wealthy that are about to move in to the east side of Alaskan Way once their new condos are built. It would be a visual blight, and we citizens might reap a tiny bit of tax revenue for having to put up with it. I already think the "Great Wheel (!)" isn't so great, but does fit right in with the vision of a tourist-oriented waterfront. How about booths with scam games in the new park just like at any county or state fair, too?

Why aren't we hearing from you about the whole picture? Speaking of which, the first picture with this article gives a great idea of what the backdrop for this little urban paradise will be. Not my taste.

And we're seeing pictures in sunshine which is @25% of our year or so. What about the rest of the time? Anything like this down there will be mostly abandoned in winter/bad weather, and maybe in good weather if it continues to be impossible to park down there. And how do the ticky tacky tourist serving businesses, which are most of the businesses presently down there, going to fit in with this "vision?"

I am interested in balanced journalism. This doesn't appear to be balanced. It echoes the story printed in yesterday's Seattle Times, and read nearly verbatim by at least KING 5 and KPLU on their broadcasts yesterday. Aren't you media folks supposed to be providing us with something more than puff pieces or advertising? Aren't you supposed to be giving us a more complete picture and/or some context than we perhaps might otherwise be unable to access?

mspat

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

I also attended the waterfront park event last night and came away with a much different conclusion, even though I arrived with much skepticism.

The new surface Alaskan Way has many lanes, but only south of the Colman Dock ferry terminal, the lanes being necessary to accommodate ferry traffic coming and going, and transit bus connections to Columbia Street.

North of the ferry terminal is where most of the park amenities will be located, and there Alaskan Way narrows to four lanes, plus an occasional left-turn pocket. Nothing at all like what mspat describes.

The big questions of course are how much is this all going to cost, who is going to pay, and over what period of time. That was my question submitted in writing as required, but it was one Marshall Foster chose not to read. Too bad. I guess we have to wait for months more to see any cost numbers or a funding plan.

This is all being billed as a new city park, and the City is intending to put a parks ballot measure to Seattle voters this August. City Council will have to finalize ballot details in the next couple months, way before solid numbers are known for waterfront park. Does the City intend to come back to voters for a second parks ballot measure to separately fund the waterfront project?

I think it would make more sense to hold off any parks ballot measure until the waterfront cost numbers are known, so voters can see the total picture first. It's a good project on the waterfront. No need to play divide and conquer with Seattle voters.

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

You make some very good points. A plan view of the waterfront area would reveal the area devoted to automobile and truck traffic. Crosscut (and others) would much rather show the perspective drawings that can be (and are) manipulated to exaggerate the trees, flowers, walkways, etc. that occupy, I would guess, about 10% of the planned area. How much of the famous elevated park in Manhatten is devoted to auto and truck traffic? zero. It is not comparable to the local project but it is probably good public relations to unfailingly mention it.

kieth

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 4:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Old man yells at cloud.

Seriously, get with the times. Our city is growing, we have to accommodate that. If we want to become a world class city, I would certain hope that we would become welcoming to tourist, not attempt to drive them away. I will agree that some of the plans might be in excess, that's where community feed back is so vital. However, we have to replace the aged seawall anyways, not just for aesthetics, but for safety. Now would certainly be a good time to get as much improvement out of the area as we can.

Jjays

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 5:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Hmmm. Ageism, and you don't know whether I'm an old man. And what exactly will it look like when we're a "world class city?" I don't think you, or anyone, has any idea. The "world class city" trope is politician speak for toadying to developers and sticking us with the bill whether we want it or not as far as I'm concerned. The size of our city not increasing; it's geographically limited, so that's something you might consider. However, we are cramming as many people as possible into nouveau tenements everywhere, destroying neighborhoods and producing congestion of all kinds and visual blight. That isn't my vision of a "world class city."

mspat

Posted Wed, Apr 23, 8:33 p.m. Inappropriate

I've seen what this architect did in New York with the High Line. I've also see the designs so far and I think it is great. There are some parts of the design that I think is a bit pie in the sky and is not likely to happen but for the most part, I think this is a very good design. Now, if we can come up with the cash.

acbytesla

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

How does one fund vision when playing SimCity? Monopoly money?

BlueLight

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 3:47 p.m. Inappropriate

ALT+W
Add §100,000 to City Budget
ALT+F
Toggle Fire On/Off
ALT+C
Toggle Crime On/Off
ALT+M
Toggle Health Issues On/Off
ALT+A
Toggle Air Pollution On/Off
ALT+P
Toggle Ground Pollution On/Off
ALT+H
Toggle Homeless Sims On/Off
ALT+S
Toggle Sewage On/Off

Simon

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Not enough money to build the dream? Let's be thankful for small things.

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 11:27 a.m. Inappropriate

I dunno I keep thinking this vision would be better in New Jersey looking back at Manhattan...ya think they,ll sell the concept twice like architects
Are known To do?

chapala21

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 3:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Whatever they build Seattle will mess it up by cramming hobo services all over it.

Simon

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 8:32 p.m. Inappropriate

I was surprised that there was not more mention of the fingers of park extending into the uphill city, though perhaps that was just not included in the coverage or presentation. Also, where will the waterfront trolley go? First Ave. only (very narrow) or also on waterfront (costing another lane)? Lastly, how goes the planning for the ferry terminal, with park on roof of new building or what? With the ferry system in deep financial trouble, I suspect this part is on hold.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 6:55 a.m. Inappropriate

David, I asked about restoration of the waterfront trolley, aka George Benson Streetcar Line, and I got the standard "we're looking at it" response. Which I interpreted as code for "ain't gonna happen." The people designing this and responsible for overseeing that design don't ride public transit, at least not on any regular basis. Their transit element now is an afterthought -- rubber tired buses on Alaskan Way. When I pressed the matter, they say tracks could be laid on the inside lanes of the new surface Alaskan Way, with center platform stations in the street median. An acknowledgement made with no detectable enthusiasm.

If the classic Melbourne W-2 cars have to come back, they prefer them on First Avenue, operating in between the new modern streetcars planned for that route -- never mind that it would require two sets of stations, one with high platforms for the classic cars, and one with low platforms for the modern cars. What a mess that would be. And First Avenue is a corridor that does not serve the waterfront.

People like me who want the classic streetcars returned to the waterfront are going to have to work hard to overcome rigid resistance.

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 1:51 p.m. Inappropriate

What's missing one again is the connection of the waterfront plan to
Pioneer Square, 1st Avenue, and most importantly the Pike Place Market. Once you add the amount of concrete planned for the markets connection to the waterfront you begin to think that the concrete/highway construction lobby has found a new home. I don't remember Seattle as loving naked concrete that much but then these are different times. I for one am underwhelmed by what the project architect has accomplished or is envisioning. Seems more like a project that would be home in New Jersey.

chapala21

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 7:27 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm gonna give it to this article, my best effort,
as honestly as I can edit in these next few days,
you know me, to eXplain agin how BERTHA is WRONG.
Simplification enuf? 4-Ya?
BERTHA IS WRONG

exclamation point! exclamation point!
Seattlers, meh?
Super-eee-waterfrontee playgroundee,
over-run with a boulevard car highwayee,
and a large dark underpass/bridgeethingy,
without realistic design of human scale.
Without such, the full design fails
or falls short all segments. Regretably, true.
Drill-Fill SEA-FENCE sub-standard engineering.
Others recommend and build more sturdy waterfronts,
ahem,
bore in mud?
under buildings?
NEED I say MORE?
ForgeT! IT!

!BERTHA MUST BORE NO MORE!

(erk! cutpasted that)

Wells

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 9:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Where's the cash?
Better question: Where's the character?
Maybe we can build a waterfront restaurant that looks like a giant brown derby hat!

NealMedia

Posted Fri, Mar 14, 4:19 p.m. Inappropriate

The Olmstead Brothers would be throwing up in their graves (if that were possible).

Posted Fri, Mar 14, 4:20 p.m. Inappropriate

The Olmstead Brothers would be throwing up in their graves if that were possible.

Posted Sun, Mar 16, 7:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Wow! And the renderings show nary a motorized vehicle in sight! Way cool! And isn't that a one-way Alaskan Way in the rendering of the Union Street overlook? Nifty!

Truth in renderings, please. The rendered view being displayed to the public little resembles the result that will be realized by the work actually shown on the plan view. Public BEWARE! Renderings are pretty pictures, but will eliminate even the hint of an adverse impact. Take the time to read the plan view and to be skeptical of the pretty propaganda pictures.

slame

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