How useful is Bell Street Park, actually?

Now that the confetti has settled, is the city's newest park cum boulevard getting any love from the little people?
Aerial view of Bell Street Park

Aerial view of Bell Street Park Photo: Seattle Parks and Recreation, SvR Design

Three months ago, amid quite a bit of fanfare, I had the privilege of attending the Grand Opening for the long-anticipated Bell Street Park in Belltown. Mayor Ed Murray, Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Jean Godden and State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Wells were all on-hand to ceremoniously open the park.

But with the warm fuzzies of the park's grand opening squarely in the rearview mirror, it’s time to check in with real users of the park. Bell Street has historically been a city hot-spot for low-level crime, drug-dealing and civil disorder. Couple that with its controversial design and implementation (including the removal of old trees, cost-overruns, massive delays and fears it might become another Victor Steinbrueck Park) and you've got the potential for trouble. So how is everything going? And how does the community feel about it?

I spent some extended time on multiple days in the park, talking to folks, playing with my kids, visiting restaurants, Mary’s Place and the community center. It was evident that the Downtown Seattle Association, along with the Metropolitan Improvement District, were doing their part to help activate the park, and create an environment of fun, information and safety. The MID had just erected a concierge tent between 3rd and 4th streets, that they were staffing to help direct visitors and provide information, along with games for kids and adults alike to enjoy.

Most importantly, I had the opportunity to interview a few voices who either live, work or play along Bell Street Park:

Marcus Charles is a co-founder of the Capitol Hill Block Party, and will soon be the owner of not one but two restaurants along Bell Street Park. Number one is Local 360, and number two, debuting later this month, is Belle and Whete.

Stephan Muse lives next to Bell Street Park at Traugott Terrace and is about to graduate from the Matt Talbot Recovery Center.

Elizabeth Campbell is a nine year Belltown resident. She founded Sustainable Belltown, and participated in the community process for establishing the Bell Street Park. Over the past six years, she has worked within the Boards of Belltown Community Council, Belltown Housing and Land Use subcommittee, and Friends of Belltown Gardens.

How is Bell Street Park going, really?

MC: Overall, I think it’s going really well. It has really cleaned the street up. Though those trees were beautiful and historic, the street was extremely dark, the sidewalks were uneven, and it was very dangerous. It was an environment that welcomed misbehavior. Now, the Boulevard, is open, airy, the sidewalks are flat, and it is a much safer place.

SM: It’s going great. I absolutely love this park. As someone who lives right next to it, it’s great to have an open place where I can come with friends, sit down, eat some food, play games, and get some sun on my face. I think this is the best thing that Belltown has done.

EC: I’m so thrilled with it. The increased lighting and drainage has helped significantly, and the Bell Street infrastructure changes are really changing the dynamic of the whole street. One thing I really appreciate is that the street has stayed diverse with the changes. The entire breadth of the socio-economic scale is still there. We didn’t just gentrify with the park coming in.

Marcus, I noticed you called it a boulevard versus a park.

MC: I think there’s a disconnect from the communities perspective as when you look at it, it does not look like a park. It looks like a boulevard. We’ve had folks come up to Local 360 who will ask, “Do you know where Bell Street Park is?” We say, “it’s right here!” I think if we just start calling it what it is, a boulevard, it will catch on! (smiles)


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 12:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh good! A new place to score drugs!

NotFan

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 8:43 a.m. Inappropriate

My goodness! A "boulevard?" It's, what, 2 or 3 blocks? And just for the record, Mary's Place is nowhere near there, and 3rd and 4th are not "streets" but avenues. Has this person really been there at all?
The writer may mean well, but this kind of gee whiz gosh golly spouting is poor journalism, contains inaccuracies, and doesn't really resemble the realities I've seen at this "park." The scary folks are still in Belltown and probably always will be. The "park" represents just another effort by the city to complicate all car travel, and makes a passage from east to west that much more difficult. I'm glad if the writer's happy, but this is a prime example of triviality and poor writing.

mspat

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 9:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle Parks and Recreation: Helping drug users and dealers meet since 1887.

Simon

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 10:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Mary's Place and the Union Gospel Mission operate an emergency night shelter at 3rd & Bell. The families LOVE the park. I agree though, calling it a park is a bit of a misnomer. I love the programming and have walked up to the area several times for music and Sat market.

MissRuby

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

After all the hoopla I was surprised to find so little that mattered at the Bell Street Park. So much press, so little there there. Made me immediately wondered who milked this project and for how much money over the last decade that this project to has been in the news. Seriously, how many people worked on the "park" and for how long and at what cost? For those who haven't been the "park" yet be prepared to be underwhelmed.

As to the comment regarding an ongoing attempt to destroy any semblance of a driveable city recent;adventures on my scooter to the redesign to nowhere called Mercer Street make we wonder out loud WTF. ...and then on to 1st and Jackson where a key artery to the city has been redeveloped for a street car that now has traffic backed up, especially busses. It's as if Metro was designing ways to get people to take mass transit by making driving in and out of the city impossible.

chapala21

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 11:25 a.m. Inappropriate

I think designing to frustrate cars IS exactly the point. Unfortunately, it ignores the realities that despite the billions (?) being spent on all these modes of transit, they all, combined, do not serve a lot of people's needs. And those people must drive. The governmental entities at all levels just ignore that inconvenient truth. Equally unfortunately, I haven't seen anyone running for office who stands up for the rest of us. I've taken to not voting o races where there is no one that appears to have my interests in mind.

mspat

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 12:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Honestly, they should just close the street and make it what it is- a park. There was and still is very little parking. The busses are easily re routed and there is not real inconvenience to driving another block to get around. We already had to do it during construction. Currently we will only inconvenience a bunch of cruisers at night who are just loud and annoying and pretty much no one else. We also will stop having cars constantly wrecking the bike racks etc.
the sad part is it is just so poorly designed. There is no shade any more and the concrete is so reflective it's really unpleasant during the day. The fences to keep dog walkers out of the flower beds are useless and ugly. No one has any idea how to actually park in any of the few spaces. The lights at 2nd and bell are constantly run because people don't see the cross street. Most of the plantings have been destroyed by either drunk people stumbling though them or residents near by gardening in them. Also, virtually nothing was done to integrate the dog park. At least as a park they could stop trying to force two incompatable activities into the same area.

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 12:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Cars constantly wreck the bike racks? I take it all back! Great park!

NotFan

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 12:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh and one other thing... The street was not made more safe by the addition of the park. The street was made safe by the constant vigilance of the people who lived and worked in the area--especially the coffee shop there. It also got better because of the construction and the street closure associated with it displacing the bad elements. Not to mention the fact the conventicle store in the area was closed for three months during construction and the free ride zone was gotten rid all of which displaced even more. This is what made the area better-not the park. The park was just a bonus.

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 10:49 p.m. Inappropriate

" the street was extremely dark, the sidewalks were uneven, and it was very dangerous"
So shouldn't have urban forestry have perhaps thinned the trees?
Shouldn't the sidewalks have been maintained?
And shouldn't SPD have patrolled the area more frequently, with the help of citizens being relentless in their reports?

I'm concerned we spent a ton of money on this, for a special project, that a properly run city would have simply maintained....

Catherine

Posted Thu, Jul 17, 9:25 a.m. Inappropriate

It seems pretty active. I walk by a couple times a day.

As for me, when the trees grow up, I'll hang out more. Shade is a 100% necessity on a day warm enough to sit around.

mhays

Posted Fri, Jul 18, 6:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Is it really a park or just a street with pretty sidewalks? I drive through downtown for my job and will regularly drive my coach down Bell Street as needed. If you wanted a true park the street would have been closed to traffic and grass planted. Belltown is not that attractive a place as its a city center neighborhood. You can put makeup on a pig, its still a pig.

Posted Fri, Jul 18, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Better then "The Tunnel" should it get built

tjp

Posted Fri, Jul 18, 4:10 p.m. Inappropriate

If you want to see the real tragedy, take a look at the 7th Avenue Wall of the Sheraton Hotel.
The Sheraton spent millions (they claim) -- and what is it?
More blank wall.

Posted Sun, Jul 20, 2:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Well, the Park cost we taxpayers 2.5 million, without cost over runs. Was it worth it ? Hopefully yes ,in opening as a
as a neighborhood park/open area. I agree both ends should be closed to traffic except for deliveries ,etc. Bell town had been a scary area with the booze and drugs. If the neighborhood gets a little safety and calmness with the openness It's a good thing.

Lenny

Posted Wed, Jul 23, 8:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Why should anywhere downtown consider themselves lacking if they don't have yet another park that takes away a street with parking? Downtown is supposed to be dense, not a tra-la-la-la-la neighborhood where cars are banned.

I do agree cutting mature trees and letting sunlight in is an excellent idea to help stop vagrancy and drug dealing.

Posted Mon, Jul 21, 4:23 p.m. Inappropriate

The "park" isn't fun or useful at all. It looks like it was built by people who needed to justify a budget. It doesn't look like a street, which is what it is, and I've almost been hit by a car not remembering that. Why are cars allowed on it?

thebeavs

Posted Mon, Jul 21, 4:24 p.m. Inappropriate

The "park" isn't fun or useful at all. It looks like it was built by people who needed to justify a budget. It doesn't look like a street, which is what it is, and I've almost been hit by a car not remembering that. Why are cars allowed on it?

thebeavs

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