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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