Waterfront: Ed Murray wants to hold the line on costs

Murray administration officials have suggested a series cutbacks, and outside funding, to keep Seattle's costs for a new waterfront under control.
Crosscut archive image.

The Piers 62 and 63 replacement envisioned by a waterfront plan.

Murray administration officials have suggested a series cutbacks, and outside funding, to keep Seattle's costs for a new waterfront under control.

The budget for transforming Seattle's downtown waterfront into a sprawling network of public spaces, girded by a brand new seawall, is currently just over $1 billion. Mayor Ed Murray wants to keep it that way.

But if the project's plans are left unchanged, costs are expected to exceed the current $1.07 billion figure by about $200 million, according to a presentation some of Murray's top staff made to the City Council on Monday. While financing for the $331 million Elliott Bay Seawall replacement is mostly shored up by voter-approved bonds, how the city will cover the total remaining cost of the planned waterfront makeover remains less clear.

To help get the original budget total to pencil out, the mayor has proposed axing some parts of the waterfront plan — at least in the near term.

"The mayor, the executive team, the Office of the Waterfront remain fully committed to the success of the program," said Jared Smith, program director of the Office of the Waterfront, during Monday's presentation to the Council.

The urgency surrounding the waterfront project has been dulled somewhat by the ongoing delays digging the Highway 99 tunnel. Moving forward with most of the waterfront improvements is contingent on the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which is considered vulnerable to failure in a major earthquake. The tunnel is supposed to replace the viaduct, but last December the machine boring it experienced major mechanical problems. Getting the machine moving again is expected to take at least until next March.

Radically different from the existing central waterfront, the redesign under consideration involves about 20 new acres of parks and public space, as well as street improvements and investments in the Seattle Aquarium and the Pike Place Market.

Smith, along with city Planning Director Marshall Foster, presented a number of possible changes to the existing waterfront plan to the Council. The proposals could add up to $168 million in savings.

It's possible that items removed from the initial waterfront redesign plan could re-emerge later if new funding materializes.

The full replacement of a large open pier space, Piers 62 and 63, was the biggest ticket item on a list of potential cuts. By not replacing the pier, which is located just west of Pike Place Market, the city could save an estimated $69 million. As opposed to just leaving the pier as is, Foster said, another option would be minor improvements to the existing deck and railings.

In plans presented in March by landscape architect James Corner, who is leading the redesign effort, a floating barge with a swimming pool was moored at Pier 62. Crosscut reported earlier this month that the boat had been dropped from the initial design, with the hope that a philanthropic funder might eventually step forward in the future to cover its cost. Foster reconfirmed this savings plan on Monday. The estimated price of the barge was around $25 million.

Simplifying a pedestrian bridge on Marion Street to save $19 million and reducing a planned investment in the Aquarium by $11 million, from $45 million to $34 million, were among the other potential cuts presented during Monday's meeting.

The new funding figures presented at the Council meeting also scaled back a 2012 estimate for how much revenue a local improvement district could provide, from $250 million to $200 million. The district would include commercial property in the area that benefits from the waterfront upgrades; owners of this property would pay an assessment to the district.


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