Sunk: City cuts swimming pool barge from waterfront design plan

If you were thinking about swimming laps next to Pier 62 and 63 any time soon, forget about it. The barge could resurface in the future though.
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The pool barge will no longer be included in the basic design for the central waterfront.

If you were thinking about swimming laps next to Pier 62 and 63 any time soon, forget about it. The barge could resurface in the future though.

The city has decided to nix a floating barge with a swimming pool from plans for a vast new public space along Seattle's downtown waterfront.

At least for now.

The elimination of the much-discussed barge is one of several recent changes to the design of the space. Major delays with Highway 99 tunnel construction and questions over financing have created an air of uncertainty about the project's timeline and budget. But city officials say work is progressing and that the latest version of the design has incorporated a range of citizen criticism and feedback.

"We're keeping the momentum that we had," said city planning director Marshall Foster on Wednesday.

The main corridor of planned parks and other public spaces would extend 26-blocks between Pioneer Square and Belltown and sprawl across roughly 20 acres of the waterfront. A conceptual design is currently about 30 percent complete, according to Foster. This city is moving toward 60 percent design completion, a stage that will include more information about landscape details, materials and surface finishes.

The city contracted with James Corner Field Operations to lead the design effort. Corner, a landscape architect, is well known for his work on the High Line park in New York City. Since 2010, Seattle has paid Corner's firm nearly $7.5 million. The waterfront program budget includes about $8 million for the firm's services, an expense Foster believes is worthwhile. "That money, in my mind, is pretty well spent," Foster said.

"The scale of the design and engineering effort, I don't want to say it is unprecedented," he added, "but this rivals the biggest projects Seattle has done."

The pool barge, which would have been moored at Pier 62 and Pier 63 west of the Pike Place Market, could eventually resurface. Foster said that while the city is not including it in the basic waterfront design, it might be a good candidate for future philanthropic financing.

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Just kidding: The proposed pool barge has been deep-sixed from the Seattle waterfront's basic redesign, but could reappear in the future. Image courtesy of City of Seattle and James Corner Field Operations.

With an estimated price tag of between $22 million and $23 million, the boat was described as an "anchoring element" in a schematic design released earlier this year. It would have featured not only a six-lane lap pool, but also hydrotherapy spas, a locker room and snack bar.

Some critics had knocked the pool barge as unaesthetic and expensive to maintain. Foster also noted concerns about the 282-by-75-foot barge interfering with salmon habitat. "We want to be really careful about adding overwater coverage," he said.

Some of the other recent design changes involve the so-called overlook walk. The series of elevated walkways, plazas and staircases would link Pike Place Market with the waterfront, crossing above vehicle traffic on Alaskan Way, the surface street along central waterfront.

"We've kind of opened it up and made it more of a park-like space, a little bit more of an active kind of space," said Foster.

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Now with clouds: A new rendering of a revised design proposal for the overlook walk, which will pass over Alaskan Way, connecting Pike Place Market with the waterfront. Image courtesy of City of Seattle and James Corner Field Operations.

The addition of a children's playground near Union Street is another recent change to the design. There have also been refinements in terms of incorporating historical elements intended to reflect the history of both the city and local tribes.

And the city has begun to identify some of the tree species that might appear throughout the space, including douglas firs, London planes and maples. "In several locations we're going to have big conifers," Foster said.

The city's overall budget for the waterfront program is about $1.1 billion, according to the most recent available estimates, which were last updated in 2012.

Along with funding for the new parks and public space, that amount covers Elliott Bay Seawall replacement costs and road projects. The waterfront redesign is contingent on tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which could fail in an earthquake.

The state's plan to re-route Highway 99, which currently runs on the viaduct, hit a snag when the machine digging a new tunnel for the roadway developed mechanical problems last December. A repair effort is underway, but is expected to take at least until next March.

Mayor Ed Murray's Office is currently preparing new budget numbers for the waterfront program, which his staffers are scheduled to present to the Seattle City Council later this month.

Planning for one component of the project's financing has been placed on hold. The budget estimates from 2012 include $250 million generated from a local improvement district, which would include commercial property in the area that benefits from the waterfront upgrades. Owners of this property would pay an assessment to the district.

"With the delay with the tunnel boring machine we've paused that analysis for this year," said Jared Smith, program director of the city's Office of the Waterfront. "Until the viaduct is torn down you can't really implement the improvement."

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The big picture: Department of Planning and Development provided this image with a marker showing the location where a person would be standing to see the view of the overlook walk included on the first page of this article. Image courtesy of City of Seattle and James Corner Field Operations.

The design for the main corridor of the new parks and public spaces is expected to be complete by early 2016. Foster said that financial concerns are not currently the main driving force behind design decisions, but that the budget always factors into the process.

"We want this thing to make sense to people and we want it to be financially prudent," he said. As the project shifts into a phase where the design is more about "let's make this real," Foster called the decision to eliminate the pool barge, "a great example of editing."


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