With all this talk about boring the world’s largest tunnel and ripping out a decaying viaduct in Seattle comes another piece of the construction plans: a newly renovated waterfront.
Right now in Seattle, the Alaskan Way Viaduct essentially cuts off much of downtown Seattle from the waterfront. And the portions where the public can venture toward the water don’t leave a lot of connections to Puget Sound’s Elliott Bay. And there’s certainly a lack of things to do down on the waterfront in the shadow of the concrete highway, although, to be fair, the waterfront isn’t totally devoid of attractions. But as the state moves toward tearing out the viaduct in lieu of a bored tunnel under downtown Seattle, plans continue to evolve for a complete redevelopment of what is called the central waterfront.
The latest of those plans, created by New York’s famed High Line designer, James Corner, were unveiled last week in Seattle, a completely updated edition from the first iteration that included grand “folds” from Pike Place Market down the hill to the water. Those folds were deemed to gargantuan and not in line with the vibe of the area and the city. In the $420 million plan, those folds are gone, but connections to the water and a few things to do have certainly made a new-look waterfront one of the most exciting aspects of the Highway 99 project.
With hopes to have the waterfront project done in tandem with the tunnel, a seawall replacement and the removal of the viaduct (that entire project will come in over $1 billion), the new waterfront may be less than eight years away. With it includes an all-season use of the area featuring a 2.5-mile promenade for a mix of pedestrian and bicycle use. Local neighborhoods connect to the area with landscaped walkways and Union Street even boasts a covered escalator from a new waterfront park to a plaza with a small splash park for warm weather play. A restored beach at the end of one street makes the plans too.
Connecting the market to the waterfront has always proved daunting. About 10 million people visit the market every year, but only one million folks venture down the hill to the aquarium, reports the Seattle Times. A new design has a “view walkway,” complete with potential retail shops and restaurants along the stretch, to help make that connection between the market and the water.
Once down to the water, what will people do, other than a bit of restaurant hopping or visiting the Seattle Aquarium? The new plan turns piers 62 and 63 into full-time fun. Corner has pitched the idea of adding a heated saltwater swimming pool to the area, complete with changing rooms and showers. If needed, the pool could be covered in the winter and used as a stage. Expect to see a seasonal skating rink, kayak rentals and steps down to the actual water, something missing now.
As city officials work on funding sources and the public reacts to a more subdued, user-friendly Corner design, know that while a potential engineering marvel may lay beneath downtown Seattle with the tunnel, residents of the city may benefit most by engineering some culturally infused waterfront fun.
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