The Port's new Bell Street Pier Project is an important step in creating a vibrant and continuous pedestrian waterfront for Seattle. However, while it enlivens a barren expanse that historically discouraged pedestrians from traveling the waterfront's full length, creating the hoped-for synergy between the waterfront and upland neighborhoods east of the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be a challenge.
|With the steep grade between Belltown and the waterfront, as well as the presence of Highway 99, the central waterfront still has access problems.|
Seattle's central waterfront forms a predominately linear district running north-south along Alaskan Way. It is bounded by Pier 48 in the south and Pier 70 to the north. Current pedestrian traffic generally begins just north
of the Washington State Ferry Terminal at Pier 52. It travels north, through the successful tourist and retail draws of Piers 54 - 57 (including Ivar's Acres of Clams and Trident Imports) to Waterfront Park at Pier 58 and the Seattle Aquarium at Piers 60 and 61.
Before the Port's development of its new Bell Street Pier Project, pedestrians at this point then faced a half mile expanse of "nothing," from the northern edge of the Aquarium to the Edgewater Inn at Pier 67, This barren landscape discouraged pedestrians from traveling further north along the waterfront to Pier 70 and Myrtle Edward's Park.
Nor was this expanse successfully bridged in the minds of many pedestrians by the Seattle Waterfront Trolley. The expanse was simply too large, both visually and mentally. As a direct result of this, the historical operations of Pier 70 have been marred by high turnover and low occupancy among retail tenants resulting from the limited sales volumes.
The Port's new Bell Street Pier Project will help change this. On the water side, the project includes: a cruise ship terminal, the Odyssey Maritime Museum, an International Conference Center, moorage for up to 96 boats, retail and storage space for the fishing fleet, and three restaurant spaces including an Anthony's Home Port. Across Alaskan way the project will include a possible 15 story World Trade Center and the Waterfront Landings condominiums, which have already sold out their first phase of development. Not only will this project be clearly visible to pedestrians from the Aquarium, but it will have the combined draw of the Odyssey Maritimes Museum and the cluster of restaurants.
A future successful redevelopment and expansion of the Aquarium and Waterfront park to incorporate vacant Piers 62 and 63 would complete the linear development of the central waterfront and connect the north waterfront neighborhood with the more established tourist and pedestrian areas to the south. A prior bond issue to upgrade and expand this park did not pass, but the success of the Bell Street project could make it more appealing to voters.
As an added bonus, the success of Waterfront Landings and the reconnection of the northern waterfront to its southern half should lead to increased interest in Pier 70 and the surrounding underdeveloped properties to the east. The current owner of Pier 70, Triad Development, has plans to upgrade their facility. Additional residential development along the uplands is a possibility, although costs to clean up contamination on the key uplands property, the former Union Oil tank farm, remains an obstacle to full scale redevelopment.
The Ports desire to further integrate the project with uplands to the east, however, will prove a challenge. Integrating the central waterfront with the downtown has long proven difficult, particularly in the north where not only
is there the Alaskan Way Viaduct, but a significant grade difference. The difficulties in making these connections work can be better understood by investigating those pedestrian links that are working well to connect the city to the waterfront.
The first is the grade crossing at Yesler Way near Pier 48. This connection is the easiest and most visible connection between the highly developed Pioneer Square district and the water front. Both tourists and locals have a clear view of the water from the very heart of Pioneer Square. This visual link combined with the Square's activity create a well used path to the water.
The second link is the new Harbor Steps located between First and Western. The Harbor Steps project enhances downtown pedestrian access to the Waterfront Park area with a grand staircase in the former University Way right-of-way. It essentially leads up to the doorstep of the Seattle Art Museum, one block west of the 3rd Avenue Bus Tunnel. The Harbor Steps work for reasons similar to those found at the Yesler Way crossing. Not only are the Steps well placed between the heart of downtown and the heart of the active waterfront, but the link itself, bordered by shops and restaurants, is an open and inviting connection.
A third link is the Pike Street Hill Climb. This link between the Pike Place Market and the Aquarium is a more tenuous pedestrian route than either Harbor Steps or the Yesler Way crossing. It goes a long way towards overcoming the greater distances involved with a good mix of shops that keeps things interesting along the way.
The two new pedestrian bridges at the Bell Street Pier project are not as well positioned, nor do they have as much to connect too. The Lenora Street bridge is intended to have a similar purpose as the existing Hill Climb, but from the north side of the Market. It does not, however, possess the positive factors found at the Hill Climb. It is not a direct link between the market and the waterfront and is located one block north of the effective northern limit of the Market and Victor Stienbrueck Park. This potential tourist route lacks the ease of access and visibility required by unfamiliar out of towners. Second, its entrance from the uphill side is not coordinated with shops and retail, but is off a dead-end street.
The Bell Street Bridge is seen as an attempt to link the Denny Regrade and emerging Belltown neighborhood to the project and visa versa. The actual demands for this link are probably limited. The important question is how many trips a year should we expect a Bell Town resident to make to the Maritime Museum? For residents of the Denny Regrade, the biggest draw of the water front area is Myrtle Edward's Park directly north of Pier 70 which
provides attractive jogging access to waterfront areas further north.
The positive impact of The Port's Bell Street Pier Project will be immediately felt along the waterfront. It reconnects the northern waterfront with existing strong tourist and retail locations to the south, enhancing the developabilty of areas to the north. The Port should be congratulated for this accomplishment. However, in it's attempt to bridge the Alaskan Way Viaduct and tap into both the Pike Place Market and the emerging Belltown neighborhood above, the score reads Alaskan Way Viaduct 1, Port 1.
Chris Wronsky, Paul Bottge and Scott Mackay are members of Wronsky, Gibbons & Riely PLLC, a commercial real estate and consulting firm headquartered in downtown Seattle.
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