[Maritime Week / Bell Street Pier]


Bell Street project helps connect waterfront to Belltown, Pike Place Market

Special to the Journal

It's been said that good fences make good neighbors, and the Port of Seattle hopes that the footbridges and glass elevator that have emerged from the Bell Street Pier project will make equally good neighbors for its neighbors and visitors. Port officials, the architects and neighbors all hope that the Bell Street Pier will be a catalyst to spark pedestrian activity for the waterfront and the surrounding neighborhoods, creating a popular spot for Seattle visitors and residents alike.

An innovative design used the "bridge to nowhere" at Lenora street to create an attractive and much-needed connection to the waterfront.

The history of the Seattle waterfront has passed on several deterrents that have prevented it from becoming a relaxing destination spot. Fifty years ago, the waterfront was exclusively industrial. It was a hard-edged front to the city, with boats delivering timber, food and goods and fish processing plants and paper mills lining the shore. Relegated to an industrial status, Seattle residents thought the waterfront was unsafe, offering no lures for leisure time activities.

And as Seattle developed, the steep hill separating the city from the waterfront continued to pose a formidable barrier to linking these two areas. And Route 99, nestled next to the hill, has also played a dominant role in precluding the building of new walkways.

The Bell Street Pier has finally broken through this stranglehold. There are two new footbridges, one at the end of Lenora Street that also sports a glass elevator. The other footbridge, named the Bell Street footbridge, is located next to the Art Institute of Seattle and connects pedestrians to the Bell Street Pier facility directly.

The Port of Seattle and the architectural firm Hewitt Isley have also worked to make the footbridges safe and easy to find. Both footbridges will have signage directing pedestrians to the entrances and the Lenora footbridge is also handicap accessible. Hiding places in the walkways and entrances were eliminated. David Hewitt, Principal of Hewitt Isley, says the Bell Street footbridge, which extends over Alaskan Way is "wide to avoid that feeling of being trapped," says. Electronic surveillance on the bridges and foot patrols throughout the complex will add another measure of safety for pedestrians.

The Bell Street pedestrian bridge will help connect pedestrians to the Central Waterfront Project and its neighbors, including the Art Institute of Seattle (pictured behind bridge).

Chris Ramos, community relations director of the The Art Institute of Seattle, which lies across Alaskan Way from the Bell Street Pier, hopes more pedestrians will minimize the concentration of the "negative element along the hillside." Three years ago, new apartment buildings opened across from the Art Institute on Elliott Street, and hasn't succeeded in deterring unsavory street life. But Ramos thinks the energy and vitality Bell Street Pier will add may do the trick.

The Bell Street footbridge has two levels. The lower level accesses the Art Institute of Seattle's garage and connects to a stairway at the waterfront side. The bridge's lower level is sheltered from Seattle's winter drizzle. The upper open-air walkway joins the public rooftop plaza at the Bell Street Pier and connects across the street to the Art Institute of Seattle.

The Lenora Street footbridge will bring people to the waterfront a little farther south at a second development area called the Uplands. There, the bridge and elevator drops pedestrians right between a planned 320-unit hotel and Intracorp's Waterfront Landing condominium development -- and they do it in style. The footbridge, and particularly the adjoining glass elevator, offers a 45-degree view of Elliott Bay, West Seattle and the Olympics. And because the elevator is protected from future development, gorgeous views are assured for years to come. Planned landscaping will soften the concrete look of the bridge itself, and plantings will also help to enhance safety.

Early in the design process, plans called to replace the Lenora concrete ramp. Constructed in the 1930s as a vehicle freight route to the former Lenora Street Terminal, the bridge connection was demolished along with the terminal in the 80s. But costs to finish off this old relic were too high, and project designers were forced to imaginatively incorporate the concrete ramp into the design of the bridge and elevator.

While walkways serve as an important beginning in connecting the waterfront with Belltown and the Pike Place Market area, other links to downtown Seattle are also being considered. Metro Transit may add bus lines along Alaskan Way. Burlington Northern Railroad might add a commuter stop in the same area. Much of the demand for these services is anticipated from the future residents of the 240 condominium units of Waterfront Landings.

The Port of Seattle has demonstrated genuine concern for its neighbors by including these joining structures. "The Art Institute of Seattle has been a great neighbor. It has been very understanding," says Karen Ross, director of development at the Port of Seattle.

Located across the street from the Bell Street Pier, the Art Institute has had a ringside view of the construction, and has been a major topic of conversation among the staff. "The pile driving was worth a couple months of lunch-time talk," says Ramos. "It's almost scary how fast the building went up. I'm sure it's safe, I just haven't watched many buildings being constructed."

The Port of Seattle owns the Art Institute of Seattle building, including the coveted parking garage that will provide parking for the Bell Street Pier. While the garage is not used at capacity the Art Institute is concerned that it will soon be overcrowded.

But with the crowding problem also comes opportunity. Ramos says he hopes to begin cultivating a symbiotic relationship with the Bell Street Pier once it's in operation. A new culinary arts program will begin in July, and he envisions internships at the new Anthony's Home Port across the footbridge. The Art Institute's travel and tourism program could also be interfaced with the maritime museum. And hopefully, said Ramos, pedestrians using bridge will add to the visitors at the Institute's student art gallery.

The Pike Place Market, another neigbor to the Bell Street development, is equally excited to see how the new project helps their business. Roy Feirig, director of marketing and communications for the Preservation and Development Authority which manages the market, greets the Bell Street Pier with enthusiasm. "Anything that benefits downtown Seattle, benefits the market," he said.

The Pike Place Market, encompassing 9 acres and filled with over 600 shops, stalls and stores, relies heavily on loyal customers buying sacks of groceries. Over 75% of sales at the market are food sales. "Thank God for the residential buildings that have gone up," says Feirig.

Food merchants at the Pike Place Market should also benefit from the short-stay moorage at the Bell Street Pier. The market projects that an average boat will spend $200 -$300 buying groceries.

Another neighbor, Argosy on Pier 55, thinks it's great to have the Bell Street Pier. John Blackman, president of the charter boat and pleasure cruise company, says "It can do nothing but help the surrounding area."

Blackman added that the Port of Seattle gets high marks as a good resident. "The Port has been a good neighbor, they've kept us very well informed [about construction of the project]," he said.

The Port of Seattle has consistently worked to listen to the concerns of surrounding neighbors and citizens. Karen Ross, director of development, has attended over 85 public meetings in the last six years alone and met with a variety of citizen groups, incorporating their concerns and requests in the project design. And public meetings held by the Port of Seattle Commission, also helped to draw out citizens' interests. Keeping the fish processing plant, creating a short stay moorage and increasing public access to the waterfront were all specific requests from citizens that the Port was able to comply with.

Project superintendent Gene Shreckengost looks over construction of the Bell Street Pier's roof deck, which will be easily accessible to the public from the Bell Street bridge.

The Bell Street Pier has maintained a civic focus, allowing the development of a hotel and condos to private enterprise at the Uplands. The Bell Street Pier contains components that both citizens and tourists can enjoy -- the maritime museum, the roof terrace and the moorage. The facility has referenced both the historical functions of the waterfront by including the museum, the fish processing plant, while still looking to the future of the waterfront by including the international conference center. "The Port chose to build the conference center themselves to indicate their interest in moving forward international trade. It illustrates commerce in a larger sense, not only exchange of goods, but of ideas," says Ross.

Most are pleased that the Port of Seattle has kept a civic focus. "The Bell Street Pier has ties to the water and has a Northwest atmosphere," says Ramos. "I don't think it would be appropriate to have put a shopping center there."

Liz Shaw is a freelance writer living in Seattle.

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