Seattle Commercial Real Estate News of the Day

Monday, September 26, 2011

Seattle Times Daily Journal of Commerce Headline
Developer seeks to create inviting structures Belltown group weighs in on uses for vacant land after viaduct is gone
Boeing 787 assembly shapes up Replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a bored tunnel under downtown Seattle will free up acres of land that is now under and adjacent to the elevated highway.

Some of the city-owned land will be used for a new roadway to connect Alaskan Way to Elliott and Western avenues. But there will be leftover parcels in the Belltown area north of Pike Place Market and where Highway 99 now goes into the Battery Street tunnel.

The city is seeking ideas on what might go there.

“There’s interest in open space and there’s interest in also looking at affordable housing,” said Steve Pearce, Seattle’s central waterfront project manager.

Belltown Community Council, a neighborhood advocacy group, hired Seattle-based Weinstein A|U Architects + Urban Designers to look at opportunities for public amenities, green connections to the waterfront and parks on the land. The work was supported by a grant from the city.

Weinstein’s report has gone to the city and James Corner Field Operations of New York, which is leading the central waterfront redesign. That plan will include the leftover viaduct parcels.

Ron Turner, until recently vice president of the Belltown council, said Weinstein’s report provides technical information and analysis that supports the community’s desire for open space as part of the city’s planning effort.

Belltown has lots of residents but little open space, even with a park-like corridor the city plans along Bell Street, between First and Fifth avenues. Adding public amenities would make the community more appealing to families, Turner said.

Weinstein Principal Lesley Bain said the major public spaces in Belltown are the Regrade Dog Park and streets, such as the “green street” along Vine.

However, the neighborhood has lots of amenities on the periphery, including Pike Place Market, Seattle Center and the waterfront. As Turner puts it, “Belltown is sort of the land between things.”

While the waterfront is close, Turner said railroad tracks make it difficult for Belltown residents to get to the shore. “You’re very conscious that you live in this glorious environment, but you can’t get there.”

The Weinstein report looks at adding connections between Belltown and the surrounding amenities, including the waterfront.

Bain said her firm provided a framework for what could go on the leftover viaduct land, but did not design uses for it.

It looked at how to weave the properties together, create stronger connections to Elliott Bay and Seattle Center, and make Alaskan Way and Broad Street more pedestrian-friendly.

“The overarching thing,” said Bain, “is to make it a great place for connecting to the waterfront and to the Market, to make it as useful and enjoyable as possible.”

Here are some ideas from the report:

• A community building that folds into the steep slope at Western Avenue and Battery Street, perhaps with a balcony to take advantage of views, and an elevator or escalator to help people with the hill. The community wants a gym or pool there, Bain said.

• A better connection from Vine Street to the waterfront, perhaps with a pedestrian overpass at the railroad tracks to augment the surface crossing.

• More pedestrian amenities on Alaskan Way in Belltown and on Broad Street, connecting Belltown to Seattle Center.

• Green space and P-patches from Bell Street to just north of Pike Place Market to help weave that area into the urban grid.

Bain said some buildings in that area have turned their backs on the viaduct. Retrofitting them with active uses like cafes and shops would help incorporate them into the grid, she said, but that’s no easy task and much of the property is on a steep slope.

Turner said the Belltown community wants to preserve stunning views to the water, such as at Western Avenue and Battery Street, but he said that could present conflicts with owners of developable land in the line of sight.

Pearce said even if land west of the proposed “Belltown Balcony” at Western and Battery were developed, there still would be view corridors down Battery and to the south.

He also said community space under the balcony could possibly have retail or restaurant space.

The Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority also has ideas for the leftover viaduct land. It envisions uses that support the market on some nearby parcels, said Ben Franz-Knight, the organization’s executive director.

The authority operates a medical center, senior center, food bank, preschool and affordable housing in the market.

Franz-Knight said possible market-related uses for the land include parking, commercial space, storage for farmers or merchants, space for social services, and affordable housing, but added that it’s premature to say exactly what is possible.

The concept design for the waterfront, a cost estimate and funding strategy are scheduled to be complete next June, Pearce said.

This plan shows the Belltown Balcony, the Elliott-Western street connection and potential public spaces. The balcony would be at what is now the south portal of the Battery Street Tunnel.

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About CRE Northwest

Specialist in office & investment real estate in Seattle & the Eastside
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