If You Build It, We Will Come: City Rolls Out Concepts for a Reimagined Seattle Waterfront

Waiting for a ferry--on the lawn!

Imagine a Seattle waterfront composed of terraced parks that change with the tides...ringed by a two-lane bike path...with a stormwater collection system and solar panels and other sustainable energy sources. Walkability is key, and the waterfront is connected to downtown via public spaces, stairways, ramps and promenades.

Those are some of the visions proposed by Waterfront Seattle, the city's project to reshape the area after the Viaduct comes down. Last night, hundreds of people packed a standing-room-only public meeting at Bell Harbor to see the one-hour slide show and gawk at scale models of four different design plans. I found it hard to contain my excitement. I have lived in Seattle my entire life; now, I want to live in that Seattle. I want to stroll the length of the waterfront along a promenade, loll about on the lawn taking in those soaringly beautiful Elliott Bay views. I want to dip my toes into the bay at an "intertidal zoned park." How dingy and industrial it all looks to me now! Like too many locals, I never, ever go there. But I will, if you build this, I promise...

Except...who's paying for it? We already know the Viaduct's coming down; the state's committed $290 million for that and to shut the Battery Street Tunnel and build a surface Alaskan Way. But those lush, strollable, sociable waterfront visions will come with a big pricetag, and we're not talking money yet ("A cost estimate for the public spaces will be developed as part of completing the Concept Design in 2012.")

Funding mechanisms that will be considered, according to the city:

  • Local improvement district

  • Federal, state and city support

  • Agency partnerships (like the Port, the ferries, etc.)

  • Philanthropy

The city's official press packet assures us that city leaders are going to take "rigorous measures" to control costs, and that since final design and construction won't begin until 2014, there's plenty of time to get the funding ducks in a row.

I yearn for this new waterfront (and any one of the four design concepts will do. Except I will pass on the "thermal pools"—ewwww.). But the scale and scope of it is immense. Can Seattle pull this off? Take a look for yourself (and offer feedback) at waterfrontseattle.org.