Waterfront Draft Plan Approved by Council

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A rendering of the plan for Seattle’s Waterfront (Waterfront Seattle)

On Monday, August 13, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 31399, which creates the framework for the new Seattle downtown waterfront.  The resolution supports the direction developed by the citizen group that has been working for years on this project, the Central Waterfront Committee, lays out a funding plan, and delineates the timeline for the next steps in implementation.  A key provision calls for forming a local improvement district, a mechanism whereby the City can generate funds for the project by taxing property owners whose property will increase in value as a result of the removal of the viaduct, creation of the new park and other waterfront development.

This is a huge step forward in realizing the dream of transforming the central waterfront from the existing conditions dominated by the noise and structure of the viaduct to a park that is focused around public access for Seattle residents and visitors and linked to downtown through a series of corridors and connections that will make access easier and more attractive.

The City began the public process of developing a waterfront plan in 2003, approved guiding principles in 2004 based on forums supported by the Planning and Design Commissions, and created the Waterfront Concept Plan in 2006.  In 2009, the City created the Central Waterfront Partnerships Committee to advise the Mayor and City Council on the strategies and partnerships necessary to successfully develop and manage new public spaces along the Central Waterfront.

This group’s report, published in January, 2011, was then turned over to the new Central Waterfront Committee for further development.  In turn, the Central Waterfront Committee, informed by numerous public meetings, developed the strategic plan and a funding strategy.

The core strategy calls for an urban street and promenade along a new surface Alaskan Way, park space, strong east-west connections, spectacular views, spaces for diverse social and recreational programs, and access to Puget Sound. While there are many decisions and details left to be developed, the strategy includes access to the water in several ways, a diverse set of parks along the water and on the public piers, an expanded Aquarium, a new urban space connecting the Aquarium and the Pike Place Market, and a series of other changes in the way in which transportation and urban development will relate to Alaskan Way, the waterfront, and connections to downtown.

While funding requirements for this plan is estimated at about $1.07 billion, the good news is that there is a viable funding strategy.  The strategy is anchored in the public investments in the WSDOT Alaskan Way Replacement project and the Seawall Bond which will appear on the November ballot.  The State money is already secured, and if the Seawall Bond is approved, these two sources and funds that are already budgeted by the State and City will cover about 60% of the projected costs, $650 million of the projected $1.07 billion.

The local improvement district is anticipated to fund the largest part of the remainder, between $200 and $300 million, and private philanthropy is also anticipated to provide $80 to $120 million.  That leaves between $70 and $150 million to be financed through the City’s general fund and/or a future levy.  The next step is to begin forming the local improvement district, anticipated to be in place in the spring of 2014.

Other near-term actions will include developing agreements between the City and the Pike Place Market and Seattle Aquarium to continue the design work in that area of the waterfront and develop funding plans for their projects.  And the City will work with partners in the community to foster creating a not-for-profit Friends of the Seattle Waterfront to further advance the projects.  In addition, the City will begin developing a plan to maintain, operate and program the Central Waterfront after Waterfront Improvement Program project components are constructed.

It is incredibly exciting to see the planning for our waterfront moving into this next stage.  When I was elected to the Council in 1997, I had no idea that we would have the opportunity to reshape our waterfront.  Although the State and City had already begun reviewing the seismic issues relating to the seawall and Alaskan Way Viaduct, it was not until the Nisqually Earthquake in 2001 that the work became more visible and took on a new sense of urgency.

It has taken us more than ten years to get to the point where the transportation system work is underway and we can begin to fully turn our attention to the possibilities of the waterfront.  The controversies seem to be behind us, and the public engagement has been strikingly successful.  Only a few people from the public were present when the Council approved this plan – and none of them were opposed to it.  The next five years will continue to see challenges, but they will be the challenges of realizing a vision.  The rewards of that vision will become increasingly apparent as we continue this work.