A Park Comes to Belltown

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It was Toasted Cheese Sandwich Day on Saturday, quite appropriate for the fun, yet formal ribbon cutting at the Bell Street Park, a four-block long play space for the many residents of Belltown.

Celebrating the sunny opening were several hundred enthusiastic Belltown residents, a handful of winsome youngsters, many of them toddlers, and at least a dozen adorable dogs. There were jugglers and musicians, artists and brightly-colored food trucks – one of them, of course, selling toasted cheese sandwiches. And what kicked off the celebration? A lively bunch of Lion Dancers, accompanied by ritual drummers.bell6

Mayor Murray was there to wield the ceremonial scissors, as were former Parks Chair Sally Bagshaw and myself, the new Parks Committee Chair. We were all smiles, realizing how long it has taken for the park to become a reality. The first proposal dates from 1998.

The neighborhood has been very much involved in the creation of the park, which was made possible with funds from the 2006 Parks and Green Spaces Levy. The continuous level pavement should encourage pedestrians, cyclists and automobiles (a single Westbound lane) to share the space.

The finished park features wide sidewalks, enhanced lighting, verdant street trees and plantings and amazing public art. Sheila Klein, a nationally-known artist who once had a studio in the neighborhood, worked with the One Percent for Art funds, to produce the handsome bronze sculptures featured on each block. The planters bristle with whimsical blown glass mushrooms and brightly-colored flora.

Bell1If Saturday is any example, the Bell Street Park is bound to be one of the central city’s classiest meeting spots, a wonderful example of an active park that maximizes urban space and unites the community. The park, which stretches along Bell Street from 1st to 5th avenues, is a delightful addition to a very dense urban neighborhood. Formerly the neighborhood had to make do with only one park: the popular dog park at 3rd and Bell Street.

The happiness level at the opening was as much a spring tonic as the mild temperatures and the sun-drenched afternoon.  So great was the enthusiasm that at least a half dozen of Belltown’s residents came up to me to ask, “Can’t we do the same for Vine Street?”

It was a worthy question and hopefully not one that will take the next 16 years to answer.