Bon Garage The Best Site For New Library
Special To The Times
TWO years ago, the Library Board rejected the Bon Marche parking garage site for a new downtown library because the destruction of the parking garage would have imposed severe hardships on the Bon and other downtown businesses. But much has changed since then, and putting the library on the Bon garage block is not only in the best interests of the city, it is now also in the best interests of the Bon.
The advantages of the Bon garage block have always been obvious. First, siting the library there would require the destruction of the ever-deteriorating Bon parking garage. Despite being one of downtown's worst eyesores, the Bon parking garage enjoys a conspicuous location on the new $1.2 million Pine Street Promenade. Since private development on this site is unlikely, locating a new library there presents the only possibility for improving this important downtown location by eliminating this eyesore once and for all.
Second, locating the library on the Bon garage block would not require either the displacement of existing businesses or the destruction of historic buildings. The News Lane block (bounded by First, Second, Pike and Pine) is the location of the Doyle, the Gatewood and the Samis buildings. These modestly sized structures provide historical and aesthetic context for the smaller buildings forming the Pike Place Market. Siting the library on the News Lane block would require the destruction of a number of these structures and would overwhelm the friendly scale of the Market.
Locating the new library on the Camera West block (bounded by Fourth, Fifth, Stewart and Virginia) would involve similar problems. The Camera West block is home to a number of important terra cotta buildings, including the Centennial Building. Destruction of these delightful buildings would further deplete what is left of Seattle's important terra cotta tradition. Additionally, it would require the displacement of 18 to 20 diverse and healthy businesses.
Siting the library on the Bon garage block would thus rid downtown of a nagging eyesore while preserving a number of important historical structures. Despite these conspicuous advantages, the Library Board rejected the Bon garage block in favor of the other two blocks for a couple of reasons. Many businesses in the Market believed that the proliferation of adult entertainment businesses on the News Lane block discouraged shoppers from visiting the Market and lobbied for the News Lane block as a way of displacing those businesses.
More importantly, destruction of the Bon parking garage would have meant the temporary loss of approximately 860 parking spaces. At a time when the Frederick & Nelson and I. Magnin buildings stood vacant and the continuing economic viability of the downtown retail core was in doubt, loss of these parking spaces, even temporarily, would have created severe economic hardship for the Bon and neighboring businesses.
Of course, circumstances have changed considerably since then. Deja Vu and Fantasy, Ltd. have vacated the Samis building, which is now scheduled for redevelopment. As a result, there is no longer any need to locate the library on the News Lane block as a way of displacing such businesses.
Moreover, the revitalization of downtown has added many new parking spaces to the retail core. The Meridian buildings, home to Niketown and Cineplex Odeon, have added 400 new parking spaces to the retail core. Next year, Benaroya Hall and Pacific Place will add 1,200 more. And in the next few years, the expansion of the Convention Center will add 1,150 more. With the economic health of the retail core assured, there is no reason to worry that siting the library on the Bon garage block would result, even temporarily, in a shortage of downtown parking spaces that would harm the Bon.
Indeed, locating the library on the Bon garage block may now be necessary to ensure that the Bon benefits from the revitalization of the retail core because all of the new projects are located to the east of the Bon: the Meridian buildings, Pacific Place, renovation of the Frederick & Nelson and I. Magnin buildings, the Paramount Hotel, the expansion of the Convention Center, and the addition of 12,000 square feet of retail space to the Camlin Hotel.
These projects are shifting the center of the retail core from Westlake Plaza two blocks east to Pacific Place. While Nordstrom will be comfortably located at the new center of the retail core between Pacific Place and Westlake Plaza, the Bon will find itself on the outside looking in to the retail core. As new retail space is added to the east of Pacific Place in the proposed additions to the Convention Center and Camlin Hotel, there will be more foot traffic to the east of the new Nordstrom and less to the west. The result of these changing patterns in foot traffic will be that the Bon winds up with fewer, rather than more, visitors.
A well-designed new library on the Bon garage block would provide a strong draw on the west end of the retail core, just as Vancouver's spectacular new library does at the east end of Vancouver's retail core in Yaletown. This would help to draw the increasing number of visitors to the east end of the retail core back to the west end. The resulting long-term economic benefit to the Bon and neighboring businesses would greatly outweigh the detriment, if any, that would result from the loss of the Bon parking garage.
On this site, a library would be visible along the length of Second Avenue through Belltown, providing a powerful presence on Stewart Street that integrates the expanding retail core with the Market. Whatever the drawbacks of the Bon garage block might have been two years ago, locating the library on this site is now in the best interests of the public and the business community - including the Bon.
Kenneth Einar Himma is a graduate student at the University of Washington.
Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.