Board approves South Lake Union Park proposal
Seattle Times staff reporter
Over mild dissent, the Seattle Parks Board approved an ambitious design for a new South Lake Union Park, estimated to cost $22 million to $28 million. The new plan calls for a diminished role for boat enthusiasts, an increased financial role for the city and added influence for Paul Allen's development company, Vulcan.
Almost all of the speakers at Thursday night's board meeting praised the park blueprint drawn up by a San Francisco firm that helped design the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Ark., and the new World Trade Center memorial in New York. The firm, Hargreaves Associates, has a $543,000 contract with the city of Seattle.
Phyllis Lamphere, a director of the private, nonprofit Seattle Parks Foundation, called Hargreaves' vision "dramatic and awe-inspiring."
Visitors to the 12-acre park would cross a greatly narrowed, more pedestrian-friendly Valley Street to a plaza entrance with a streetcar station. They would move through a canopy of trees to a sea of tall grasses, shifting in the wind like waves on Lake Union.
A footbridge would traverse a newly dug, 30-foot-wide canal to an "activity lawn" that would hold most of the park's capacity for 11,000 visitors. A boardwalk would allow visitors to stroll around the water's edge and visit historic ships moored at a new wharf.
The western side of the park would feature a Native American longhouse and canoe-carving shed, bike and walking paths and a beach for kayaks to land.
The fate of the old Naval Armory building, the architectural centerpiece of the park, was not discussed by the Parks Board of Commissioners. The Armory has been viewed as the site of a future nautical museum.
But the recent financial collapse of the Maritime Heritage Foundation, which was charged by the city with developing a museum, has thrown that vision into question.
While critics weren't honking like the "Give Geese a Chance" protesters who kept the board from voting on the South Lake Union plan at their last meeting, they were concerned about a decreased emphasis on historical boats and increased influence of Vulcan, which plans to develop a biotech hub in the South Lake Union area.
"Grass is nice, but not at the cost of our soul," said Randy Flodquist, who worried about the fate of maritime groups, who now have workshops on the park property.
"The element that is missing is recognition of a dynamic Maritime Heritage Center," said Craig Webster, a longtime activist with the Northwest Seaport Association.
"I will be watching in reference to corporate activities and land speculators (to ensure) this is not an annex to Allenville," said Stephen Lundgren, chairman of the City Neighborhood Council Budget Committee.
The next step in the park development calls for an environmental study of the site, which should take about 18 months to complete, allowing construction to start in 2005.
Financing is expected to come from private donations and the city of Seattle. First, the city would take responsibility for completing the wharf for historic ships. That cost is estimated at $1.2 million. Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds hopes the financing will come from grants, taxpayer money and moorage fees paid by different groups that want to tie up vessels at the park.
Taxpayers also are contributing $5 million for preliminary work through the Pro Parks Levy approved by voters in November 2000.
Meanwhile, the Parks Foundation will try to raise about $15 million to $20 million in donations to finish the park.
The demise of the maritime foundation has led to several new developments recommended by Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds.
Bounds wants Vulcan to make a "significant" financial contribution to the future of the Armory building. But as part of the project, Bounds is recommending the city assume responsibility for basic improvements needed, such as electrical repairs, roof repairs and providing access for the disabled.
Vulcan agreed to develop a 22,000-square-foot cultural facility in the South Lake Union area as part of a 2001 deal in which the city sold prime parcels between Valley and Mercer streets to Vulcan for $20.2 million.
It is possible, Bounds added, that the strategic work funded by Vulcan might lead to the conclusion that a nautical museum isn't the best use for the old Armory. It's estimated to cost at least $25 million in private donations.
"Although we have yet to be approached by the city regarding this concept, we are certainly open to sitting down with them and hearing more about their ideas on this issue," said Vulcan spokesman Michael Nank.
The only criticism by parks commissioners of the new plan was aimed at the canal, which would bisect the park's southern end. The canal project, which comprises the $6 million additional cost beyond $22 million, is potentially expensive because it requires digging up and disposing of contaminated soil.
"This is the beginning of a real big picture," said Dick Wagner, founding director of the popular Center for Wooden Boats. "The park will help define Lake Union for what it is — Seattle's Commons."
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or email@example.com
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