Celebrating 40 years of Seattle’s first I-5 lid: Happy birthday, Freeway Park

Sunnier days in the '70s in Freeway Park (Image: City of Seattle)

Sunnier days in the ’70s in Freeway Park (Image: City of Seattle)

The group determined to reclaim and revive the public asset is celebrating Jim Ellis Freeway Park’s 40-year history of bridging the gap and the interstate between Capitol Hill, First Hill, and downtown Seattle.

The park was founded on July 4, 1976, after years of Seattle civic leader Jim Ellis pushing for a park over I-5 to reclaim some of the space taken up by the interstate for community use. This weekend, the Freeway Park Association will celebrate the 40-year anniversary of the park’s opening and the group’s efforts to reclaim the space from decades of neglect.

“Freeway Park was the first park to lid over a freeway to reconnect communities that had been cut by that highway,” said Freeway Park Association’s Riisa Conklin. Conklin said the green-covered 5.2-acre park is essentially a “fertilizer box” situated over the highway.

The park is celebrating its 40th on Sunday, July 3 from 11:30 AM to 2 PM. The festivities will include a bluegrass band, free kettle corn, face painting, and a community kite painting project. All parts of the celebration are free and open to the public. A blues and jazz concert follows starting at 2 PM. Continue reading

Capitol Hill developer will match your $10K donation to the Lid I-5 campaign

A heads-up to any wealthy fans of the idea to build a lid over I-5 near Capitol Hill: Local developer Mike Malone will now match your single $10,000 donation to the Lid I-5 campaign.

A tall order, yes, but serious proponents of the plan say there is much more organizing and designing to be done to keep the momentum going. So far the group has raised $22,000 to hold a public feedback session and to hire a strategy consultant. Continue reading

Rooftop restaurant and ‘marketplace’ planned for 7-story Melrose/Pine development

unnamedIn a city that loves a good view, a seven-story high rooftop restaurant on the precipice of Capitol Hill overlooking downtown sounds like a no brainer. Connected to a ground floor “marketplace,” developers behind a planned project at Pine and Melrose are hoping to make a staggering addition to a burgeoning part of the neighborhood.

Plans from SolTerra developers call for a tiered mixed-used building to rise up where a parking lot now stands, and include 70 residential units, a top floor restaurant, and ground floor retail. A facade made of sloping terraces at Esker — a term for a ridge — are envisioned to give residents outdoor spaces with commanding views over downtown while dampening the roar of I-5 below.

“We want to take advantage of the views and Seattle doesn’t have a ton of rooftop hangout spots,” said SolTerra president Brian Heather. “Rather than just put this monolith there, we wanted something that would gracefully greet you as you come up the hill.”

For years, a parking lot at Pine and Melrose has served as the rather drab gateway to Capitol Hill from downtown. Continue reading

A look at where new I-5 lid would fit in between Capitol Hill and downtown

There are plenty of nicknames for the concrete canyon of I-5 as it bisects downtown and First Hill, particularly at Pike and Pine, where the center of downtown leads up to the Paramount Theatre and then drops off.  Pedestrians continuing up to Capitol Hill have narrow sidewalks on the freeway overpasses, with traffic on one side and a deep abyss of roaring I-5 traffic on the other.

Community Design CharetteMay 7th, 8 AM to 1 PM at 12th Ave Arts

Community Design Charette
May 7th, 8 AM to 1 PM at 12th Ave Arts

Even in the early 1960s, some far-sighted Seattleites called to “Block the Ditch” planned for I-5, but the freeway bulldozed through anyway. Now, with the Washington State Convention Center pushing ahead with plans to expand capacity by building on an additional downtown site, there’s hope that “vacating” some streets at the edge of I-5 to accommodate WSCC’s plans could be traded for opportunities to lid I-5. Some grand conceptualizations for lidding I-5 and replacing our concrete canyon with pedestrian-friendly development and green spaces have been covered by CHS in recent months. The Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council has set May 7th, from 8 AM to 1 PM at 12th Ave Arts for a community design charette to set a vision for the effort.

One of the crew with a vision for fixing Seattle’s “urban scar” is Scott Bonjukian, education and programming director for The Urbanist, the nonprofit that partnered with the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council to host a Sunday morning walking tour on  lidding I-5.

The tour starts at Freeway Park, built as an  I-5 lid in 1976. We gather at the plaza at 6th and Seneca, one of the few areas of the park that is open to and fully visible from the street. Its lack of “way signs and sightlines,” says Bonjukian, is a reason the park is underused, even in the daytime. He says most people are unaware that there are a total of 10 entry/exit points to this park—they’re concealed around concrete corners and down dark passages. Continue reading

Concerned about costs, logistics as public process heats up, Convention Center expansion makes big change

Smack in the middle of the ongoing flow of public process, the Convention Center team has made a big change

Smack in the middle of the ongoing flow of public process, the Convention Center team has made a big change

There was big news over the weekend for the $1.4 billion project to expand the Washington State Convention Center. But likely of more importance to Capitol Hill residents, businesses, and organizations interested in leveraging the massive project to create a better connection between Pike/Pine and downtown are two upcoming milestones for public comment as a community push for more lidding of I-5 moves forward.

  1. Street vacations: Comments on the WSCC‘s street vacation petition (available online in PDF form), due March 18 to: moira.gray@seattle.gov
  2. Environmental Impact: Comments on the WSCC‘s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) (available on the WSCC website), due April 11 to: info@wsccaddition.com

The group Friends of Lidding I-5 sent a bulletin on the milestones to its update subscribers early Monday.

Street vacations = public benefits
Regarding the vacations — in which the city would deed ownership of what is currently public right of way to ease the expansion’s construction and development or related projects — the Friends group said it is calling for a short list of public benefits in exchange for the vacations. “In light of the large scale of the project and the unusually high number of requested street vacations, PPUNC is drafting a letter requesting public benefits that go above and beyond the currently proposed improvements around the site,” the group writes.

Here are the asks:

  • Have the WSCC complete Plymouth Pillars Park by lidding I-5 adjacent to the dog run; this will be the first, modest step in adding valuable open space to an existing network.

  • Have the WSCC fund a comprehensive feasibility, urban design, costing, and programming study of a freeway lid between Pike Street and Olive Way to include affordable housing, neighborhood businesses, and open space components. Such a study would cost in the order of $0.5 to $1 million

  • Direct the applicant to create the kind of civic grandeur and empowering public realm its central location, program, cost, and impacts dictate; design Olive Way as a complete street with active uses on both sides, and design the Boren Avenue and Pine Street sides to work with future lids

Because of its size and scope that will incorporate two additional developments across the street from the planned new Convention Center Hall, one track of public benefits discussion for the project will be handled in what is called the Planned Community Development process that gives developers a more streamlined set of public reviews. The Convention Center planners have told city officials they prefer a plan for part of one of the developments to include affordable housing and the mix of three new buildings planned for the project — the apartment tower, a new office development, and the new convention center expansion — to incorporate street and pedestrian amenities to satisfy their public benefits requirements.

CHS wrote about the various public benefits discussions surrounding the Convention Center expansion projects earlier this year as the project began its tour with the Seattle Design Commission, one of the myriad review processes that will — slowly — shape it. Meanwhile, the next round of design reviews is tentatively scheduled for May. Continue reading

Seattle says no thanks to The Jungle’s barbed wire fence but money could still go to clearing I-5 encampments

(Image: OpenStreetMap)

(Image: OpenStreetMap)

Seattle officials gave a resounding “no” this week to a Seattle state Senator’s $1 million plan to build a barbed wire fence around a sprawling encampment along I-5.

Sen. Reuven Carlyle now says he was partially misunderstood, though his broadly worded plan to make the corridor safer could still include “limited, targeted” fencing. Carlyle’s funding could also be put to use to addressing safety and clean-up at I-5 encampments along the base of Capitol Hill and First Hill where even more homeless people would likely end up if The Jungle were fenced off.

“This is a fraction of the broader investment in homeless services and programs,” Carlyle told CHS. “But the state has a liability here.”

At the request of Mayor Ed Murray’s office, the 36th District Democrat said he introduced the $1 million into a supplemental budget (PDF) last week to address safety concerns along an I-5 greenbelt known as The Jungle — the area where two people were shot to death in January and a Seattle Fire and SPD assessment found “tragic, unsanitary conditions.” However, the plan to box in the encampment with 8,000 feet of 6-foot high fencing sounded more like designs for a prison yard, including “heavy gauge metal with razor wire wrapped around three strands of barbed wire.” Continue reading

SPD says three teens arrested in Seattle’s ‘Jungle’ murders

Police took three teenagers into custody Monday night for last week’s fatal shooting in The Jungle area below I-5 known for homeless encampments and drug use.

Police arrested the three — age 13, 16 and 17 — “in connection with last week’s fatal shooting at a homeless encampment in the Beacon Hill greenbelt,” SPD announced in a brief update on the case. Officers took the suspects into custody on Monday just after 5 PM on 4th Ave S near an I-90 onramp. Continue reading

Murray plans big property tax boost, Sawant calls for emergency $10M in Seattle homelessness crisis — UPDATE

As volunteers and officials prepare for this year’s One Night Count of homeless people living on the streets of Seattle and King County overnight Thursday, Seattle leaders are calling for increased funding to help create more housing and shelter in the region and calling for more to be done across the state.

Sleeping between graffiti

Tuesday night, Mayor Ed Murray said he will ask Seattle voters to approve a doubling of the housing levy last approved in 2009. “Beginning tonight at City Hall, we are holding community meetings across Seattle to share our city’s vision for how we bring affordable housing to every neighborhood,” Murray said. “And in just a few weeks, I will lay out my vision for the renewal of Seattle’s Housing Levy. I am proposing that we double the levy so that we can do much more — including permanent housing for those who are homeless.”

“Perhaps as a city, there is nothing more important that we can do this year than pass this levy,” Murray added.

The around $190 million proposal will undoubtedly face opposition from property owners who have complained about the steadily increasing number of levies stacked on Seattle land. In February, for example, Seattle voters will be faced with two school levies to replace expiring funding. According to the Seattle Times, there will be a record $228.5 million in voter-approved levy taxes collected in the city in 2016. But the paper’s analysis concludes that Seattle ranks extremely low in the nation when it comes to its effective tax rate. “Seattle property taxes are high because our homes are worth so much, not because we’re being gouged by an excessively high rate,” the Times reports.

And, landlords, it could be worse.

“The Mayor has said that the only way we can generate additional funds for the homeless is by taking resources away from other social needs,” District 3 rep Kshama Sawant said in a statement on homelessness released Thursday morning. Continue reading

Lid I-5: The Movie

lidI-5Last week, Seattle’s only newspaper finally jumped on the I-5 lid bandwagon. “The time Is right to fix the I-5 disaster,” they say. The grand — Big Lid — vision for an I-5 cap from Patano Architects the Stranger focused on is one vision for how to address the project. We featured the big, shiny, 45-acre vision on CHS back in September.

The Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council is open to the big vision — but it is also taking small steps to add a planning process for a new lid over I-5 to the development of the Washington State Convention Center expansion.

In December, CHS reported on PPUNC’s efforts to include a study for a new I-5 lid in the planning process for the expansion as part of the convention center’s “public benefits” for the project. This week, PPUNC’s chair John Feit shared a 15-point update on the group’s push for lidding I-5 and opening the possibility for creating room for housing and commercial development, park space, and restoring the connection between Capitol Hill, First Hill and downtown. Get ready for a big meeting in February, a fundraising campaign, and a community design charrette:

  1. We will start crowd sourcing soon so we can hire a project manager
  2. Seattle Parks Foundation will be our fiscal agent
  3. We will also be directly soliciting donors (developers, property owners, and the like)
  4. We are also applying for a DON small and simple grant
  5. Capitol Hill Housing is lending a hand with logistical support Continue reading

Group makes case for lidding I-5 to connect Capitol Hill to downtown with greenspace, housing

“Their convention center would be much nicer if it was next to some ground instead of an interstate highway.”

Proponents of lidding I-5 at the base of Capitol Hill are getting serious: They have a logo.

As part of its ongoing efforts to inject community priorities into the massive $1.4 billion Washington State Convention Center expansion, members of the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council have been pushing forward the idea of lidding I-5. PPUNC and a group of designers are now preparing to make their first public pitch before City Council members during a Wednesday afternoon “lunch and learn” at City Hall.

PPUNC chair and Capitol Hill architect John Feit sketched out a handful of lid ideas for the meeting, which range from *simply* reconnecting the street grid at Minor and Terry, to a 7-acre park over I-5 between Olive Way and Pike, to a mix of park space and development. The new publicly owned property could also open the opportunity for building public housing, Feit said, perhaps even for some of the hundreds of service industry workers the WSCC plans to employ.

Leveraging “public benefits” required of the developers as part of the convention center expansion will be key to getting PPUNC’s proposal off the ground. The benefits typically include improvements to the streetscape like canopies, planting, and lighting.

While the Pine Street Group has dismissed suggestions that a lid could be part of the public benefits provides as part of the project, Feit is hoping the developers would be open to funding a crucial feasibility study to establish real lid proposals.

“I think its reasonable to get the Convention Center to pay for that,” he said, estimating a study could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million. “Their convention center would be much nicer if it was next to some ground instead of an interstate highway.” Continue reading