By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
There is a $756 million reason to visit downtown Seattle again: the waterfront park project.
“The decision to build the tunnel provided the city with an opportunity to reclaim and connect downtown to our waterfront. The goal of this program is to create a waterfront for all, for people of all walks of life to enjoy,” said Angela Brady, waterfront program director of the City of Seattle.
Brady has been attached to this park project for over 10 years through planning, design, and now leading the construction phase. With 28 years of experience in engineering and project delivery, she is directly responsible for the design and construction of the Waterfront Seattle Program.
In addition, Friends of Waterfront Seattle is a key partner. They are the nonprofit organization responsible for funding, activating, and stewarding the park.
Joy Shigaki, president and CEO of Friends, said that their work is fundamentally centered in partnerships with the city, community, donors, and businesses to ensure that the park is deeply cared for.
She added, “Friends also contributes philanthropic funds to be a part of the build, to care for it in perpetuity after it opens in 2025, and responsible for the long-term care and activation into the future.”
Shigaki is a fourth generation Seattleite who was born and raised here. She returned to Seattle three months ago to lead Friends. She had spent the last 15 years working in the nonprofit, public, and private partnership space in Oakland and New York.
“It’s an extraordinary moment to come back for this transformative project,” she said.
History and project details
Brady noted that the waterfront program had its beginning in 2001 after the Nisqually earthquake. At the time, the city and state were already talking about replacing aging infrastructure, but the earthquake was the impetus to get them going and to start the conversation about getting a new waterfront.
The Waterfront Park is a linear 20-acre park that stretches from SoDo to Belltown paralleling Highway 99. There was the opportunity for the city and region to reinvest in the health and wellbeing of the waterfront, Shigaki added.
The overall park budget is $756 million, which comprises $268 million of city funding, $218 million of state funding, approximately $160 million of the Local Improvement District (LID) tax, and $110 million of philanthropy funds which Friends helped oversee. (The $756 million doesn’t include the seawall construction which cost $400 million.) The LID tax is a funding tool governed by state law, by which property owners in the downtown Seattle area pay a one-time fee to help fund the costs of public improvements that directly benefit their property.
Both Brady and Shigaki shared that one of the biggest challenges of the project has been staying on schedule. A myriad of contributors have caused the delay of construction—Bertha delay, COVID-19 impacting the supply chains, and a concrete strike, among other factors.
Urban design and landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) won the international design competition for the waterfront park in 2010. JCFO also notably designed the High Line in Manhattan as well as the Navy Pier in Chicago.
Brady said that the JCFO team beat the other teams by their plan to weave Seattle’s past, present, and future, and sea and shore into the new waterfront.
“They talked about leaving spaces flexible so we could evolve over time with programming. There was a lot of discussion about habitat and shoreline, like how to incorporate some of the shoreline features into the waterfront program. What stood out was that they talked about stitching about Seattle waterfront landmarks, such as Pike Place and Colman Dock, back to downtown Seattle,” Brady said.
Pier 62 was the first piece of the waterfront park that opened in 2020. According to Brady, this was considered an early win since they were able to build it without relying on the tunnel or viaduct.
Since opening, over 180,000 people visited the pier and over 80,000 came out for the public programs.
“Pier 62 has been a great example of what the new park will feel like. Friends has done an amazing job programming that and bringing the community together,” she added.
Friends’ approach to programming has been focused on bringing in BIPOC communities into the space.
Shigaki said that their public programs team has developed over 159 programs with over 50 community partners in 2021. The programs included arts and culture programming such as the Langston Black Film Festival, indigenous storytelling, a Korean festival, as well as movement and fitness like kickboxing, Zumba, and more.
“We’re really centered on partnership with the community and doing it in a really deep way. We want to invite community members to take tours and to look at the changes happening. It’s about building that confidence of reconnection and showing excitement for programming on the waterfront,” Shigaki added.
Shigaki said their main focus is to continue building relationships, as well as evaluate this summer’s programming and build on best practices to adjust for next year.
For example, the community engagement team has been working with the Wing Luke Asian Museum, SCIDPDA, and other organizations to make connections to inform programming.
“Part of our work is to elevate diverse stories along the waterfront, like telling the story of the Chinese American exclusion on the waterfront or the Japanese American incarceration—it was the first location of evaluation from Bainbridge Island. We recognize there are a lot of rich stories to be surfaced to reclaim the connection to place, that’ll be another way to connect more intentionally to the API community,” Sigaki said.
“We recognize it’s about how to find collective opportunities to make accessibility from the Chinatown-International District (CID) to the waterfront easier,” she said.
There are plans to have the waterfront shuttle going again next year. Friends is also thinking about creating easier and safer access during different times of the year for elders from the CID to experience the waterfront.
Ivar’s President Bob Donegan told the Rotary Club of Seattle on Nov. 2, “When you walk the waterfront, you won’t find homeless people or needles or tents because we’re so fastidious about it.”
Donegan said members of the Waterfront Association walk the area everyday.
“When they see a person who’s struggling, or they see a mess, they take a picture. And we send it to the Office of the Waterfront, Friends of Waterfront Seattle …the public defender’s office, the Department of Transportation, Seattle Parks Department, and within 90 minutes on average, there’s someone providing help.”
Shigaki explained that the park safety proposed model for Waterfront Park has a multi-tiered approach to nimbly respond to various situations in the park with care. A team will be formed between the City, Friends, and REACH via Evergreen Treatment Services to respond to incidents, utilizing the most compassionate approach possible in all situations.
In addition, they will have two full-time social workers available and on call when staff reach out to them to engage as needed. Shigaki noted that the social workers are experienced in understanding people who experience homelessness and that’s an important part of providing care for people.
They’re also transitioning private security to work with community ambassadors to provide an additional layer of engagement with anyone including the unhoused. They will call the Seattle Police Department only if the situation reaches the point of real public safety concerns.
“That’s been an important way to bring a humane approach to public safety for Pier 62, and the approach will continue as we gradually open up the park,” she added.
Through their work, within the waterfront park in 2022, REACH has had 497 encounters, 273 unique individuals in need, with a 15% to 25% of outcomes to services and resources. Over 90% of these interactions are face-to-face on the street, and often the background presence of city safety staff can provide a margin of safety and comfort for the REACH teams to be able to do their work as effectively as possible.
REACH provides various services, from assistance obtaining legal identification, to clothing, shelter, recovery support, access to legal support, violence disclosure, to simple engagement and rapport, phone and mail services, food, and so much more.
With less than three years from opening, there’s a real moment to bring back an awareness that this park is coming online soon, Shigaki said.
They’re inviting more people to support the philanthropic campaign and new construction to build the future of Friends.
The next project slated to open next month is the Union Street Pedestrian Bridge project. The elevator and pedestrian bridge is at Union Street and connects Western Avenue down to the waterfront. Brady said that this project addresses public comments to increase accessibility for folks to visit the area.
As the 26 city block continues to be under construction, the public can look forward to new roads, and urban design and aesthetics for the waterfront are slated to be finished in phases through 2025.
The Seattle Aquarium is also going through an expansion with the Ocean Pavilion, a 50,000 square-foot exhibit space, to accommodate a 40% increase in expected visitors to the waterfront and aquarium.
“The water’s edge has always been a natural gathering spot for human beings throughout time. With Seattle’s creation of a community space on the waterfront as gorgeous as the views themselves, all of the waterfront businesses will now be the facilitators holding that space for locals and tourists alike. This will have a stimulating and thriving effect on the waterfront businesses as well as Seattle as a whole. As a visionary artist, I can clearly see and feel the creation of a new paradigm for Seattle,” Burgandy Viscosi, local artist and waterfront business owner, shared in an email.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.