The landscape architect charged with transforming Seattle's waterfront said he hopes to "re-center" downtown around Elliott Bay and make the waterfront a place where people can enjoy sweeping views and a lively social scene.

The landscape architect charged with transforming Seattle’s waterfront said he hopes to “re-center” downtown around Elliott Bay and make the waterfront a place where people can enjoy sweeping views and a lively social scene.

“We want to create a ring of destinations, more parks, more public places, artwork and natural habitat. It’s half already there; we want to add the other half,” said James Corner, designer of the acclaimed High Line project in Manhattan.

Corner will present his design teams’ initial “big ideas” for the central waterfront Thursday night. His kickoff forum in February attracted more than 1,000 people who shared their ideas for creating an inspiring new parkway.

With the viaduct scheduled for demolition in 2016 and a new surface arterial planned through the area, city leaders hope to transform the 26-block span along the waterfront from Qwest Field to the Olympic Sculpture Park.

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After that February gathering, the design team processed more than 2,000 comments and suggestions. Among the recurrent themes for the waterfront, Corner said, were overlooks on the bay, access to the ends of piers, vantage points to watch the working port, a place for festivals and concerts and access to the water’s edge.

The feedback, Corner said, was “not a surprise in terms of content, but it was in terms of unanimity.”

At Victor Steinbrueck Park, at the north end of the Pike Place Market, Corner proposes a grand park that falls in “folds,” crosses over the new Alaskan Way arterial and ends at a public plaza in front of the aquarium. He describes the park as creating sweeping overlooks and a pleasant stroll downhill.

The waterfront plan will connect other neighborhoods such as Belltown and Pioneer Square to the bay, add east-west transit and ensure that the parkway is pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

A key to the new design, Corner said, is recapturing the dynamic of the tides. He envisions a beach at the foot of Main Street in Pioneer Square to launch kayaks and other small boats. Pier 48 could be rebuilt to accommodate nighttime concerts and civic celebrations, he said.

Shoreline and habitat restoration would be incorporated the length of the project.

Farther north, at Colman Dock, which is scheduled for renovation, Corner proposes a green rooftop where people can watch ferries and the nearby cranes unloading cargo.

“Instead of turning its back, the city can embrace a great transportation hub where people coming and going are part of the scene,” he said.

Patrick Gordon, an architect and a member of the Central Waterfront Committee, cautioned that Corner is providing a “very early peek” at some of the possibilities in an ambitious project that will evolve over time. He noted that millions of people already visit the Pike Place Market every year, attend sports events at the stadiums and ride the ferries.

“The magic of his thinking is that the people are all here; we just haven’t created the connection between them and the water,” Gordon said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com