Bellevue is starting construction on Meydenbauer Bay Park on Lake Washington, a key part of what the city envisions as a grand pedestrian boulevard connecting the lake to downtown and the Eastside Rail Corridor.

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Just three blocks from Bellevue Square and Old Main Street, but unbeknown to many visitors, lies Bellevue’s picturesque Meydenbauer Bay, one of the city’s few access points to its Lake Washington waterfront and its maritime history.

Now construction is underway to expand an existing waterfront park and connect it with the city’s historic marina and a whaling building, once the winter port for a Puget Sound whaling fleet.

When it’s completed in fall 2018, the new $17.5 million Meydenbauer Bay Park will feature a quarter mile of Lake Washington waterfront, a swimming beach, a curved pier extending into the lake and a hilltop overlook with views west to Seattle.

“This is going to be a jewel in the Bellevue parks system,” said Sherry Grindeland, a city parks commissioner for the past eight years. “To walk from downtown to Meydenbauer Bay is going to be magnificent.”

Meydenbauer Bay Park is part of the city’s ambitious vision to construct a broad pedestrian boulevard and bike path connecting Bellevue’s waterfront to its downtown and eventually across Interstate 405 to the Eastside Rail Corridor. The city hopes to select a distinctive design for the freeway crossing by early next year.

The completed Grand Connection, as the city calls the plan, may be years in the making, but Patrick Foran, Bellevue parks and community services director, said a succession of city councils has stayed true to the promise of expanding the city’s public waterfront and making the new park at one end of the future boulevard.

“Bellevue has a pretty good track record of seeing its visions come to fruition,” he said.


Plan began in 1987

City leaders first made acquisition of waterfront along Meydenbauer Bay part of its parks-and-open-spaces plan in 1987. Between 1992 and 2007, the city acquired 12 properties, nine of them private homes perched above the lake. The properties were all sold voluntarily.

Still, Grindeland recalls many public meetings with neighbors worried about the size and makeup of the crowds who would inevitably descend on a broad, sandy, swimming beach.

“Whenever you’re going to change the neighborhood, there’s consternation, complaints that ‘We don’t want those people,’” Grindeland recalled.

And that was before downtown Bellevue’s post-recession boom. The neighborhood has added more than a dozen new apartment buildings and its population has swelled to almost 14,000, according to the city, double what it was in 2010.

Jim Hanson, who lives in the Whaler’s Cove condominiums just east of the Bellevue Marina, said the city’s original plans for the park included more commercial activity, such as kiosks for food. Those plans were scaled back, and now just a small-boat rental facility will operate out of the whaling building.

“We’re happy with what’s going in now,” said Hanson, chief engineer for a large yacht moored at the marina. He can already walk a few dozen steps to work. When the project is completed, he said, “We can just come out our door and walk through the park.”



Neighborhood history

Another neighbor, Patricia Montgomery, and her late husband, Howard, raised their six kids in a home overlooking the park. She said the children disappeared down to the lake on summer mornings and didn’t come back until night.

The 94-year-old was given what’s called a “life estate” when the city purchased her property. It means the house will be torn down and the land become part of the park only after her death.

Montgomery said her grandchildren were thrilled to learn that the home wouldn’t be bought by private owners, but would remain a place they could return to and bring their own kids.

She was a little dismayed to learn that the park wouldn’t reopen until 2018, but said she was confident she’d still be alive for the ribbon-cutting.

“I’m sure I will,” she said.

Last week, bulldozers and backhoes chewed up parts of the steep hillside where the park will be built. The earthmoving is part of a separate construction project to relocate sewer lines that in some cases were in the water or hanging over the lake under piers.

On a tour of the 10-acre site, city officials said the broad contours of the future park, with its terraced hillside, winding walkways and shoreline, are starting to emerge.

They also pointed out a wooded ravine at the park’s north edge where a stream that’s now in a pipe will be daylighted and the natural habitat restored. The park project also includes renovating the whaling building for use as a meeting space and a rental facility for small boats, as well as adding a public boat launch for hand-carried kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards.

Money for the project comes from the city’s parks real-estate excise tax and capital-investment program funding, along with state and federal grant funds.

Glenn Kost, planning and development manager for Bellevue Parks, said surveys of residents over the decades have consistently shown that people want to get close to the water. The city does have half a dozen waterfront parks, he said, but none within walking distance of downtown.

“People are going to be surprised at how close this is,” Kost said. And while the next year and a half of construction will be “a bloody mess,” and the existing park and its beach access will be closed, Kost predicted that residents will love the result.

“It’s going to be full of people. This will be spectacular,” he said.