A neighborhood group is pushing to rename Seattle's Freeway Park after longtime civic leader Jim Ellis.

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A neighborhood group is pushing to rename Seattle’s Freeway Park after longtime civic leader Jim Ellis.

“He’s Mr. Freeway Park,” said David Brewster, head of the Freeway Park Neighborhood Association. “Ellis really did build this park, so it makes all kinds of sense. We’ve always thought Freeway Park was not the most endearing, the name is like ‘offramp park.’ We thought having a more attractive or neutral name would be a step forward.”

But changing the name of a park is not easy, said Dewey Potter, with the Seattle Parks Department, who said the name-change proposal is now before the Seattle Parks board.

“Once a name is bestowed, it’s permanent,” she said, explaining that the name of Freeway Park can’t be changed under current board policies. But it could change the name to Jim Ellis Freeway Park.

Ellis, a Seattle lawyer, spearheaded Forward Thrust, the bond measure that produced the Kingdome and Seattle Aquarium; helped found Metro and its effort to rid Lake Washington of pollution; and created the concept for Freeway Park, the park atop Interstate 5 next to the convention center.

Ellis saw the 5.2-acre park, which opened in 1976, as an effort to bridge the chasm the construction of Interstate 5 created in downtown Seattle.

Ellis said he is complimented by, and a little embarrassed at, the effort to rename the park in his honor. “I love the park and for a long time I worried about it because it didn’t seem like we were taking care of it. Now it’s delightful again.”

He said there were efforts years ago to name the park after him, but he resisted because he likes the name Freeway Park. “Ellis doesn’t tell you a darned thing about it,” he said, adding that he does like Jim Ellis Freeway Park. “I’m very flattered that people are thinking about it, but I’m sure not going to campaign for it,” said Ellis. “I’m going to keep silent. If the Parks Department wants to do it, fine, if not, I sure understand.”

Potter said the parks board is looking at its naming policy and, until then, it won’t act on the Ellis renaming proposal. She couldn’t say why the park was named Freeway Park, but said one criteria for names is location, and this park was notable because it stretches over the freeway.

The fact that Ellis is still living wouldn’t stop the park from being renamed for him, Potter said. Homer Harris Park in the Central Area was named for a living resident, named after one of Seattle’s most-beloved athletes and physicians. A donor, who gave a large anonymous contribution, asked the park be named after Harris.

The Parks Department also named a lower Woodland baseball field the Mariner All-Star Field because of a donation from the Seattle Mariners after it hosted the All-Star Game.

Bob Anderson, head of Horizon House, a senior-living facility near the Convention Center, strongly supports the name change. “Jim is clearly in every sense of the word, the idea person behind the park,” said Anderson. “He made that park happen, and it is such a natural tribute to him.”

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com