The Redmond Central Connector, following an abandoned rail line, will bring together Old Town and Redmond Town Center, says Mayor John Marchione.

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The railroad tracks that ran through the center of Redmond for more than 120 years are gone, replaced for now by a simple gravel trail.

Now the city, which tore out the steel rails last year to make way for a stormwater main, is getting ready to transform a mile of the old rail line into a trail and linear park.

Unlike the Burke-Gilman and other popular Seattle-area trails, this one is intended for far more than walking, biking and inline skating.

With its large sculptures and gathering places, city officials hope the Redmond Central Connector will become a magnet that brings more people downtown and accelerates its emergence as a high-density place to live, work and shop.

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“We’re giving people a reason to come downtown,” Mayor John Marchione said. “I could see someone coming down on a Saturday, hitting the farmers market, shopping at Redmond Town Center and moving to the Redmond Central Connector for a walk and an ice cream.”

And, Marchione pointed out on a walking tour, the city’s purchase of the old rail line will let it knit together Old Town and Town Center, on opposite sides of the Connector.

As a new, paved trial is built, the city will extend 164th Avenue Northeast across the Connector, giving motorists and bicyclists ways of getting around that they didn’t have when 164th and other streets ended at the tracks.

“This is part of putting the street grid together,” Marchione said.

The city extended 161st Avenue across the Central Corridor last year.

With more ways to cross the Connector, the city will soon turn one-way Cleveland Street and Redmond Way back into two-way streets, slowing cars and making it easier for people to find downtown shops.

Redmond bought 3.9 miles of the 42-mile Eastside Rail Corridor from the Port of Seattle two years ago for $10 million.

The Port bought the entire corridor from BNSF Railway in 2009 to put the little-used rail line in public ownership and prevent the railway from selling it piecemeal.

In April, Kirkland become the second city to buy a segment of the corridor from the Port, with the goals of building a trail and providing a future mass-transit route.

The Redmond Central Connector will be the first high-visibility public project on the rail corridor, which links Redmond, Woodinville, Kirkland, Bellevue, Snohomish and Renton. Construction will take place between September and spring of 2013.

Sections of the $4.3 million project are eye-popping.

While parts of the Connector will look much like any other walking and biking trail, segments approaching intersections or public plazas will split into curving “braids” or “tendrils” of variously colored paving materials.

The unusual paving and curves in the trail will intuitively alert bicyclists that they should slow down, said Guy Michaelsen, a principal in the Berger Partnership, which designed the trail. Bicyclists looking for a longer, faster ride can bypass downtown on the Bear Creek Trail.

“This is not a trail for people who want to move through Redmond at 25 miles per hour,” Michaelsen said. The new trail will connect with the Sammamish River and Bear Creek trails.

Near 161st Avenue, where city and Sound Transit officials hope to locate a light-rail station sometime after 2025, the trail will widen into Brown Street Plaza, which will feature “Signal Art,” a sculpture designed by artist John Fleming, and a parking lot that can double as an event space and amphitheater.

If the budget allows, the parking lot may be painted in bright colors. “You’ll see it from the ground, but it will be especially graphic from Google Earth or if you fly over in an airplane,” said Fleming.

Fleming, who created the “Grass Blades” sculpture at Seattle Center near the Experience Music Project, also designed “The Erratic” for the Redmond Central Connector at 166th Avenue.

The Erratic, inspired by large, glacially deposited rocks, will be shaped by triangular surfaces of old metal railway pieces and will feature colored lights that can be programmed to respond to viewers’ motions.

Fleming described the trail as “a flowing riverlike thing.”

“It’s not about a space people move through, but about stitching the city together and creating a destination in the city,” Michaelsen said.

Among the first users of the Connector, Michaelsen predicted, will be downtown residents, many of whom live in the 650-plus apartments in new six-story buildings within easy walking distance.

Real-estate firms Resmark and Greystar began construction this week on a 134-apartment building, Elan Town Center, next to the trail at 164th Avenue.

“You’ve got just a phenomenal setting. I’ve done a lot of development over 30 years. It’s rare to find an opportunity that has a 27-mile trail like this one,” said Greystar’s senior managing director, Jerry Brand, referring to the larger trail network the Connector will tie into.

When Marchione ran for City Council eight years ago, he said, downtown was “vacant.” His mother, former Mayor Doreen Marchione, moved to Kirkland “because there were no condos in Redmond.” She is now a Kirkland City Council member.

“Now that we have more people living in downtown, more walking in downtown and now adding the amenity of the Redmond Central Connector,” Marchione said, “I’m very pleased with the urban community we’re building in downtown.”

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com