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The heart of Seattle’s historic waterfront will shut down for nine months on Wednesday to make way for seawall replacement work.

The construction — stretching from the north side of the Seattle Ferry Terminal at Pier 52 to the south side of the Seattle Aquarium at Pier 59 — won’t require many detours.

But it will result in the temporary closure of more than a dozen businesses on Piers 54, 55, 56 and 57, including Ivar’s Acres of Clams, Elliott’s Oyster House and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.

The Great Wheel and the aquarium will remain open, as will most businesses on Pier 57. Argosy Cruises will operate temporarily from Pier 57.

Visitors will be able to access the Miner’s Landing collection of shops and restaurants on Pier 57 by walking from the aquarium south through Waterfront Park.

That means the waterfront will remain a destination for locals and tourists, says Ken Johnsen, contract project manager for the $330 million Elliott Bay Seawall Project.

Some 4 million people visit the waterfront every year, with most coming during the summer months. The bustling strip supports about 1,500 jobs.

“We’ll have some really important businesses closing, but we’ll still have a nucleus of activity,” Johnsen said.

The city will pay the shuttered businesses up to $15 million to compensate them for the nine-month disruption, under the terms of an agreement reached last year.

“The agreement says the city will reimburse us so we can cover our fixed costs: mortgages, taxes, fire alarms and key employees,” said Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s, on Pier 54. “With this, we have the chance to survive.”

Stages of work

The project is being carried out in a number of steps, with the final one scheduled to end in June 2016.

The work began in November 2013, when workers built a temporary roadway under the Alaskan Way Viaduct as a replacement for Alaskan Way.

In January, much of the old Alaskan Way became a parking and staging zone, and seawall reconstruction began on the edges of the historic waterfront: south of the ferry terminal and north of Pier 57.

Now crews will begin work on the middle section, between the ferry terminal and the aquarium. That is scheduled to end June 30, 2015, says Jessica Murphy, project manager at the Seattle Department of Transportation.

In the meantime, vehicles will continue to use the temporary road under the viaduct.

The city is building a new seawall because the current seawall, constructed between 1915 and 1936, was weakened by the Nisqually earthquake in 2001, stirring concern that another earthquake could lead the viaduct to collapse.

The old wall, made with landfill, 20,000 timber pilings and some concrete, had already been eroded by tides and by gribbles, tiny sea creatures that bore into wood.

In 2012, Seattle voters approved a $290 million bond measure to fund most of the central waterfront seawall project. The rest is covered by other city funds and a $32 million King County grant.

The work is tied to the Highway 99 tunnel project because the viaduct, which the tunnel will replace, won’t come down until the new seawall is finished.

The city’s plan for a sprawling new waterfront park, meanwhile, won’t move forward until the seawall and tunnel are complete and the viaduct is no more.

Businesses’ concerns

The seawall project was initially going to take longer because the city planned to keep the waterfront businesses open during the work.

In response, the businesses banded together, calling themselves the Seattle Historic Waterfront Association, and sought to block the project.

The dam broke when the city agreed to pay mitigation money. Shuttering the businesses for nine months will allow the seawall work to proceed faster and, according to Donegan, save the city $30 million to $40 million.

Donegan says the shutdown will cost the businesses up to $27 million, including lost profits.

“We’ve known for a couple of years that this was coming, so we’ve all been hoarding cash,” he said. “I think we’re going to be fine. We’re not happy about it. Nobody gets rich off this deal. But it’s better than going out of business.”

Ivar’s will spend about $20 million during the closure period on renovations, including a new interior, a dining deck and a public deck above the water.

Elliott’s Oyster House and Red Robin also are planning to renovate, Donegan says.

Of the waterfront’s 1,500 jobs, about 900 are associated with the businesses scheduled to shut down, Donegan says. He thinks as many as 400 employees will receive some of the money from the city, but the others won’t.

Ivar’s will use some of the money to pay salaries and benefits to 29 veteran employees during the dark period. The company is moving some additional workers to its other restaurants. Donegan says 10 of the 12 people who work at the Ivar’s fish bar next to Acres of Clams have been placed in other locations.

Michel Brotman, who owns the Simply Seattle gift shop on Pier 56, is moving a full-time employee to his store on First Avenue and Pine Street. His other waterfront workers are part time and won’t be relocated, he said.

“We don’t make much money during the winter, so it was a great time for the city to make this deal with us,” Brotman said.

Donegan says the closure will be tougher on the smaller businesses. But the seawall must be rebuilt and there could be a long-term payoff, he says.

The new waterfront park, if it gets built, will draw many more visitors to the piers and will be great for business, says Donegan.

From October through December, vehicles will access the ferry terminal from just south of Madison Street. Then from January through June, the access point will be Yesler Way.

The core of the new seawall will be concrete injected straight into the ground, says Murphy, the project manager.

The sidewalk that will run between the new seawall and the piers will be semitransparent. That’s because young salmon prefer swimming in sunlit water.

Murphy says people who are curious will be able to watch the work through fence openings at certain points along the waterfront.

“What I think is really cool is that the seawall is a piece of Seattle’s history. None of us remember it being built the first time, and the next time it gets replaced we’ll all be gone.”

Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or