Melinda French Gates, MacKenzie Scott, the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation and Expedia Group have pledged $45 million to create a walking and biking path on the east side of Alaskan Way, a greenway that will act as a pedestrian-friendly connection between Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park to the north and the new Waterfront Park to the south.

The money, which will transform abandoned trolley tracks into a usable walkway, will also go toward sprucing up the city of Seattle’s Myrtle Edwards Park and the Port of Seattle’s Centennial Park, both of which hug the Elliott Bay shoreline. When completed, the two parks will have new benches, play areas, plantings, concessions, bathrooms, and restored public fishing access.

The goal is to have it all built in time for the World Cup in summer 2026, when several matches will be played in Seattle.

The effort, which will be 100% privately funded, is spearheaded by French Gates. It’s a personal gift, not affiliated with either the Gates Foundation or Pivotal Ventures, French Gates’ company. The donation is the well-known philanthropist’s first to a park project, a new foray into public space driven by her love of public spaces and a desire to see Seattle take better advantage of its place on Puget Sound.

While sitting near the water in Myrtle Edwards Park on Tuesday, French Gates imagined what it would mean to bring cohesion to the string of parks downtown, connecting them in a clearer way and amplifying their collective appeal.

“I think of the family that comes on the weekend from South Seattle, and they want to bring their kids into downtown,” she said. “‘Let’s just go downtown, and let’s stroll all the way from the piers, all the way through Myrtle Edwards, maybe onto Centennial and bring our picnic lunch and have some fun. Let the kids play on the beach, maybe we’ll go fishing, maybe we’ll get an ice cream down on the pier.'”


With the city’s new $750 million waterfront project nearing its completion — the culmination of a decades-long process to showcase where the city and Puget Sound meet — the stretch of Alaskan Way just to the north, between piers 62 and 70, stands out as an untouched runway of concrete.

Since Elliott Way opened in spring and traffic began being diverted from the waterfront near Pike Place Market, the four lanes of this section of Alaskan Way are often empty of traffic, except on days when a cruise ship is loading or unloading. The sidewalks on both sides of the half-mile piece of road are narrow and there’s no obvious invitation to travel between the new waterfront and the sculpture park. People on scooters and bicycles must share the roadway with cars.

“It’s dangerous,” said French Gates. “It’s incredibly beautiful, I love being down there, but then when you try to make the cross [from Broad Street] to the sculpture park, it’s almost like they’re just these two separate things. … We have these amazing parks, but they’re still disconnected.”

Momentum behind the effort began in 2019, but was derailed by COVID. The parties began planning again in April. French Gates reached out to Scott because she knew they shared an interest in public parks, and Expedia because its campus is on Smith Cove. The Diller-von Furstenberg Foundation, led by media mogul and Expedia chairman Barry Diller and fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, was involved with Manhattan’s elevated High Line park.

The money will run through the Downtown Seattle Association, which will serve as the coordinating body, holding all the contracts to execute the work.

Official designs for the greenway along the eastside of Alaskan Way haven’t been completed, an intentional choice to allow for public input. But early concepts by the design firm Walker Macy suggest a two-way path that would run from near Pier 62 to Broad Street. The linear park would displace the derelict trolley tracks, as well as the sidewalk. In their place would be a wider path, with new trees, shrubs and ground cover.


The greenway will run parallel to a new bike lane planned for the west side of Alaskan Way, said project manager Ben Franz-Knight, of the firm Shiels Obletz Johnsen. He imagined that the west side lane will serve commuters and those trying to move quickly through the area, while the east side will be better for families and people traveling at a more leisurely clip.

The two parks, Myrtle Edwards and Centennial, will not fundamentally change. Rather, the money will go toward creating more continuity between them by way of improved wayfinding, outdoor seating space and native plantings. The dollars will also help to improve beach access, by clearing overgrown brush and removing driftwood.

The donations will also reopen public fishing in Centennial Park. The long pier near the grain silos closed in 2017 out of concern about its structural integrity and hasn’t reopened. The nearby concession stand, also shuttered, will receive an upgrade as well.

Some tricky questions need to be answered in the design phase, said Franz-Knight, such as how to create a safe crossing at the sharp turn at Broad Street and Alaskan Way. The greenway won’t take over any road space; doing so would have added layers of permitting and process that those involved feared would bog down the project.

Franz-Knight was optimistic the teams can make good use of available space and swiftly move through the city’s permitting process.

“The fundamental piece is we’re able to utilize the abandoned trolley tracks that are in existing right of way and able to transform that into a protected greenway,” he said.


Executing the project means coordination among the city of Seattle, the Port of Seattle, King County and BNSF railroad, which owns the land next to the old trolley tracks. Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe Leonard Forsman has also been involved. Franz-Knight said everyone has been supportive of the project.

“It’s a much needed boost in the arm that we all should celebrate,” Mayor Bruce Harrell said Tuesday.

Consulting firm Headwater People will lead outreach on the project this fall, in advance of any official designs being submitted to the city for permit approval. President Colleen Echohawk said they’ll communicate with local tribes on the revamp. The project is an opportunity to bring back indigenous plantings to the waterfront and for young people to learn more about native species, she said.

“That’s part of the community engagement and that’s part of checking in with the community and understanding what people’s real needs are so that this is accessible to everyone and there’s opportunities for everyone,” Echohawk said.

In addition to the $45 million, Scott and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation each will donate $10 million to help complete the downtown waterfront project. Friends of the Waterfront is raising money to close a $200 million gap to finish the park.

The Gates Foundation provides funding to The Seattle Times Education Lab. 

French Gates said she views her involvement in this public space as discrete and not indicative of her personal work going forward. But, in this area she cares about, the philanthropic dollars can act as a catalyst in a city where getting big things done can be difficult.

“Sometimes private money can come in and say, ‘This can be done,'” she said.