The agency wants to get rid of an abandoned trolley stop at Fifth Avenue South and South Jackson Street, next to an office building where transit staff work — but first it will spend $55,893 to survey and engineer the demolition.
The George Benson Waterfront Streetcar line ended 13 years ago, but a few of its raised passenger stations still clutter downtown Seattle. These concrete bulwarks and ramps were built more than two feet high, so passengers in wheelchairs could roll aboard the tall vintage rail cars.
Now Sound Transit is trying to get rid of the abandoned trolley stop at Fifth Avenue South and South Jackson Street, next to an office building where transit staff work — but the agency will first spend nearly $56,000 to survey and engineer the demolition. That’s not the demolition price. It’s only the cost to prepare to demolish.
Engineering studies are needed to satisfy City of Seattle code, said Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason. Transit-board members voted unanimously Thursday, without questions or comment, to pay consultants David Evans and Associates for the work.
The platform, built in 1990, sits within the Chinatown International District, a nationally historic area. Certificates are required from the Department of Neighborhoods and the International Special Review Design Board for projects, including “any change in a public right of way or other public spaces, including parks and sidewalks,” a city website says.
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Martin Selig, a longtime Seattle developer whose company owns the nearby office building, said his staff was told two years ago that the platform would be removed, and that a month ago the company started calling Sound Transit asking for action.
“Just take the damn thing down. What have you got to survey it for?” he said Thursday. Selig said removal would be easy, and his company offered to do so.
“I would be happy to foot the bill to get rid of it. I’ll have my guys do it, no questions asked,” he said.
To be sure, $56,000 is loose change within Sound Transit’s total $2.2 billion budget this year.
Sound Transit’s own staff report said the agency hoped to complete “more of this effort in house.” But it can’t simply sign a demolition contract yet.
“We wish it was that easy too. We really do. But it’s not,” Reason said.
The engineering studies will explore such issues as drainage and whether demolition would harm utilities under the street, she said. Sound Transit is willing to talk with Selig about whatever help or contributions he wishes to offer, she said late Thursday.
The cost and timeline for actual demolition aren’t determined yet, but in May an online update for One Center City showed a potential price of $414,000.
Sound Transit actually applied in February for its certificate to remove the platform, said Rebecca Frestedt, coordinator for the special design board.
“We refer to it as a noncontributing feature,” she said.
Still, the board issued a checklist for Sound Transit, to learn to determine how the street and sidewalk would be rebuilt, Frestedt said. Basically, Sound Transit contractors would restore the road, sidewalk and curb to their pre-1990 alignment, she said.
Frestedt doesn’t expect any hang-ups for approval at the historic-board level, once Sound Transit completes and files the checklist.
The removal will be bundled into a program formerly known as One Center City. Sound Transit, King County Metro Transit and Seattle Department of Transportation are each paying one-third of a $30 million fund for projects to cope with Seattle’s “period of maximum constraint” through the early 2020s, while downtown construction and Alaskan Way Viaduct demolition stymie traffic and transit.
As the International District/Chinatown Station across Jackson Street continues to gain transit riders, Sound Transit and partners hope this demolition will help make the area more hospitable, Reason said. Loitering has worsened the past couple years, Reason said.
“It’s been just years of very offensive, harassing behavior,” she said. Sometimes groups of men sit on the platform, drink alcohol, and harass women, she said.
The platform and its green rain shelter cover a lane of Fifth for one-third of a block. The space could be suitable for a passenger drop-off space, a delivery zone, or simply a sidewalk widening near the corner.
An engineering report is needed, said Seattle Department of Transportation spokeswoman Dawn Schellenberg, because of utilities, the task of removing rails and a nearby underground parking garage.
The waterfront trolley, named for former City Councilman George Benson, opened in 1982 and was extended to Fifth and Jackson in 1990. While popular with many Seattleites, the slow railcars drew crowds only in summer. The service ended in 2005 to make room for the Seattle Art Museum’s new Olympic Sculpture Park, which demolished the trolley-maintenance building.
Port of Seattle and city officials discussed other maintenance-barn sites to save the trolley but never signed a land deal. Meanwhile, state lawmakers voted in 2009 to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with the new Highway 99 tunnel. Despite sentiment to restart the trolleys, the City Council ultimately chose wider sidewalks and a bicycle trail, rather than reinsert train tracks along the post-viaduct waterfront next decade.
Metro owned five mahogany-paneled railcars, which had been imported from Australia for the Seattle line. Three railcars were sold to a trolley project in St. Louis. Two remain in storage locally. A friends group hopes to retrofit and integrate them into the city’s modern-streetcar extension along First Avenue, passing the Pike Place Market.
The process and expense to remove the Jackson Street trolley stop might repeat itself. A few blocks west, another empty trolley stop sits next to Occidental Park in historic Pioneer Square.