Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says the city should save money by scaling back its ambitious downtown waterfront-redevelopment plan — including a proposed swimming-pool barge.
In a presentation to the City Council on Monday, Murray staffers said cost estimates have gone up, and the plan would eat up about $200 million more than previously thought unless modifications are made. That’s partly because much of the work can’t begin until the Highway 99 tunnel is completed and the Alaskan Way Viaduct is brought down.
The viaduct initially was scheduled for demolition in 2016, but Bertha, the boring machine digging the tunnel below the viaduct, is stalled.
That means the viaduct now won’t be gone until 2017 at the earliest, so there will be up to $15 million in additional costs caused by inflation, the mayor’s staffers said.
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“I don’t believe at this point we can move forward aggressively with planning until we actually solve the Bertha issue,” Murray said Monday in a phone interview from Ireland, where he has been speaking about gay marriage and business ties.
“We’re going to continue moving forward with the waterfront, but at a much slower pace,” he added.
Murray is calling for adjustments that his staffers say will save about $168 million. The staffers are still looking for another $32 million in cuts, aiming to keep the plan’s overall budget near $1.07 billion, a target set in 2012.
The initial $1.07 billion figure, which was based on early design estimates, included about $420 million for a sprawling new waterfront park and promenade and a rebuilt Alaskan Way.
It also included the new Elliott Bay Seawall now under construction, refurbished public piers and several other projects.
In addition to the Bertha quagmire, the reasons for the $200 million bump include: mitigation payments to businesses and Native American tribes affected by the seawall work, rising right-of-way acquisition costs, administrative costs associated with a planned Local Improvement District (LID) and other factors, Murray staffers said.
The mayor is proposing the following modifications to the redevelopment schedule laid out in 2012:
• Simplify renovation of a Marion Street pedestrian bridge ($19 million) and a section of Seneca Street ($9 million).
• Put off full replacement of Piers 62/63 ($69 million), the swimming-pool barge ($25 million), an overlook at the western end of Blanchard Street ($3 million) and a connection between First Avenue and Western Avenue ($13 million).
• Reduce the contribution to a Seattle Aquarium remodel ($11 million).
Murray’s updated proposal prioritizes several projects, including the pedestrian promenade, new Waterfront Park, new Alaskan Way and a new Overlook Walk between Pike Place Market and the piers. Those projects will get under way first, his staffers said.
In 2012, it was estimated that the LID would supply $200 million to $300 million for the redevelopment plan. Now Murray says the LID is on hold.
“When we know Bertha is working we can have the conversation about the LID,” he said.
City Councilmember Jean Godden, who chairs the council’s special waterfront committee, said she supports the mayor’s new approach.
“I think you’re right in thinking that pausing is probably a good idea,” Godden said, addressing Murray’s staffers, “to go a bit slower and get those core things done first.”
And civic leader Maggie Walker, who has co-chaired the project’s 45-member advisory committee, expressed confidence that the plan will still succeed. “We just need to remain committed to the program,” Walker said. “We will get there.”
But Murray sounded a note of caution. “Some of these things are an incredible idea, but I’m not sure they’re practical,” he said. “I think we need to spend more time sorting out what is practical.”
“Something like 35 percent of the city has no sidewalks,” he added, saying he doesn’t want to move ahead with an elaborate waterfront at the expense of Seattle’s outlying neighborhoods.
Murray’s staffers said they hope to return to the council in January with a more detailed update and spending schedule.
“We’re not slamming on the brakes. I would say we’re slowing down,” the mayor said. “We’re going to move forward with the park, but we need to be more modest in the scale of what we want to do and politically we need to prove we can do it.”
Information from Times archives is included in this report. Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or firstname.lastname@example.org.