It’s official, Belltown is getting a new park at the Battery Portal Site as part of the Waterfront Seattle project. At about three acres, the future Battery Portal Park will bring much needed green space into one of the Seattle’s densest residential neighborhoods. The park also represents a victory for Recharge the Battery, a community driven initiative advocating for improvements along the Battery Street Corridor.

A map illustrating the current Waterfront Seattle work zones including the future site of Battery Portal Park, which has been identified in dark pink at the far north end of the map. The Battery Portal site will continued to be used for construction staging as WSDOT continues to decommission and fill for the former Battery Street Tunnel. (Credit: Seattle Office of the Waterfront)
A map illustrating the current Waterfront Seattle work zones including the future site of Battery Portal Park, which has been identified in dark pink at the far north end of the map. The Battery Portal site will continued to be used for construction staging as WSDOT continues to decommission the former Battery Street Tunnel. (Credit: Seattle Office of the Waterfront)

Aaron Asis, a founding member of Recharge the Battery, said the design of the future Battery Portal Park will be completed in conjunction with the Bell Street Park Extension, offering opportunity for two projects to tie into each other. During the coming year, the City of Seattle and landscape architecture firm GGN will work with Recharge the Battery to hold public events that encourage community engagement with the design planning process. Additionally, a citizen advisory committee made up of delegates who represent different Belltown neighborhood interests will also be convened.

This map closeup shows the location of the future park, which will occupy about three acres between Western and 1st and Battery and Bell Streets. (Credit: Recharge the Battery)
This map closeup shows the location of the future park, which will occupy about three acres between Western and 1st Avenues and Battery and Bell Streets. (Credit: Recharge the Battery)

For Asis, relationship and trust building among Belltown neighbors will be key to successful a community engagement process. “The part that is important to us is to not intimate the public,” Asis said. “Our goal is to dig a little deeper and continue to get to know people in the neighborhood.”

Bell Street Park, a shared street with park features such as enhanced seating, greenery, and a design that supports traffic calming, will be extended from 1st Avenue to Elliot Avenue. Designing the Bell Street Park extension at the same time as Battery Portal Park offers the opportunity to create a "cohesive design that honors the Belltown neighborhood," Asis said. (Credit: TIA International Photography)
Bell Street Park, a shared street with park features such as enhanced seating, greenery, and a design that supports traffic calming, will be extended from 1st Avenue to Elliot Avenue. Designing the Bell Street Park extension at the same time as Battery Portal Park offers the opportunity to create a “cohesive design that honors the Belltown neighborhood,” Asis said. (Credit: TIA International Photography)

A bold vision for a greener Belltown

Recharge the Battery first attracted the Seattle’s attention with their plans to convert the Battery Street Tunnel into a subterranean open space. When the high cost of preserving the tunnel proved an insurmountable barrier for attracting the political support necessary to move the project forward, the campaign restyled itself as Recharge the Battery 2.0, with the Battery Portal Park topping the campaign’s wishlist for improvements within and near the Battery Street Corridor.

GGN, the landscape architecture firm that will design the Battery Portal Park, has earned national recognition for projects such as the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago (shown above) and the African American Museum in Washington D.C. (Credit: GGN)
GGN, the landscape architecture firm that will design the Battery Portal Park, has earned national recognition for projects such as the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago (shown above) and the African American Museum in Washington D.C. (Credit: GGN)

Recharge the Battery is thrilled to have GGN landscape architects as project partners, welcoming the “opportunity to explore options with professional firepower” brought by GGN’s design team.

At the same time, Asis has been also careful to emphasize the important role the Belltown community will play in determining the park’s future. “We want to stress that this whole thing came about of the spirit of Belltown,” Asis said “We have been making friends and looking at ways to make things better. Because we now have professionals and city on our side, we don’t want to turn our backs on what got us here.”

While many details about Battery Portal Park’s future design remain to be decided, some promising concepts have already arisen during Recharge the Battery’s community engagement sessions. Among these include ensuring the site has a community component such as a shared planting operation, maintaining the historic integrity of the site, and possibly building a Seattle Public Utilities demonstration site that would offer interpretative exhibits on stormwater collection in collaboration with Growing Vine Street, a Belltown neighborhood initiative which has worked toward transforming eight blocks of nearby Vine Street into an urban watershed and street park.

Those who have been keeping tabs on this story might be familiar with the fact the Battery Portal Site has been floated as a potential location for a future Downtown Seattle public school. While there are currently no plans to locate a public school at the site, the possibility has not been ruled out. In the meantime, outdoor classroom space is another design feature that is up for consideration in the future Battery Portal Park.

For now construction staging will continue dominate the Battery Portal Site

While Belltown residents have a future park to look forward to in 2022, for now the Battery Portal Site will continue to be filled with noise and commotion resulting from decommissioning of the former Battery Street Tunnel.

A truck unloads rubble from the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct into the tunnel. WSDOT has warned of increased noise, dust and vibration around the tunnel site as crews work to decommission tunnel. Currently the project is expected to be complete late 2020 or early 2021, pathing the way for the future Battery Portal Park. (Credit: WSDOT )
A truck unloads rubble from the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct into the tunnel. WSDOT has warned of increased noise, dust and vibration around the tunnel site as crews work to decommission tunnel. Currently the project is expected to be complete late 2020 or early 2021, pathing the way for the future Battery Portal Park. (Credit: WSDOT )

At this point most, if not all, of the rubble from the Alaskan Way Viaduct has been deposited into the tunnel. However, additional work such as removing the tunnel’s utility and mechanical systems and removing hazardous materials from the tunnel remain to be completed. The final step will be to fill the remainder of the tunnel with approximately 4,000 truck loads of low-density cellular concrete, which will be pumped into the tunnel through surface vents along Battery Street.

Descriptions of the work that will be completed in Phase 1 (lining it with rubble) and Phase 2 (filling it with conrete) during the decommission of the former Battery Street Tunnel. (Credit: WSDOT)
Descriptions of the work that will be completed in Phase 1 and Phase 2 during the decommission of the former Battery Street Tunnel. (Credit: WSDOT)

Once this work is completed, the land that occupies the site of the future Battery Portal Park will be returned from WSDOT’s ownership to the City of Seattle, honoring an easement agreement that was made decades ago and making way for a new, greener future for Belltown.

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Natalie Bicknell is Senior Reporter at The Urbanist. She is a writer and community college instructor who lives in the Central District with her husband and two dogs. In her research and writing, she is always on the lookout for better ways of creating sustainable, diverse, and vibrant cities. Email her at natalie [at] theurbanist [dot] org.

16 COMMENTS

  1. What would be a win for the community is if the police would actually bust the drug dealers and buyers who are always using Bell street park to conduct their illegal business making it unsafe for those of us who live and work here and have to put up with that crap while waiting for the bus or walking along Bell street. Someone got shot just the other night at 3rd and Bell where it’s the worst.

  2. Very confused about how this is a “win” for the Recharge the Battery group. This park has been showing up on water front plan documents for at least 3 years now. Its nothing new.

  3. Really excited to see a new green space planned for downtown, especially Belltown. I’ve visited the Lurie Gardens in Millennium Park in Chicago and it’s spectacular! It’s an oasis from the otherwise urban area around it, and also what’s really neat is that it was designed to emulate a prairie using native midwestern plants. Looking forward to seeing what the architect has in mind for us…

  4. I always thought a Seattle “High Line” could be utilized with a few blocks of the Viaduct and connected to this site after commercial/residential mix a la NYC. Alas reuse of existing infrastructure is bypassed – not very green IMO. The Viaduct could easily have been retrofitted for pedestrian use for $2-3 million.

  5. How much housing will be lost by not developing this valuable property into what Seattle needs most~ more housing for more people? This park is not needed in light of the massive new Waterfront park now in development just a block or two south.

    • Well we could balance it out (and then some) by redeveloping a golf course or two. Belltown seems a logical place to add more parks since it’s very dense and doesn’t have many currently and even the waterfront park project will focus the park space near Pike Place Market. shttps://www.theurbanist.org/2018/01/29/housing-emergency-really/

    • No housing is being lost since there is not any on the space currently. While it’s near the waterfront it’s still quite removed from the waterfront due to the hill and railroad tracks. A park with green space is needed in Belltown.

  6. I’m sorry, but this entire project to fill the tunnel is a huge mistake. The other end of the trench is three blocks from the site of the Denny Way station of Ballard Link. An automated people move could have linked Belltown to the regional system for a couple of hundred million dollars to strengthen half the tunnel. Crazy and short-sighted.

    • Westlake station is about the same distance so why would we need to spend all that money on a people mover that would likely not get enough use to justify its cost to build and operate?

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