Streetcar barn could find home in Pioneer Square
A proposal to build a new waterfront trolley barn upon what is now a parking lot in the heart of Pioneer Square was announced yesterday...
Seattle Times staff reporter
A proposal to build a new waterfront trolley barn upon what is now a parking lot in the heart of Pioneer Square was announced yesterday by County Executive Ron Sims and Mayor Greg Nickels.
The $9 million facility, across from Occidental Square park, would have market-rate housing, parking and a cafe with a viewing window into where Metro's vintage streetcars are serviced and stored.
The plan takes precedence over a Port of Seattle offer to help finance a 1.2-mile northern extension of the trolley line and donate land for a new barn near the Amgen campus on Elliott Avenue West.
Although the Pioneer Square option must be approved by both the county and city councils, Sims and Nickels have assured the Seattle Art Museum that the existing barn just north of Broad Street will be demolished in November.
That will allow the museum to develop its $85 million Olympic Sculpture Park along the Elliott Bay seawall as originally designed. The park is now on track to open next summer.
Because a covered maintenance facility is essential for operating the streetcar system, demolishing the existing barn means that the waterfront streetcar will be taken out of service temporarily starting in November. Metro will run buses instead of streetcars along the waterfront during the downtime.
The duration of the shutdown is unclear, as details were sketchy yesterday as to when a new barn would be completed in Pioneer Square. Sims said he hoped it could be ready for the 2007 summer tourist season.
When the waterfront trolley might be back in service also could hinge on the schedule for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which also is uncertain.
In spite of the unknowns, Sims and Nickels hailed the Pioneer Square project as salvation for the streetcar.
"Today we've got an answer that will preserve that waterfront streetcar for generations to come," Nickels said.
City Council President Jan Drago concurred that the Pioneer Square plan has its high points, such as adding housing that could help stabilize the district.
But Drago said she wants an analysis of the benefits and costs of both the Pioneer Square and Port of Seattle options.
"I said from the beginning that we needed to look at creative, innovative solutions," she said. "I think we have two on the table so let's compare them."
Sims said yesterday the $9 million Pioneer Square plan is more economical than the Port plan, which he contends is more than twice the price.
"As much as we appreciated the Port of Seattle's proposal and offer, the cost at $20 million could not be justified," he said.
Under the Pioneer Square plan, property owner Greg Smith would develop the lot and sell the finished building to the county and city, with the county paying two-thirds and other sources, including the city, picking up the rest.
Smith's preliminary design calls for two levels of underground parking, the trolley barn and cafe at ground level, and housing on the upper floors. The half-block lot is east of Occidental Square, opposite a pedestrian-only pathway that is Occidental Avenue South.
The streetcar, which runs from Pier 70 to the Chinatown International District, runs along South Main Street, which borders the park and the proposed site for the new barn.
Craig Montgomery, executive director of the Pioneer Square Community Association, predicted the project would reinvigorate Occidental Square, which the city already is redesigning at a cost of $1.2 million.
"This is one project that all Pioneer Square agrees on," Montgomery said.
Port Commission President Bob Edwards also applauded the announcement but left open an invitation for the city and county to reconsider the Port's offer, if the Pioneer Square plan does not pan out.
"We're thrilled that the county and city were able to come up with a solution that they see as working," Edwards said.
In March, Commissioner Paige Miller — a candidate for City Council — offered the Port's assistance in rescuing the endangered trolley.
The Port offered to pay for laying new track, hanging overhead cable, building two new stations and donating the land upon which a new maintenance barn would be built.
Port officials believe that extending the line north would have allowed the streetcar to continue operating along the waterfront, from Pike Place Market to Amgen, during construction to replace the viaduct.
But Sims said yesterday that the state Department of Transportation needs the streetcar right of way south of Broad Street as a staging area during construction, thereby making it impossible to run the streetcar between the Market and Broad during that time.
Sims also said the northern extension would carry only 200 additional passengers a day, not enough to warrant its $20 million cost. A team of city, county and Port officials studying the northern extension came up with higher ridership numbers, but those are based on the trolley operating between the Market and Amgen, not Broad and Amgen.
Sims said construction to replace the viaduct could begin as soon as fall 2007. That would mean the new barn in Pioneer Square — assuming it opens in summer 2007 — could be little more than a storage facility for the fleet just a few months after being christened.
But County Council Chairman Larry Phillips said the timeline and the funding for replacing the viaduct are so up in the air that he believes the streetcar could resume service for several years before construction along Alaskan Way shuts it down.
Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or email@example.com
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.