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Originally published February 8, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Page modified February 9, 2010 at 12:01 AM

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Belltown boulevard could be completed by early next year

Plans to build a four-block "park boulevard" on Seattle's Bell Street with fountains, lights, trees, play areas and other amenities are moving forward in Belltown.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Information

For more information on the Belltown project and to check out design options, go online:

www.seattle.gov/parks/Projects/bell_street/boulevard_park.htm

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Seattle's downtown vibe lives in Belltown. It's got the condo high-rises, hip restaurants and busy nightclubs. More than half of its 12,000 residents are under 45; nearly three- quarters are single.

But green areas and open space? Good luck finding that here. The tiny Regrade dog park at Third Avenue and Bell Street is pretty much it.

That's why plans to build a four-block boulevard on Bell Street with fountains, lights, trees, play areas and other amenities may be the start of something that other neighborhoods will want to copy.

Its success or failure to tamp down street crime will be closely watched.

A final design draft will be up for review this spring. After that, construction could start this summer and the boulevard open by early next year, city officials say.

"It's great to build all these condos [in Belltown], but in 10 years, no one is going to want to be here — unless you have more public open spaces," said Tim Gallagher, superintendent of Seattle's Parks and Recreation Department.

As the city tries to attract more people to live downtown, he said, "the rest of the picture has to be there, too."

Known as the Bell Street Park project, the vision is this: From Fifth Avenue to First Avenue, Bell Street will be reduced to one westbound lane of traffic. The rest of the street will be turned into a pedestrian-only corridor. Ballard is pursuing similar plans on 14th Avenue Northwest.

The new boulevard, planners hope, will bring a positive, 24-hour element to the neighborhood. The goal is to "feel safe and comfortable whether you're walking through it at 10:30 in the morning — or 2:30 in the morning after leaving a club," said Patrick Donohue, project manager.

The city hopes the street will bring new retail, cafes, maybe a bookstore and other businesses that will make people want to sit, talk and linger. Landscaping and "swales" — berms that collect and clean rainwater — will make up the greenery.

First proposed in the 1998 Belltown Neighborhood Plan, the idea began moving forward after voters approved a $146 million parks levy in 2008. Last April, the city got $2.5 million of that for planning, design and construction for the 17,000-square-foot project.

City departments also worked together to make it happen, Gallagher said. Last year, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance transferring jurisdiction of the four blocks from the Seattle Department of Transportation to the parks department.

This helped keep costs down. Developing the street means parks officials won't have to buy property to convert to open space. And in Belltown, that could run as much as $600 per square foot, Gallagher said.

The crime concern

Why Bell Street? It's a main arterial. And it could use some improvement. Beer cans and cigarette butts litter the ground, and vacant storefronts speak to the troubled economy.

The neighborhood itself draws an eclectic mix. On any given day, 20- and 30-somethings punch security codes to shiny condos, while older adults in unwashed clothes hang out on street corners. The occasional busker will break into song.

One recent morning at Third Avenue and Bell Street, a woman stood on the sidewalk engrossed in a long conversation with herself, as button-down professionals rushed past.

Police cars cruise by the boutiques and restaurants, some of which don't open until 4 p.m.

Crime long a problem

As trendy as Belltown's reputation is, crime has long been a problem. Assaults, drug deals and robberies top the list, according to statistics from the Seattle Police Department.

A police report last year attributes a large number of home-invasion and armed robberies to "drug ripoffs among and between drug dealers."

The criminal activity has some merchants skeptical that the project can bring substantial change.

Sean Langan, owner of Amore Restaurant at Fifth and Bell, said the neighborhood doesn't need more trees or "places for drug addicts to hide."

He'd support the plan, he said, if police amped up patrols. Otherwise, "it doesn't show me much promise."

Dewey Potter, parks spokeswoman, said crime goes down when "you create a space that people want to come to."

She added that events at the boulevard, such as flea markets or live music, bring people together and help reduce criminal behavior.

Gathering place

Adrian Lambert, 26, moved to Belltown last May so he could walk to work at a nearby pet-food store. After living in Boston and New York, he said he wanted that vibrant city feel. Belltown seemed to fit.

But he soon saw what was lacking — a central gathering point. So he supports the boulevard.

Now, Lambert said, "people come from out of town, get blackout drunk and leave, maybe without hitting a pedestrian."

"If Belltown wants to be more of a community, it needs to be a little more believable. It needs to be less focused on what happens Friday and Saturday nights," he said.

Richard Nordstrom, president of the Belltown Community Council, said others are eager for the park to come together.

"It will be a place where the community will want to sit and have a cup of coffee, and where children can come and play," he said. "Belltown is on the verge of making a big change."

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or skrishnan@seattletimes.com. News researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.

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