Macy's rethinks downtown Seattle skybridge as fee soars
Permit fees for skybridges in Seattle are expected to rise dramatically under a new city formula. In the case of Macy's skybridge over Third Avenue, store officials in talks with city staff say they are evaluating whether the cost of the skybridge is worth the use it receives.
Seattle Times staff reporter
When the Bon Marché skybridge opened in 1960 in downtown Seattle, city officials established a $300-a-year permit fee and OK'd the walkway for 15 years.
The Seattle City Council renewed the bridge permit again last week — for two years. And the annual permit fee? $31,185.
Permit fees for skybridges across the city are expected to rise dramatically under a new city formula that weighs adjacent land values to determine how much the owners of skybridges should pay the city. In the case of Macy's, the Bon's successor, store officials in talks with city staff say they are evaluating whether the cost of the skybridge is worth the use it receives.
The new permit formula is "essentially ensuring that the public is getting the fair market value for this encroachment on their right of way," said Angela Steel, a strategic adviser for the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Skybridges — beloved by department stores and shoppers in downtowns such as that of St. Paul, Minn., where the weather can be severe — actually are discouraged by Seattle building laws. A 1982 city ordinance sought to "eliminate the proliferation and adverse effects" of skybridges.
Despite the city's resistance, the downtown area includes at least 23 private skybridges. Two have been taken down in recent years — the Hotel Monaco skybridge near Fourth Avenue and Seneca Street, and one that crossed an alley between First and Second avenues south of Virginia Street.
"What a skybridge does is it takes people off of the right of way and puts them up in the air, and leaves usually the people who aren't good enough to go in the buildings down below," City Councilmember Jean Godden said. "It's really not very friendly."
Skybridges also block views. A decade ago, the expansion of the Washington State Convention Center included two skybridges that blocked views of Pike Place Market. Councilmembers Nick Licata and Peter Steinbrueck opposed the design so loudly that it nearly derailed the entire project.
"The goal is to have people actually on the street," said Sally Clark, chair of the council's Committee on the Built Environment. "Our highest priority is making sure that the street is a place that is safe and convenient."
In talks with city staff, Macy's representatives said the company is studying the use of its Third Avenue skybridge after 2012. "They said they would be reconsidering the long-term use of that skybridge," said Steel, of the Department of Transportation.
The walkway connects shoppers from the Macy's home store to the parking garage across Third Avenue. A Macy's spokesman in Cincinnati said the company is committed to the skybridge but always is concerned about increasing fees.
"The skybridge is going to continue to be important to the store and continue to be important to customers," said Jim Sluzewski, the Macy's spokesman.
Nordstrom spokeswoman Brooke White said her downtown store relies on the skybridge that connects shoppers to Pacific Place. Because the Nordstrom has five stories, she said, the skybridge is important to the "flow" of the store.
"It was important to us that the skybridge exist when we were taking on the job of renovating the old Frederick & Nelson building," she said. "It really keeps people moving on the streets and within the two buildings."
The company that owns Pacific Place pays $7,805 a year in permits for that skybridge. Its permit will not be recalculated until 2017.
Information from The Seattle Times archive is included in this story. Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org