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Originally published March 4, 2014 at 8:22 PM | Page modified March 5, 2014 at 9:30 PM

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Developers envision downtown gondola taking passengers to waterfront

The owner-operator of the Great Wheel on the Seattle waterfront announced plans Tuesday to build a gondola that would carry passengers from the Convention Center down Union Street to the waterfront with a stop at Pike Place Market.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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Rio. Singapore. Seattle.

The Emerald City could be among an increasing number of cities in the world to have an urban gondola moving passengers above downtown traffic.

Tuesday, developer Kyle Griffith, whose family owns and operates the Seattle Great Wheel on the waterfront, announced plans to build a gondola system that would carry passengers from the Convention Center down Union Street to the waterfront, with a stop at Pike Place Market.

At a news conference, Griffith said the system would run east and west; be privately financed; require no tax dollars; pose no risk to the city; and bring people into the waterfront area of the city, a region that is now difficult to access due to lack of parking and continuing construction.

“This is a unique project, and we’re working closely with the city so it benefits everyone,’’ he said. It would run above existing bus lanes, most likely on arched whalebone-shaped supports.

“Will there be light shows or anything like that’’ accompanying it? asked Alan Green, who lives in the Watermark Tower and was not a fan of the Great Wheel at first but has become accustomed to it.

There would be no distractions, Griffith told him.

Most of the route would not affect any residential area, he said.

But residents of 98 Union, the upmarket condominiums at Pike Place Market, turned out to listen to the plans. Two had questions, but Griffith said, “They just didn’t understand what we were doing. It may not affect them at all.’’

For the past year, Griffith and his father, Hal Griffith, have been working with the city and architects. They considered gondolas that other cities used — several in Germany, one in New York City, many in South America and throughout Asia. And after they researched them, they decided a gondola system was right for the city.

But before anything can happen, the Alaskan Way Viaduct must come down, Kyle Griffith said. Once that happens, the system could be installed quickly. In the meantime, they’re working on the necessary permits and eventual environmental-impact statement.

For the tourism industry, the proposed gondola system is exciting news, said Tom Norwalk, chief executive officer of Visit Seattle, formerly the convention bureau.

“The transformation of the waterfront is something we haven’t seen in decades,’’ he said, adding that Seattle already is a destination market and, “we think this project will only enhance it.’’

Instead of passengers stuck in traffic-clogged city streets, they would be able to glide in gondola cars 39 feet above the street.

The cars would be able to move 1,800 people per hour, the equivalent of using 50 full Metro buses.

“This is a relatively easy transportation solution’’ that will get visitors easily from one place to another, said Matt Roewe, one of the architects for the proposed project.

Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said he is open to the idea but “it is still too soon to say it’s an idea that is going to work.’’

He said the developers have taken on a very complex project and “have devoted a lot of time and resources to it, and I respect that. They’re serious about it. Hats off to them for looking at something very creative.’’

Nancy Bartley: nbartley@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8522



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