Story Summary

Replacing Seattle’s seawall in Elliott Bay

Mayor Mike McGinn announced Dec. 4, 2012, that, with money now in hand after voters approved a levy, construction to replace the aging seawall in Elliott Bay will begin in September 2013 and continue for three years.

The Elliott Bay Seawall Project will replace the existing seawall—from S. Washington Street to Broad Street—with a structure that meets current safety and design standards.

The project will replace the three types of deteriorated seawall structures along the waterfront, constructed between 1916 and 1934, which range in size from approximately 15 to 60 feet wide.

The city plans to replace the most deteriorated sections of the central seawall beginning in late 2013, with a second phase of work for the northern seawall following as funding is available. The central seawall is between S. Washington Street (just south of the Washington Street Boat Landing) and Virginia Street (at the northern edge of Pier 62/63), and the north seawall is from Virginia Street north to Broad Street (just south of Olympic Sculpture Park). The new seawall’s “service life” will be approximately 100 years.

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SEATTLE — The city of Seattle has announced it will provide $15 million to waterfront businesses to compensate them for shutting down for nine months during construction of the new seawall.

waterfrontThe businesses say it’s the only way for them to survive during the upheaval.

“To be so close to the edge and be pushed over by the seawall process, it would have killed many of the people down here,” said Bob Donegan of Ivar’s Seafood.

Just a few weeks ago, these same waterfront businesses filed a big lawsuit against the city to stop the seawall project, which is set to begin in September and last until spring 2016.  They argued not enough was being done to help them through the critical construction period.  Soon thereafter, this $15 million deal was announced.

Donegan said without this help, the waterfront would have lost all its character.

“We would have had national restaurant chains come in because they can pay the big bucks and they would have taken over the waterfront,” he said. “So all the brands you see when you go to Los Angeles and Chicago and Manhattan, that’s what the Seattle waterfront would have been.”

So who pays this $15 million?

Taxpayers do.

But the leaders of the project say they don’t actually have to come up with any new money.  They can fund it within the existing seawall budget, because shutting down the businesses for nine months, starting in October 2014, will make it cheaper and faster to complete the project.

“To maintain access, we had to build bridges to every door on those piers so that people could cross a 40-foot-wide excavation,” said Jessica Murphy, Seattle Department of Transportation’s seawall project manager. “The cost of maintaining that access in this unique site was a very high cost on this project.”

Fifteen businesses will split the money, based on the revenue they would have generated during the nine months of closure.

Not all business will have to shut down, however. The way construction is being staged, the Great Wheel, the Aquarium and Argosy Cruises will continue their operations uninterrupted.


SEATTLE — Mayor Mike McGinn announced Tuesday that, with money now in hand, construction to replace the aging seawall in Elliott Bay will begin in September and continue for three years.

The replacement will be finished by 2016 when the Alaskan Way Viaduct is scheduled to come down.  The seawall project has been one of the highest priorities for the mayor since taking office.

“A really big ‘thank you’ to the voters of Seattle for their overwhelming support of this in the last (Nov. 6) election. And that means we’re ready to go,” McGinn said at a news conference.

The seawall “doesn`t just protect the property here,” he said. “These are essential transportation arteries, our utility corridors run here.  In fact, I think you saw in Hurricane Sandy, how an entire region could be hurt if you had damage right at the waterfront.”

But construction officials warned that tearing up the waterfront, especially while work is being done on the viaduct, will be messy.

“We still are begging and asking for your forbearance, your patience, your understanding,” Seattle Department of Transportation Director Peter Hahn said. “We will try to do our very best to mitigate everything that we can.”

Waterfront businesses argue their patience can go only so far.  They worry that there will construction will only be suspended for three months a year — June, July and August.

“Summer starts in June and ends at the end of September,” said Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s Seafood Restaurants.

He said that an extra month of construction downtime is key.

Donegan said that “$70 million in sales happens down here on the waterfront.  This is a little economic engine.  We can`t afford to lose that in this economy.  And we think we can make it work if we aren`t disturbed in the summer.”

“How long is summer, right? That`s the question,” McGinn said when asked about the businesses’ concerns. “The more we have to shut down, the longer it might take to do it, and that might mean more seasons of construction.”

“The busy season is how we have always defined it,” Donegan said. “They have promised they would not disturb the busy season.”

“Somebody else is going to have to do the forensic examination of what the promise was,” McGinn said. “I know the voters want us to build a seawall and they expect us to spend their money wisely and effectively and that we need to be accommodating of the businesses, but we also need to recognize the need to complete the seawall.”

The president of Ivar’s, who strongly supported the seawall measure, said a big help would be if the city would provide some mitigation money to compensate waterfront businesses for the disruption and loss of income.  But, so far there are no funds in the budget for that.