Belltown News


By Clair Enlow

Sure, the Alaskan Way Viaduct is coming down — in 2019, after the new deep-bored tunnel route takes over. But don’t forget, there’s another large concrete structure now carrying state Highway 99 traffic through downtown Seattle, the Battery Street Tunnel. It’s not being dismantled.

The old tunnel would make a handy disposal site for the rubble of the viaduct, says the state of Washington, which built it. Not so fast, says the neighborhood of Belltown. Residents love the 60-year-old highway structure, and want it to have a new life — whether that be as a place for mushroom farming, recycling or wastewater.

A mini design competition, titled Recharge the Battery, brought a rich collection of ideas for reusing the tunnel presented in September at a neighborhood space called Block 41 in Belltown. Sponsors included the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Seattle) along with the Downtown Seattle Association. Over 40 display boards showed how the underground structure could be put to work. Some of them believe it could be a great place for a park, a thrill ride, or maybe a combination of the two.

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A mock-up of what a Recharge The Battery submission for mushroom farming would look like in the Battery Street Tunnel. (Credit: Jon Kiehnau)

Coming up with bold ideas is the kind of thing Seattle citizens do well, and Recharge Battery is no exception. But getting them done takes political will as well as imagination.

So how about sustainable wastewater infrastructure in the Battery Street Tunnel? A series of neighborhood initiatives and workshops in Belltown have shown deep interest in being an eco-neighborhood, a place where sustainable systems are tested and lived.

It’s also the kind of huge subterranean space Belltown has been wanting for decades, according to one of its prominent citizens, public artist Buster Simpson. He and his neighbors have been looking for something like this ever since they discovered that the mains beneath the neighborhood were filling up in rainstorms and dumping raw sewage into Elliott Bay, right at the foot of Vine Street. They’d like to turn that around.

It so happens that with just a couple of jogs downhill, wastewater captured and filtered in the tunnel space could be naturally polished in special planters along Vine Street. Growing Vine Street is a kind of homegrown super-green-street project dating from the 1990s and spearheaded by architects, including Carolyn Geise and Don Carlson. It’s still far from completed but it has some real accomplishments. Along with hard-working street planters, a series of functional art works by Simpson includes special downspouts, a cistern and stately steps. Simpson is credited with coining the term utilidor: utility plus street corridor.

The Battery Street Tunnel could hold almost 13 million gallons of water. Some sewer pipes go right above the tunnel, and some go below. All of this could make it a key piece of infrastructure in an evolving eco-city, and not just a tank. Think of it as a laboratory for capturing and filtering sewage. It could be a high-tech swamp or a smart detention vault, building on local experiments like blackwater treatment tanks at the Bullitt Center. Even better, it could combine this kind of thing with other industrial uses.

But wait. There are some daunting obstacles to reuse. Put simply, the state owns the tunnel structure. Even if it could be an asset to the Belltown neighborhood and the City of Seattle, it’s little more than a liability to the state. Before construction funding is found for adaptive reuse, the city faces a thicket of legal issues involving the limits of city control .

And there is little time. The question of whether the tunnel will be filled with rubble may ultimately be up to the winner of the design-build contract to demolish the viaduct. That contractor will be selected next spring, based on proposals presented in February by firms already shortlisted.

This submission seeks to shift the Battery Street Tunnel's focus towards biodiversity. Credit: Miller Hull Partnership
This submission seeks to shift the Battery Street Tunnel’s focus towards biodiversity. Credit: Miller Hull Partnership

Tunnel reuse advocates are organized. Backed by Growing Vine Street, the neighborhood is hosting a slate of ongoing events around efforts to save the tunnel, including a popup storefront sponsored by Bellwether Housing, and a panel at AIA Seattle. They are launching a signature campaign to “mothball” the Battery Street Tunnel underground structure until a productive use can be identified, according to Recharge the Battery advocate Jon Kiehnau. The group is accepting donations through Seattle Parks Foundation.

The viaduct itself was once the key piece of an infeasible initiative called Park My Viaduct that would have derailed existing designs for acres of waterfront and roadway. Is interest in the Battery Street Tunnel a similar end-run, reversing key decisions already made?

No. It’s better. It deserves a chance. Underground spaces have been productively reused around the world, for industry, infrastructure and fun. The tunnel’s potential value to Seattle is clear, and should be studied.

In the meantime, there is a very practical reason for keeping the tunnel space open: city utility pipes are accessed from it.

Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw is in favor of mothballing the structure while waterfront reconstruction goes on. “I have asked SDOT and the Mayor’s Office to give the community time to consider options rather than using the Battery Street Tunnel as a dump site,” she said.

Belltown’s hunger for more open space has been well documented. But there’s more at stake. There’s pride and identity. Planned landscaping of future infill around the portals to the old tunnel should help fulfill that wish, but it’s just leftover space. The real prize is underground. With a tunnel volume about the size of the top of the Smith Tower, Belltown could have it all.

Visions from Recharge the Battery show the tunnel as a cathedral-like void where anything could happen, including a linear park. One vision has a subterranean walkway with green walls, amphitheater-like openings with steps on the side and a linear light display through the ceiling — a park without the rain. It could be a destination in winter months, when the open air waterfront is too wet.

A mock-up of what the Battery Street Tunnel could look like as an indoor park.
A mock-up of what the Battery Street Tunnel could look like as an indoor park. Credit: Aubrey Davidson

After a shooting earlier this month that killed two and injured another, Belltown residents and Seattle Police are concerned about neighborhood safety. On Wednesday, November 8th, the SPD shared some new strategies for fighting crime, during the Belltown Community Council’s monthly meeting.

“One of the priorities I pushed out to all my sergeants and watch commanders is that we have officers take time out of their cars to walk foot patrol in certain areas that we designated,” said Capt. Thomas Mahaffey, Captain of SPD’s West Precinct. “We have to start having officers out, engaging with the community, walking the beat, going to businesses, meeting with people.”

Some of the new steps within the strategy is for officers to stay out of their vehicles for at least 45 minutes per day. Previously, some residents and shop owners have expressed concerns about a lack of police presence, which this strategy will likely help to change.

Another change, in the attempt to address car prowls, is the posting of leaflets and signs warning people not to leave valuables in their cars and the adjustment of some officers’ work shifts to focus on crimes involving property and car prowls.

“Car prowls in particular are a significant issue for us,” Capt. Mahaffey said. “There’s a lot of parking garages, open garages in the Belltown area.”

Crime in Belltown has unfortunately been on the rise, increasing overall this year as compared with 2016 and 2015. However, these new crime-fighting strategies seem to be the right step to helping improve the safety of our neighborhood.

With regard to the November 2nd shooting, SPD is confident that it will be resolved quickly, since it was not a community-based homicide, according to Cap. Mahaffey. “We have a small amount of prolific offenders that are committing the majority of our crimes, so whether they’re involved in property crimes or potentially other crimes as well is likely,” he said.

One of the relaxed working spaces within the rotunda/ commons at Madison Centre.  Image:

Madison Centre, a 36-floor office + retail building with numerous features has opened at the southeast corner of Madison Street and 5th Avenue. Plans for this building were sidelined for 10 years during the economic downturn, but recently Schnitzer West, the real estate developers for this property decided to move ahead. They received comprehensive focus group feedback before proceeding to create a building striving to serve their tenants’ varying needs for collaboration, connectivity, and privacy, with relaxed amenities. The end goal was to increase everyone’s productivity and efficiency.  In essence, a “next-generation workplace”.  It’s LEED-certified and has an excellent walking score of 98, being centrally-located in the downtown Seattle core, near the downtown Central Library.

A suspended spiral staircase leads up to this 3-story high rotunda and commons area at Madison Centre. Image: NBBJ architects


  • Every floor has floor-to-ceiling windows, including the 3-story rotunda and commons area via a spiral, suspended staircase, accessed from the street
  • In the Gathering Place/Rotunda (i.e. Lobby)
    – Fireplace and its towering pillar, from a stone quarry in Minnesota
    – A suspended spiral staircase that leads up to 3-story glass rotunda area and commons
    – Exposed wood slats in rotunda, adjustable for natural light
    – A 5,000-plant Green Wall to improve air quality, reduce noise, and ease stress
    – Extremely fast elevators (from ground floor to roof in about 24 seconds
    – Premier coffee shop on NW corner of rotunda
    – 5-star concierge service
  • Rooms & Work Spaces
    – Site-Wide Connectivity:  Wi-Fi is everywhere, so tenants can work anywhere in the building.
    – Fireside Lounge
    – Common work spaces (both individual and team) and lounge areas off lobby
    – Cafeteria for tenants
    – Library
    – Private quieter rooms available for reservation
    – Multiple, shared conference areas: boardroom (elegantly furnished, fully equipped), other spaces with adjustable space
    – WA Athletic Club-run fitness center (5,000 SF) for tenants
    – Wellness Center (for health services, such as flu shots, etc.)
    – Conference Center with adjoining catering kitchen (12 to 130 people)
    – Able to control energy usage, lighting levels and temperature from anywhere
  • Other Spaces
    – a 480-stall Garage and Bike Storage with abundant security cameras. There is also showers and a locker room for those who pedal to work.
    – Rooftop deck with 15-foot glass walls to minimize wind. Lounging areas and green space are part of this deck.

Madison Centre is currently at 30% capacity, having newly opened last week, and tours are available.

Madison Centre’s rooftop deck.   Image:

Love Belltown?

Now’s your chance to get involved in your community and help make a difference!

This Wednesday, October 25th, there will be a very special Belltownhall meeting where you can meet Seattle’s Mayoral candidates, Seattle’s City Council members, and the City Attorney.

They will be here, in Belltown to listen to US, so let’s get involved and make the most of this opportunity for the neighborhood and for the city as a whole!

Really want to get involved in this awesome event? There’s still time to help by volunteering!

The folks at Project Belltown can use some extra help before the event and on the day, itself too!

If you want to help on Wednesday the 25th, email Evan Clifthorne with Project Belltown at

Some ways you can help ahead of time:

  • Do you live here? Is there a poster in your building?  Can you put one in another building that your friend(s) live in?
  • Do you know 5 – 10 people who love Belltown?  Will you call and/or text them and specifically request that they come on Wednesday?
  • Have you reserved your tickets yet?  Did you say “going” on Facebook yet?
  • Do you use Facebook?  Will you share the event on your page?  Will you go to the event page and “invite” more of your friends?
  • Do you know of lists of people that can spread the word?  Will you ask them to help us?
  • Do you manage a Belltown community email list of any kind?  Have you told them about this opportunity?
  • Do you know someone that loves Belltown as much as you do?  Email, text, call however you can contact them, let them know you’re going and ask them to go too!


Here’s a little bit more info on the event from Project Belltown –

Durkan, Moon, & 2017 candidates to join #belltownhall on October 25th

Who:       Mayor, City Council, City Attorney, and YOU!
What:     Candidate One-on-One Interviews, Civic Tradeshow, Live Music, Artists, and BEER.
Where:   Block 41 event space, 115 Bell Street
When:    Wednesday October 25th at 6:00PM

Why:      Join us at #belltownhall to meet the candidates for Seattle’s Mayor, City Council at-large, and City Attorney. We will be talking about all things Belltown and Seattle, including affordable housing, arts and culture, public safety, transportation, open space, and so much more.

Hosts:    Project Belltown, with support from the Belltown Community Council, Belltown Business Association, The Stranger, Tune, Block 41, Makers, Pyramid Brewing, NW Polite Society, Live Nation, Growing Vine Street, and Friends of Historic Belltown.

Bonus:    We are launching the 2nd & Belltown Pale Ale (available at the event and in bars and restaurants throughout Belltown afterward) and will be showcasing food from several iconic Belltown restaurants.

Track on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using #belltownhall.

Tickets are FREE but space is limited.

Get your spot and find us online @ProjectBelltown

Contact: Evan Clifthorne

Let’s all show up for Belltown and for Seattle by getting out, getting educated and getting heard!

Construction will begin next March to limit transit service along the First Avenue corridor linking Pioneer Square to the Belltown neighborhood north of Downtown. However, Metropolitan King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles today made sure the rapidly growing Northwest Belltown neighborhood will continue to have some bus service through the heart of the community.

“My goal is to ensure that this growing corridor, which includes seniors, persons with disabilities, people working in the area, and visitors, do not lose service,” said Kohl-Welles, whose district includes Belltown. “If we had not taken these steps today, a densely populated area with steep hills that runs from the waterfront up to Third Avenue, would see its transit service disappear in March 2018.”

One of the adopted Metro Transit service changes approved today by the Council is the March 2018 elimination of Route 99, which travels from Pioneer Square into Belltown along First Avenue and down the hill to Elliot and Broad Streets. Construction along the waterfront, combined with the City of Seattle’s Center City Connector Streetcar utility relocation and construction project in Pioneer Square, prompted Metro to end the bus route.

Kohl-Welles’ amendment adopted today ensures that residents living in the northwest Belltown corridor will not be without transit service during the construction taking place in their neighborhood. She worked with Metro to add stops to Route 29 along First Avenue at Wall Street in the northbound and southbound directions and is working on having a stop added at First and Broad.

Kohl-Welles said that Metro will continue to work to ensure that transit is part of the future of a waterfront that will be revamped with the opening of the tunnel and the removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The Council also adopted today a motion introduced by Kohl-Welles calling for Metro to develop a long-term waterfront transit strategy so residents, workers, and visitors will have viable access to and from Seattle’s newly renovated waterfront corridor as well as to northwest Belltown.

Syndicated from Photo source.