Seattle Municipal Civic Center Master Plan
The recommended plan combines the preferred qualities of the variety of concepts considered to achieve the best qualities of a Civic Center. These qualities include a sense of place with the potential of being truly representative of the City’s center of government, while establishing a sense of civic identity and place for public life, as well as reinforcing the ceremonial nature of many public functions. Following is a description of the plan concept.
Public Open Space
The public open space extends from Fifth Avenue to Third Avenue facing south, with buildings along Cherry Street, forming the northern edge of the space. By locating the buildings directly on the northern edge of the public open space, it is intended that ground level activities, including City functions and commercial functions, will attract people and contribute to enlivening the spaces.
Additionally, the buildings will be located on the edge of Cherry Street to the north, reinforcing the urban edge and providing the opportunity to relate the new buildings to the historic buildings across Cherry Street between Second and Fourth Avenues.
It is recommended that the public open space be substantial, to have a presence in the built-up urban fabric of downtown, and include all of the activities anticipated for public assembly and celebrations. Such activities might include an amphitheater for performances and speeches; room for receptions; plazas; gardens; water; and places to sit comfortably alone, or with a few friends, to eat lunch or drink coffee.
The open space is conceived to include relatively large level plazas for gathering at the elevation of Fourth Avenue, rising to the east through an amphitheater located between Fourth and Fifth to a belvedere, with the mezzanine and terraced multi-story lobby of the new City Hall continuing the public open space through the lobby to its termination on Fifth Avenue.
The level plaza on the west side of Fourth Avenue terminates on the west at a promontory, and transforms into terraced gardens and water cascading down to Third Avenue and the mezzanine of the Sound Transit tunnel.
The southern portion of the public open space will include terraced, cascading gardens and water following the slope of James Street and providing a terminus at the open space at Third Avenue. The gardens will include intimate areas with seating, pedestrian-through access from James, and food service pavilions at the edge of the plazas and gardens near Fourth Avenue.
The new City Hall will be sited on the northeast corner of the block, approximately 13 stories high, with a three-story high structure extending south across the eastern length of the site along Fifth Avenue. This location will allow for the implementation of the new City Hall in step one prior to the removal of the existing Municipal; Building. The configuration of buildings and open space provides for the new Justice Center, sited on the east side of Fifth Avenue, to be integrated into the Civic Center. The three story structure will house and facilitate expression of the entrance lobby and reception, City Council chambers, and customer services, to be located off of a lobby and colonnade on the Fifth Avenue level at the northeast corner. The colonnade will provide weather protection from the northeast corner into the new City Hall, while the northeast corner will provide the easiest street level access to the City owned Key Tower.
The Mayor’s offices may be located on the fourth floor of the new City Hall, opening on to the roof terraces of the three-story structure.
The second step to be constructed on the Municipal Building site after its removal will include additional open space (amphitheater, a plaza off of Fourth Avenue, and additional gardens), and an addition to City Hall on the northwestern corner. The plaza level should include a public room for receptions, exhibits, meetings, and celebrations and the upper stories could include a community center, meeting spaces, services, and City Hall expansion, if required over time.
Parking and services, including handicapped parking, will be provided beneath the new City Hall site, within the footprint of the existing parking on the eastern portion of the site. Access will be provided from Cherry Street, including an internal drop off area. Parking will also be provided under the Public Safety block development.
Public Safety Site
The Public Safety Site will include, in addition to a substantial portion of the public plazas and gardens, a new building on the north, which could house public, institutional, or private office activities. The level of the building on the plaza and Fourth Avenue, and at the lower level on Third Avenue, should include retail activity and/or services, which would attract people. Private uses for this building could be on property purchased or leased from the City, but the public open space portion of the site should remain under City ownership.
Development policies should ensure the inclusion of uses on the ground floors compatible with the public open space, accessibility within the building through the block, development of a hill climb assist, and architecture which reinforces, contributes to, and complements the new City Hall and the sense of the entire Civic Center.
ADA Access must be provided on both blocks from each street to the cores of the new buildings, providing access from Third Avenue to Fourth Avenue, and Fourth Avenue to Fifth Avenue. Additionally, a hill climb assist, probably in the form of escalators, will be located on the northern edge of the public open space within the perimeter of the buildings, possibly within a colonnade, on both blocks. Both the Public Safety site and the Municipal Building site will include entries and through walks from Cherry Street into the public open space, possibly with access from these through walks to services within the buildings.
The Fifth Avenue and Cherry Street intersection has a number of complex vehicular circulation, access, and turning movements which conflict with pedestrian access from Key Tower to the City Hall / Civic Center site. Improvements to this intersection could include lighting and landscaping common to the Civic and Justice Centers that would extend north on Fifth Avenue to the Key Tower site, as well as paving in the pedestrian crosswalks, which would emphasize the pedestrian zone and links to the Civic Center.
The access at Key Tower to the upper lobby level over the tunnel must be improved, possibly including escalator access. A more detailed study is required to determine a feasible solution. The upper plaza facing the new Civic Center (where there is an existing restaurant) might include landscaping, signage, and lighting common with the Civic Center, in order to link Key Tower to the Civic Center.
The pedestrian environment at the street level at Key Tower must be significantly improved. Currently the sidewalk width along the eastern side of Fifth Avenue is only ten feet wide. It should be at least twenty feet to accommodate pedestrians comfortably and safely and to create an environment in scale and character appropriate to a city civic center. Eliminating the current left-turn only traffic lane opposite the southbound, contra-flow bus lane that enters the tunnel can widen the sidewalk. Traffic volumes in this block appear to decline to a level where closure of an existing lane would still allow traffic to flow effectively. More detailed study of specific impacts and tradeoffs is required. Fifth Avenue currently is a three lane arterial through the retail core of downtown where traffic volumes are greatest.
There are several off-site improvements that should be undertaken that would improve the overall quality of the Civic Center, would contribute to knitting the Civic Center into the fabric of downtown, and would facilitate connections to adjacent neighborhoods.
Site and landscape improvements along the north side of the King County Administration Building would make it a better neighbor to the new City Hall and would contribute to enhancing the open space character being proposed for James Street in this block.
Improving sidewalks and pedestrian amenities along James Street would provide a more safe and friendly connection from the First Hill neighborhood to the Civic Center and from the Civic Center to Pioneer Square and the Waterfront. Similarly, increased sidewalk improvements and pedestrian amenities along Cherry Street from Second Avenue to Sixth Avenue would provide an intra-neighborhood connection integrating the various components of the Civic Center with themselves and adjacent commercial and retail activities.
Extending the Fifth Avenue LID improvements south to James Street would result in better integration of the Civic Center into the retail core while picking up the new city library along the way. Similar street improvements and pedestrian amenities along Fourth Avenue, from City Hall Park on the south to the Library site on the north, would provide a safer and more pleasant connection between public open spaces and civic facilities. These improvements would also establish a gracious entry into the downtown for vehicular traffic traveling north on Fourth Avenue.
Regional transportation connections would be facilitated by improved Metro bus stops along Fifth and Fourth Avenues at Cherry Street and by the enlarged and more open tunnel entry to the Sound Transit light rail system.
There is an existing tunnel under Fifth Avenue from Key Tower to Columbia Center. As discussed previously, the potential exists for extending a tunnel connection from Columbia Center to the Civic Center thereby providing a weather-protected connection between the city’s administrative offices and the more public City Hall. The potential for a similar tunnel under Fifth Avenue between the Justice Center and the City Hall also exists. Technical, financial and aesthetic considerations will require further study before any definitive decisions can be made regarding the feasibility of these tunnels. The Master Plan allows for their possibility. A tunnel under James Street for the movement of prisoners between the Justice Center and the King County Jail will be provided.