A newly sworn-in Seattle City Council unanimously approved amending the budget earlier this month. One new line item was $625,000 to fund developing a concept design for a Battery Street Portal Park in Belltown.

“The neighborhood has talked about having a major park ever since it was originally planned for growth in the ‘80s. It’s one of the densest neighborhoods in the state of Washington, and certainly for the city,” said Marshall Foster, director for Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront, which is leading planning for the the 1.3-acre park.

The funding to craft a concept design to repurpose the site where the now-closed Battery Street Tunnel terminated to the south was proposed by outgoing District 7 Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. Foster said landscape architecture firm GGN, which is based in Belltown, was selected to work with the city and stakeholders on a design back in December.

Plans for a new park in Belltown were introduced a decade ago.

“The issue was that it wasn’t funded,” Foster said. “We didn’t have funding to kind of move that idea forward.”

The Office of the Waterfront was created six years ago to work with various city departments on planning and constructing a new waterfront experience, made possible by the removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, closure of the Battery Street Tunnel, and opening of the new State Route 99 Tunnel.

The $712 million Waterfront for All project includes an Overlook Walk that connects Pike Place Market to the waterfront, a rebuilt Pier 62 and floating dock, expanded Waterfront Park, an Ocean Pavilion at the Seattle Aquarium, a promenade from Pine Street to Pioneer Square along the waterfront, a new seawall already under construction and rebuilds of Alaskan Way and Elliott Way for multimodal uses.

Early plans had been to make improvements all the way to Battery Street, but the project was later scaled back to end at Bell Street.

Efforts started four years ago to find a public benefit that could fill the Battery Street Tunnel, which was slated for decommissioning once the viaduct was ready to come down. WSDOT deemed the continued use of the tunnel to be too expensive, given its age and vulnerability in the event of an earthquake. The transportation department chose to instead rebuild three blocks of Seventh Avenue North at the tunnel’s north end.

The Recharge the Battery group led the push to repurpose the decommissioned tunnel and keep it in the public realm rather than fill it in with viaduct rubble. A call for ideas produced 45 suggested new uses, including as a mushroom garden and a wine cave, said Aaron Asis with Recharge the Battery.

“Those efforts ended up kind of going sideways,” he said.

When the city council voted in 2018 to let the Battery Street Tunnel be filled in and not seek an alternative use for it, Asis said Recharge the Battery turned its efforts toward the portal site at the south end, which is also being filled in with viaduct rubble. That site is bounded by Battery and Bell streets and First and Western avenues.

“The first part that I think has been really exciting is seeing how a project can really galvanize a community,” said Asis, adding Bagshaw was a great partner in pushing that vision forward.

A portion of the Waterfront for All funding will be used for a Bell Street Park Extension. The four-block linear park that shares a single vehicular lane from Fifth to First Avenue will be extended to Elliott Avenue, providing a connection to the Bell Street pedestrian bridge that leads to the waterfront, Foster said.

Since Bell Street was being designed out, Foster said, it made sense to create a portal park with frontage at the extended Bell Street Park.

“We’re proud of how this happened,” Asis said. “We’re proud that we got people’s attention by presenting good ideas.”

Recharge the Battery is being joined by a consortium of stakeholder groups in collaborating with the Office of the Waterfront on development of a Battery Street Portal Park concept design, Asis said, including the Belltown Community Council, Belltown Business Association, Friends of Historic Belltown and Growing Vine Street. He said the consortium will move forward as Belltown United.

Foster said the $625,000 in city funding covers community outreach during the concept design process, which will likely start in March or April. The portal park is not part of the Waterfront for All project, meaning there is currently no funding source identified for its future construction. Asis said he sees an opportunity to build momentum in 2020 around the Bell Street Park extension and the chance to tie it to a new park on the portal site.

Seattle Public Schools continues to discuss with the city the possibility of colocating a new school on the portal site, Foster said. Queen Anne News reported on the school district’s interest in potentially sharing the site with a park and creating a K-8 school back in July.

“We do continue to talk to the school district,” Foster said. “They have a desire based on what their school population is needing in terms of a school site in the center of Seattle.”

Asis said he’s focused on the promise of a park, and he hasn’t heard much support from the community for a school on the property.

“It’s come up in every meeting we’ve had in Belltown,” Foster said. “I think it’s not impossible at all.”