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The stark differences between Seattle and Vancouver's viaduct demolition plans

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Kenneth Chan May 25, 2018 11:37 am 14,698

Planners from Seattle have long looked at Vancouver’s park and seawall edged waterfront with envy, and they are now one step closer to having their own equivalent or better.

Seattle City Council approved a draft plan on Monday to create a new local improvement district that will create a new tax on property within the downtown area to help fund the construction of a new park and open spaces along the city centre’s waterfront.

A total of $200 million USD of the $700 million USD city renewal project will be raised by the new tax, with the municipal government covering about $200 million USD, the state government providing $193 million USD, and philanthropists about US$100 million, according to the Seattle Times.

Current condition

Waterfront Seattle

Existing condition of the waterfront area in downtown Seattle. (City of Seattle)

Future condition

Waterfront Seattle

Artistic rendering of Waterfront Seattle. (City of Seattle)

Alaskan Way Viaduct Tunnel

The stacked four-lane tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. (Washington State Department of Transportation)

Alaskan Way Viaduct Tunnel

The stacked four-lane tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. (Washington State Department of Transportation)

This is all part of the 3.2-km-long, four-lane Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel project, which replaces the existing elevated viaducts at a cost of $3.3 billion USD. It buries the elevated State Route 99 freeway to create new surface space for other public uses.

The waterfront renewal project was stalled due to complications with the tunnel boring project, but after two years of delays, the bored tunnel structure reached completion in April 2017.

Current condition

Waterfront Seattle

Existing condition of the waterfront area in downtown Seattle. (City of Seattle)

Future condition

Waterfront Seattle

Artistic rendering of Waterfront Seattle. (City of Seattle)

After the viaduct is demolished, there will be new space to drastically improve access to the waterfront, create new plazas, green spaces, and a promenade over three km in length. Major attractions and landmarks such as the Seattle Aquarium, Pike Place Market, and Olympic Sculpture Park stand to benefit greatly from a complete overhaul to the public realm.

Additionally, a new surface, eight-lane, local-serving road over the underground arterial road tunnel is planned.

Waterfront Seattle

Artistic rendering of Waterfront Seattle. (City of Seattle)

Waterfront Seattle

Artistic rendering of Waterfront Seattle. (City of Seattle)

But the project has its critics, especially from property owners in the city centre that will directly fund the construction cost.

Property owners in a large area framed by Wall Street and Denny Way to the north, Interstate 5 to the east, Safeco Field to the south, and Elliott Bay to the west will be taxed. Commercial property owners will pay $175 million USD while residential property owners will contribute $25 million USD.

A sliding scale of tax rates based on the forecasted property value increase from the project is planned; those with properties located closer to the water will pay more, and properties further away will pay less.

Waterfront Seattle

Artistic rendering of Waterfront Seattle. (City of Seattle)

Waterfront Seattle

Artistic rendering of Waterfront Seattle. (City of Seattle)

City officials assert this is the fairest way of covering a portion of the costs as these property owners stand to benefit the most from the improvements.

The City of Seattle has an online tool that informs affected property owners how much they could be paying.

Based on this tool, for instance, a 931 sq. ft. condominium right on Alaskan Way, immediately across from the water and next to the Seattle Aquarium, is expected to pay a tax of $8,089 USD – about half of the expected $16,758 USD property value gain. The property’s value will rise from $558,600 USD to $575,358 USD as a result of the project.

Altogether, all properties within the new local improvement district stand to see a combined property value increase of $415 million USD, and property owners can either pay their tax in a lump sum or as instalments over 20 years with interest.

Waterfront Seattle

Artistic rendering of Waterfront Seattle. (City of Seattle)

Waterfront Seattle

Artistic rendering of Waterfront Seattle. (City of Seattle)

Further up north of the border, earlier this year the City of Vancouver approved a $1.7-billion plan for the demolition of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, which will be replaced with new social housing, public spaces and parks, and community amenities.

This includes an 11-acre expansion and redesign of Creekside Park and Andy Livingstone Park and a proper continuation of the seawall in the area.

Current condition

Northeast False Creek viaducts

Northeast False Creek and the Vancouver viaducts. (Ted McGrath / Flickr)

Future condition

Artistic rendering of Concord Pacific’s portion of the Northeast False Creek redevelopment and the new park space. (Concord Pacific/CIVITAS)

Northeast False Creek

Artistic rendering of the Northeast False Creek district design. (Concord Pacific / CIVITAS)

Commercial spaces – restaurants, bars, and pubs – from the private development component of the redevelopment will help transform the area into an entertainment and events district, with the two stadiums in the area as the anchors for activity.

Excluding privately-funded development – by Concord Pacific, Canadian Metropolitan Properties, and crown corporation Pavco – such as market housing and commercial spaces, the City of Vancouver’s costs for Northeast False Creek are as follows:

  • Affordable Housing (1,800 units for 3,250 residents): $603 million
  • Childcare: $30 million
  • Parks and Open Space: $251 million
  • Community Facilities: $102 million
  • Transportation: $269 million
  • Utilities: $67 million
  • Environmental Remediation (Removing post-industrial soil): $170 million
  • Heritage: $15 million
Northeast False Creek

Artistic rendering of Concord Pacific’s portion of the Northeast False Creek redevelopment and the new park space. (Concord Pacific / CIVITAS)

Artistic rendering of Concord Pacific’s portion of the Northeast False Creek redevelopment and the new park space. (Concord Pacific / CIVITAS)

However, instead of Vancouver’s equivalent of a new tax from a local improvement district, much of the total cost will be recovered from community amenity contributions (CAC) and development cost levees on the new market developments in the area as a result of the Northeast False Creek Plan. This essentially passes the cost to the developer, who will then pass on the enormous CAC costs to the buyer.

It begs the question whether any of the market housing, the lions’ share of the total new residential stock built, will be affordable for middle-class incomes?

Artistic rendering of the new park space in Northeast False Creek. (City of Vancouver)

Artistic rendering of the new park space at Northeast False Creek. (City of Vancouver)

But this is the plan Vancouver City Council has chosen as it does not want to burden city taxpayers, at least not immediately.

A source who wished anonymity previously told Daily Hive there is a target for $1.2. billion to $1.3 billion from developers, which means as much as $500 million will be required from non-developer sources such as senior governments. It is unclear how the gap will be filled if senior governments are unwilling to contribute.

Artistic rendering of Concord Pacific’s portion of the Northeast False Creek redevelopment. (Concord Pacific/CIVITAS)

Plaza of Nations Northeast False Creek

Artistic rendering of the proposed Plaza of Nations redevelopment portion of Northeast False Creek. (James Cheng Architects / Canadian Metropolitan Properties)

Questions remain over the impact to traffic. Northeast False Creek is about to become one of Vancouver’s densest areas, and there is already little flexibility and redundancy for the ingress and egress of crowds that attend events at BC Place Stadium and Rogers Arena.

Planners in Vancouver are moving forward with a new viaduct replacement street network that turns Pacific Boulevard into a single six-lane, bi-directional street with multiple intersections – a reduction from the current, combined 10 lanes on Pacific Boulevard, Expo Boulevard, and both viaducts (not too long ago, there were 12 lanes, before the bike lanes went in).

There will also be a new four-lane ramp extension (two lanes in each direction) of West Georgia Street between BC Place Stadium and Rogers Arena to connect with Pacific Boulevard.

Plaza of Nations Northeast False Creek

Artistic rendering of the proposed Plaza of Nations redevelopment portion of Northeast False Creek. (James Cheng Architects / Canadian Metropolitan Properties)

Artistic rendering of the new West Georgia Street extension ramp to Pacific Boulevard. (Concord Pacific / CIVITAS)

If all goes as planned, the Vancouver viaducts could be demolished in 2019, and redevelopments and new parks and public spaces will emerge between 2021 and 2025.

As for Seattle’s project, it has a similar timeframe of a demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in 2019 and a full completion of the new public spaces by 2024. However, the full scope of the project, including the new local improvement district tax, is dependent on final City Council approval later this year.

Plaza of Nations redevelopment

The Vancouver Canucks practice arena will be located within a new community centre as part of the Plaza of Nations redevelopment in Northeast False Creek. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

Plaza of Nations Northeast False Creek

Artistic rendering of the proposed Plaza of Nations redevelopment. (James Cheng Architects / Canadian Metropolitan Properties)

BC Place Site 10C Tower

Revised 2018 design of the Site 10C tower redevelopment at BC Place Stadium. (Stantec Architecture / Pavco)

See also

Correction: The article has been amended to state the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel replacement project will cost $3.3 billion USD, not the old estimate of $4.5 billion US.


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Kenneth Chan
National Features Editor at Daily Hive, the evolution of Vancity Buzz. He covers local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation and infrastructure, and the travel industry. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]dailyhive.com

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