Dead fish vs. live

Pike Place Market leader opposes the new aquarium site.

A MAJOR CASE of parking-lot rage has erupted between two of Seattle's biggest tourist attractions, the Pike Place Market and the Seattle Aquarium, with each side insisting its future is at stake. The aquarium wants to build a new 200,000-square-foot facility on the central waterfront. But Market officials are upset that aquarium proponents have no set proposal to park the cars of a projected 1,500 additional daily visitors to the new facility at Pier 62/63, just down the hill from the Market.

"There is no plan for parking," claims Daniel Lieberman, executive director of the Market's Preservation and Development Authority [PDA]. "Without parking the future of the Market is at stake." Waterfront parking is already at such a premium that the Port of Seattle was recently forced to locate its planned parking lot for a new Pier 66 cruise ship terminal at Terminal 91, three miles away from the central waterfront, shuttling passengers back and forth.

Market proponents are especially concerned that aquarium visitors will take over the PDA's 625-stall garage just across Alaskan Way from the waterfront. Paul Dunn, a 13-year Pike Place resident/ activist, says, "If the Seattle Aquarium is expanded, their visitors will use our [parking garage] and you're going to kill the Market."

Concern over parking has prompted the Market to break not only with its tourism partner but split politically with Mayor Paul Schell, who is backing the new aquarium site. Breaking with the mayor would have been unthinkable under the previous Market administration led by Shelly Yapp.

An estimated 500,000 additional annual visitors—overwhelmingly non-Seattleites—would almost double attendance at a new facility, according to the aquarium's own projections. Though many may come on foot—including some from the nearby new cruise ship pier—conservative city estimates put the added aquarium parking need at 500 spaces. For comparison, the Port's new shuttle lot at Pier 91 will have 600 spaces to accommodate about 1,800 passengers per sailing. Aquarium planners have promised a parking solution, but have only conjectured about possible off-site parking and shuttles. The Market's Lieberman remains unconvinced: "My perception is that people won't use public transportation for this; they want to drive up and walk in and out." Aquarium planners are left with few nearby options. Despite recent construction of several new garages contained in other structures, waterfront parking is critically low, and projects such as the controversial Marriott Hotel propose to wipe out the few remaining surface lots.

Actually, if there's a telling symbol of the parking crisis, it's the existing aquarium: Squeezed in next to its building, accessed by driving on the sidewalk, are a few prized parking spaces carved out just for aquarium directors. Among the first sights visitors see are notices tacked to the aquarium's front side, warning unauthorized users they'll be towed 24 hours a day.

The parking dispute and other concerns, including the loss of popular pier 62/63 used for a summer concert series and everyday sight-seeing (see "Sea monster," SW, 3/9), has City Council member Nick Licata and others exploring alternative sites such as Pier 48. The former Victoria car ferry dock is three times the length of Pier 62/63 and, facing South Main Street, sits as a portal to Pioneer Square. Architect and former city planner Art Skolnick, who has studied the Pier 48 option, says the dock and its massive three-story shed is an ideal alternative: "The Port is willing to lease it, there is no view obstruction, there's more open space"—and it already has parking for 200 cars on site.

Aquarium backers are not swayed. Jim Clark, acting director of the Seattle Aquarium Society, a nonprofit corporation that proposes to privatize the city-owned facility, says the Pier 62/63 location "fits all the criteria for a successful aquarium," and issues of lost open space "are being addressed." Aquarium proponents complain they've jumped through all the required hoops and should be allowed to build at their preferred central site. Enthusiastic volunteers feel they've become the black hats for wanting to replace a 23-year-old aquarium with a state-of-the-art facility financed mostly by private funds. A memorandum of understanding awaits City Hall's signature, a first important step towards signing a binding site contract.

But the proposal has arguably moved ahead with little public notice. Initial planning occurred before the taxpayers' mood turned wary of public-private partnerships leading to controversial stadium and parking garage deals (opponents claim the aquarium's true cost will be $300 million rather than the announced $200 million). Activist Matthew Fox sees the aquarium as another excessive example of what he calls Seattle's "entertainment industrial complex arms race."

Though a 1998 survey for the aquarium society found "unwavering community support" for a new facility, that was not the case at a recent city hearing. Among those asking for a closer look at site alternatives were Allied Arts, Seattle Community Council Federation, and the American Institute of Architects. Others thought a new aquarium was a bad idea, period, among them former City Council member Charlie Chong.

"Mr. Chairman, this one stinks," Chong opined to hearing chair Licata. "And it ain't the fishes."

 
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