(King County rendering of South Park Bridge, post-closure, leaves permanently up)
Story and photos by Jonathan Stumpf
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
If you can’t have a bridge – how about a gondola?
That was one of the ideas in circulation last night as more than 100 people gathered at the South Park Community Center to ask Mayor Mike McGinn what kind of assistance the City of Seattle will provide as they prepare for the June 30 closure of the South Park Bridge.
The two-hour meeting began with a short speech from Mayor McGinn, introducing his team assigned to assist with the neighborhood transition, and discussing key points in the finalized bridge-closure plan. The majority of the evening was an open forum for questions from residents and business owners about how to help the neighborhood cope with the closure.
“South Park is a great neighborhood and our neighborhood,” said McGinn to attendees. “We’re prepared to do our fair share.”
The questions posed to Mayor McGinn, and later councilmember Sally Clark — the lone representative from the City Council — were from a frustrated community disappointed with how their government had failed them, but seeming accepting of their fate, and willing to move forward to work toward a solution to save the neighborhood.
The initial statements were from residents concerned about the neighborhood being left behind, after decades of knowing the bridge needed replacing but going unfunded. Those concerns were met by Mayor McGinn asking residents in turn for help with funding for infrastructure, citing his recently proposed seawall levy as a starting point, and suggesting they contact other elected officials at various levels, particularly state and federal, “to make sure we have a funding source.”
Some residents were appreciative of Mayor McGinn’s willingness to come out and discuss options for the neighborhood. Others, like business owner and resident Marty Oppenheimer (above) demanded accountability from the mayor, asking the mayor to raise his hand and pledge “to do everything in my power to fund reconstruction of the bridge.” The mayor, however, did not do so, saying that he can’t put a dollar figure on the table right now.
He did, however, grant the request of a woman who demanded an apology for neglecting this issue and the neighborhood, saying, “I am sorry that this is the situation.”
An important question came from business owners wondering what the city can offer them in terms of financial assistance and support. The mayor said the city has a $150,000 grant to help with developing a marketing plan for the neighborhood to attract more visitors, hosting events, and web assistance for individual businesses.
Another retail business owner voiced his frustrations about the potential of losing many of his customers, but still told the mayor, “We will work with you, just tell us what to do.”
The mayor had to leave before meeting’s end so he could make it to the 34th District Democrats meeting in West Seattle, so he turned the discussion over to councilmember Sally Clark. She did say that “there is a financial commitment coming,” but like the mayor, could not reveal a specific amount.
One resident complained these were all just words with no real commitment, and that it appeared any funding for a bridge replacement is based on contingency of other agencies.
Clark agreed that yes, in order to receive federal “TIGER” grant funding for the bridge (potentially $30 million), all other funding must be secured, which, she noted, would mean a commitment from the Cities of Seattle and Tukwila, the Port of Seattle, King County, and the state. However, she sought to reassure the resident, saying, “We are much closer than you might think.”
Other suggestions from residents included a new police outpost at the retail front on 14th and Cloverdale, a possible bank branch and grocery story, speed bumps installed near Concord Elementary school to combat the extra traffic, and that the local tax revenue be rolled right back into the neighborhood.
The most innovative proposition of the evening and definitely the most popular among residents is construction of an aerial gondola system that, as Oppenheimer pointed out, would not only bring foot traffic into the neighborhood, but also provide a tourist draw. “The idea of a gondola is an example of the energy and creativity this neighborhood has,” said Oppenheimer.
Clark called the idea cool; one resident wanted to make sure she knew they are “dead serious.”
South Park resident Bill Owen hatched the plan after someone jokingly mentioned using a zip line. After a little research, he found a 52-car system for sale in Tennessee that could be shipped in 10 days, would cost $150,000, and could be up-and-running in 90 days.
Clark said it was the best idea she had heard today and that is was no more crazy then having to dismantle the bridge. Before closing, Clark told the audience, “I pledge to you, I will be the point person on the gondola thing,” adding she’ll have to see how it would pencil out.