We’re at City Hall, where the city Design Commission is about to hear a presentation on the Myrtle Reservoir park design, but just finished hearing and voting on the first presentation of the Alki Statue of Liberty Plaza design (same design that’s been circulating through months of fundraising, but this is the first time it’s come before an official city voting panel). Bottom line: Commissioners say it needs to be a lot simpler, with the focus on the statue and its new base, rather than other elements, reminiscent of some community concerns voiced at the Alki Bathhouse meeting last September. (See some of the original design sketches on the sealady.org site.) Many more details later. 9:51 PM ADDITION: Here are those details, including a new timetable for completing the project:
Matt Hutchins and Chris Ezzell, who created the original plaza design as volunteer architects, presented it to design commissioners this afternoon, after Colleen Browne from the Parks Department — standing in for project manager Patrick Donohue — recapped the recent history of the project, including the fundraising effort that so far has totaled about a quarter-million dollars. (Plaza Project co-chairs Libby and Paul Carr were at the meeting; the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall doesn’t have much public seating space, but what chairs were there, were full for this presentation.)
If you missed our coverage of the meetings last summer during which the design was discussed, here’s the archive. Hutchins’ recap reminded the commission that the statue currently sits in the middle of 3,000 square feet of asphalt (see our photo at the top of this post). He discussed the history of some of the design details, and how some of the conditions that mandated those details had changed — in particular, he noted that the Parks Department no longer needs to keep the area south of the statue as open vehicle access.
He also discussed the controversial plan to slightly change the direction the statue faces, describing it as taking the statue from “midnight to 11:56 pm” — a 22-degree shift toward the Olympics. And he told commissioners he is hopeful they can retain the ring of light they want in the statue’s new base, as “a beacon to draw people (to it)” — he says it will be an LED light inside a bronze lantern behind frosted, shatterproof glass, and would only require replacement every decade, potentially an important point so as not to tax Parks Department maintenance resources.
After the design presentation, commissioners invited public comment; Paul Carr recapped the fundraising work he and his wife have led; Alki resident Jo Ofsthus, who had long advocated a simpler setting for the statue, recounted her concerns, including the proposal to shift the statue’s orientation, the potential protrusion of the “skirt” of the statue on the pedestal, and the design proposal for concrete benches: “Nobody’s going to sit on low concrete benches with no backs,” she said.
Then commissioners began their comments, prefaced with an explanation that they don’t often see community-generated projects like this, but that it falls within their purview because they are “charged with reviewing the city’s civic spaces.”
Their concerns included specific details that were listed in the resolution on which they voted, but commission chair Karen Kiest summed up what eventually seemed to be the group’s view: “When I think about this (project), it’s (about) the sculpture (statue). The base is the element. The more you can invest in the base, to do something keeping with the simplicity of the monument … it’s all about the base; get that right. That’s your piece. I would strongly suggest that you simplify the other elements.”
She added that simplifying the design could also free up money to make the benches “beautiful wood seating” instead of concrete, for example.
Libby Carr voiced a concern about suggestions that the number of benches be reduced, noting that the Statue of Liberty Plaza Project fundraising efforts “sold 15 benches, and two of the three current benches are going to be incorporated; to change the number of benches at this point would be difficult — that was about 50 percent of the total amount of money raised.” Kiest interjected, “We think seating is great (to have) … what we are saying, is how to make this piece be really successful relative to the statue.”
Finally, Brendan Connolly, who noted he lives in West Seattle, summarized the commission’s comments and concerns as he proposed the motion for a vote (we’d never been to an SDC meeting before; it seems commissioners take turns assigning who will summarize the comments on each item and therefore propose the motion, and this one was his turn), which passed 8-2, approving the design with these comments/concerns officially noted:
-The pedestal skirt could be a tripping hazard
-The bench/seat on the north (water) side of the statue should be removed
-Seat backs on the benches “would be appreciated”
-The “nautilus geometry” (of the design) turning to the east “is not consistent with the larger gesture”
-Lighting should be mindful of light pollution; uplighting the statue from the ground would be discouraged
-Colored concrete pavers would be a concern (some commissioners had mentioned the color doesn’t weather well)
-The “pathway to nowhere” into the lawn to the east is a concern
-Suggest dispersing the large planting areas into smaller ones, to facilitate crowd gathering for events
-Focus design energy on the statue’s new pedestal, described as “the heart and core of this piece – keep things as simple as possible on (the rest of) the design”
-Concerns about the “material palette … some wood would be helpful”
-Concerns about longterm paver maintenance
Though the list of concerns was long, the commission also expressed appreciation for Hutchins’ and Ezzell’s work, and the Plaza Project fundraisers, saying that when the project is done, the statue area “will be a much more special place.”
Here’s what’s next: The Design Commission wants to see revised plans next month. And the construction timetable has accelerated; Browne confirmed to WSB that the Parks Department is under orders from new Superintendent Tim Gallagher, by request of the Carrs, to get it done in time for the next September 11th commemoration (you’ll recall last September 11th is when the recast statue was returned to the old pedestal that had sat empty for months; WSB video coverage here).