Design Commission says Alki Liberty Plaza should be simpler


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 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).

22 Replies to "Design Commission says Alki Liberty Plaza should be simpler"

  • JanS April 3, 2008 (4:21 pm)

    eh…I believe that’s what some were saying from the beginning. Whatever happens, it’ll be nice when it’s done…hope it happens sooner than later :)

  • matt April 3, 2008 (11:31 pm)

    Thanks for covering the meeting!

    To add, since it was the first time this board (stacked with architects, landscape architects,and urban planners) had seen it, and presentation time was short, I tried to concentrate on bigger picture issues regarding the site, rather than focus on some of the detail issues that they zeroed in on (but have been brought up with parks, such as lighting, plantings, materials etc). Next time, we’ll certainly present more details, especially about the pedestal and lantern.

    We’ll look at incorporating feedback from the meeting with Parks, and should have some new design work in the next couple of weeks.

    All in all, I feel it was pretty positive,
    especially since the Board voted 8-2 to approve the design.

  • Goody April 4, 2008 (7:45 am)

    So, it seems they sold these benches and pushed forward this design concept without checking w/the design commission? It appears the Design Commission want to redo much of the design and make it/keep it simple like many of us suggested. Did we miss something on colored pavers? Glad they thought the pathway to nowhere was really nowhere-this has always been baffling.
    Seems like it will be much more special w/ much less-this is not a new concept. I think the positive part is that the design commission is really involved in design, could pick out the good and the flawed and probably heard the repeated comments of the community.
    In projects like this, there are always issues of maintenance that are really important. If you have not worked on public projects, you might not be aware of these continuing and costly line items. Good to see that the “Committee” will be cooperating with the Parks Department-one way or another. A little reality imparted to this project will please many, many folks.
    Light pollution, skateboarding, the “material palette” are all issues discussed earlier. These issues the Committee and their acrimonious, chest beating defenders belittled are really issues of good design and substance. When raised, the committee and their defenders took to impugning the characters of anyone who dare question them. Somehow they took this as a personal fight, suggesting any changes, modifications or suggestions were personal attacks or lack of allegiance to the American way. Every single time one of the issues brought up or was questioned, one of their committee members(here I mean the leaders and their stalwart followers) wrote a letter to WSB suggesting what good citizens were leading this project and how we should all be thankful, thankful, thankful for their leadership. Not much about the questions raised or other suggestions-it returned again and again to a personal David and Goliath level. Glad the Design Committee could ask or state for us-too many planters, too fancy, no extra lights, room to congregate, better base with a different orientation than suggested, etc. etc.
    Sure, when the Statue Committee heard a good idea, they claimed it as their own. Guess that is part of the public process and could have really shown the first steps of cooperation.
    Do we know how much the constant PR campaign cost? It was a good idea and helped them reach their goal. Is that accounted for in their public release of costs? Forgive me, this just a query, I really don’t know.

  • WSB April 4, 2008 (8:12 am)

    Re: the PR costs, the Carrs have broken out the full list of expenses a couple times in recent months. I don’t have the latest one handy and can’t find it on the site. Re: not checking with the Design Commission – having covered this phase of the process since the Carrs’ first public meetings in the park by the then-empty statue base last summer, I would have to say the path of city involvement here was not necessarily clear, so I don’t know at what point they would have known the Design Commission would eventually have to sign off on the plan. Commissioners said at the meeting yesterday they wished they had seen it sooner – but they said the same exact thing an hour later during the presentation for Myrtle Reservoir park, which has been a much more typical city-run project and you would expect the process to be more clearly known to city employees managing all phases of a project like that, but maybe not.

  • matt April 4, 2008 (8:52 am)

    The design commission review was a new requirement Parks threw at us after we had finished fundraising. We were informed of this additional layer of review at a meeting on Jan. 25th, and even then, I didn’t know for sure that it would be required until our Parks Project Manager told me we were on the agenda, last Friday. The approval process has unfortunately been a moving target.

    The ‘pathways to nowhere’ actually lead to the lawns on either side, and the comment was only about the grass at the end of the walk will get more trampled. The review board did not want to eliminate them, just deal with the end a little differently.

  • WSB April 4, 2008 (9:06 am)

    Also re: the 8-2 vote tally from the Design Commission, I have added it to the writeup above.

  • Jo April 4, 2008 (2:41 pm)

    Gee Whiz, Matt. Were we at the same meeting? I’m not sure why you feel positive about that meeting. There were but a few good things said about your overall design.

    You said, “I tried to concentrate on bigger picture issues regarding the site.” Matt, the ‘bigger picture issues’ are the core of your design. And the ‘bigger picture issues’ are what the Design Commission asked to be changed.

    The 8-2 approval vote was for ‘a’ plaza, or ‘your’ plaza with the above suggested changes mentioned in WSB’s writeup of the meeting. These changes basically are a total redesign of the entire plaza from: focusing on simplifying the pedestal, removing ‘u’ shaped concrete bench on water-side of statue, using wooden benches, smaller planting area, reworking pathway (or pathway-to-nowhere) that runs through the plaza.

    The Design Commission asked you to “Focus design energy on the statue’s new pedestal…keep things as simple as possible on (the rest of) the design.” I am guessing that they expect to see most of the above changes incorporated into your redesign when you appear before the commission next month.

    Remember, Parks has final say-so. And everyone, without exception, that I’ve worked with in Parks has displayed the utmost in integrity and willingness to bring about the best possible outcome for Alki Beach Park. I hope you’re planning on listening to them. Then maybe this unnecessary, endless turmoil can finally come to an end.

  • Jo April 4, 2008 (2:44 pm)

    P.S. WSB’s write-up of the meeting is a totally accurate account of what went on in that meeting.

  • Goody April 4, 2008 (3:10 pm)

    It is naive to assume that a group of well meaning citizens can ram through a Parks project of their own design w/out some sort of gauntlet of approval. This is PUBLIC property and it has to suit the needs of many. Also, the private group will not be directing or participating in the upkeep nor paying for it-therefore the city, Design Committee, etc. should have a say. This is public policy 101. Structures are always subject to review and consideration-many, many layers and the neighbors generally are allowed input.
    Sorry, we didn’t know about the meeting or we would have been there to voice our opinions. This is not cruel or unusual punishment. It is part of the democratic process-period.

  • Jerald April 4, 2008 (3:25 pm)

    Hooray for simple! I’m delighted to hear that the plaza must be redesigned. Sorry if this offends, but I thought the current idea was hideous.

  • matt April 4, 2008 (8:11 pm)

    I am just happy that the Statue will have a better setting and pedestal by this fall (and by better setting I mean, not in the middle of an asphalt driveway. There isn’t a better setting than Alki Beach Park.).

    The comments of the board weren’t an indictment of the current design. They suggested some changes to make it better, which is their job and what we all want for the Statue.
    We’ll incorporate as many of the comments we can, given Park’s requirements, schedule and the budget, and continue moving forward.

    In the end, the Statue is going to be the centerpiece of a great public space and bring more people out to enjoy the park. The commission acknowledged that by voting for the design, and that is why the meeting was positive.

  • Goody April 4, 2008 (9:39 pm)

    The glass is……………….

  • acemotel April 4, 2008 (11:55 pm)

    >>The pedestal skirt could be a stripping hazard

    Does the hazard pertain to the statue (!) or the people in the plaza (!!)? Either one would be something to see! Maybe all the residents on the water side of Alki Avenue (those protesting the sidewalks) should be subjected to that hazard. I would drive over to Alki just to see 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…

    Now that the Carrs are telling the superintendent what to do, the project might finally get done.

  • Jo April 5, 2008 (7:29 am)

    “The pedestal skirt could be a stripping hazard” – A typo. That should be ‘tripping.’
    And, actually the project might finally get done when the Carr’s STOP telling people what to do.

  • WSB April 5, 2008 (8:17 am)

    Sorry, we do have a typo or two every now and then in a blue moon, fixing.

  • Jo April 5, 2008 (9:55 am)

    No criticism of you, WSB, on that typo. Although it certainly did put a rather risque ‘spin’ on things.
    And Matt: I hope the when the plaza is redesigned you keep in mind a remark from a longtime Alki resident: “She (the statue) is central to the beach, not THE center.” …And the Mayor’s office often repeated, “Keep it Simple!”
    Good luck, Matt. I’ll see you at the next Design Commission meeting.
    Jo Ofsthus

  • matt April 5, 2008 (3:20 pm)

    thanks, jo, i will.

  • Michael April 14, 2008 (11:19 am)

    YES!! Thanks, Design Commission, for echoing just about everyone’s sentiment about this plaza. It’s a beach, not a memorial or civic center. The Boy Scouts gave us a statue to put up; we put it there. We can admire it and then continue our beach walk. The end.

  • David Hutchinson April 14, 2008 (6:20 pm)

    “Just about everyone’s sentiment”? I don’t think so. As the person who maintains the brick inscription database for the Seattle Statue of Liberty Plaza Project, I have been kept busy since October of 2007 entering the inscriptions of hundreds of supporters of the plaza, as designed by Matt Hutchins and Chris Ezzell back in 2006. This amounts to over 800 bricks sold in 6 months to add to the over 400 sold by the Northwest Program for the Arts from 2004-2007 (These NPA inscriptions have recently been turned over to the SSLPP for inclusion in the order to the brick engraving company). Over 70% of the donors have come from the West Seattle area with about 50% of donors living in the 98116 zip code. These are residents of the Alki area; the ones who are most familiar with the Statue and its current setting. From t-shirts at $20 each to $15,000 from major donors,there has been outstanding and widespread community support for this project. I am sure that this level of support resulted in the Parks Department’s decision to accelerate the timeline for completion of the plaza from late October to early September of this year.

    While I realize that people don’t come to Alki just to see the Statue, I am sure that many local residents and visitors to the beach will enjoy and appreciate this new addition to the Alki promenade.

    David Hutchinson

  • Jo April 16, 2008 (11:19 am)

    Thanks, Michael. I’m still in there lobbying the ‘powers that be’ for a ‘simplified’ plaza.
    And David: as for all those ‘sold’ bricks. Are you figuring in the FREE brick when 2 were bought, or the FREE brick for 3 hours of volunteering in the total number of ‘sold’ bricks? I thought so.
    The present design, as reviewed by the Design Commission, is just too much for the area. It doesn’t fit in with the surroundings. One landscape architect in Parks Dept. said to me that anything of this nature shouldn’t just SIT on top of the landscape, but should FLOW into, or out of, it, as though it’s a natural part of the whole scheme. This present design with all it’s cement and disfunction just doesn’t FLOW.
    I think most people agree that a new plaza is probably needed, although I hate to see the design of the old pedestal go. The SSLPP and architechs have had more than enough opportunity to adjust the design more to the citizens’ and Parks Dept. wishes, but steadfastly hang onto the original design. Oh, they say they’ll make adjustments, but I firmly believe any changes will be minimal, and we’ll basically still have most of the existing design when it’s presented at next the Design Commission meeting (like those hard, cold, concrete benches). Let’s hope not.
    I repeat the sentiments from the Mayors’ office: “Keep it simple.”
    Jo Ofsthus

  • David Hutchinson April 16, 2008 (5:35 pm)

    Yes, the totals do include the FREE bricks received in the 3 for 2 brick sale and the FREE bricks earned through 3 hours of volunteer work.
    Of the 428 bricks sold by NPA, I am aware of only 1 that was FREE, given to a local business for distributing brochures.
    Of the over 860 sold by the SSLPP about 160 were FREE through the 3 for 2 brick sale with another 13 earned through volunteer hours.
    These figures are being added to each day. We will be finishing up the latest batch of brick orders received before the March 31st deadline later this week. Those of you who recently purchased bricks will be receiving a confirmation card or letter in the mail.
    If you have any corrections or changes to make, please contact Eilene at 206-933-8352 or email us at as soon as possible. Those of you who purchased bricks through NPA can also contact Eilene to check on your inscriptions.
    Our goal is to have the consolidated brick database ready to send to Kenadar early in May as it will take about 2 months to engrave all the bricks and have them shipped to the construction site.
    Thanks again to the many of you who have helped make the new plaza a reality through your generous donations and volunteer efforts. Please check for additional information.

    David Hutchinson

  • goody April 17, 2008 (1:32 pm)

    Did I get this right? The ones you are claiming sold MAY have come from donated free hours or a buy one, get one sale? Not that there is anything wrong with that, just state it up front.

    I think Michael is right-this whole thing is overdone. Many think of it as a “Make Work Project”. Were we expecting some stats on how much the organizers made on this? Maybe not, can’t remember.

Sorry, comment time is over.