As our neighboring cities enact bold redevelopments at the city centers, Kirkland's downtown core awaits action on a vision to transform the parking lot of Marina Park into 1 acre of a public plaza and reorient downtown toward the lake. The plan, referred to as Lakeshore Plaza @ Marina Park, was drafted in 2004, but a lack of action by previous councils let it take a lower priority to, among other things, annexation of Finn Hill, Kingsgate and North Juanita. Annexation has been the focus of city hall for much of the past decade. Other projects took a back seat to expanding the city from about 47,000 citizens to over 81,000 today.
With the successful annexation completed, and many improvement projects underway, now is the time for the city council to focus energy on the waterfront of downtown. Several plans created a decade ago would make a addition to the discussion about Kirkland's Central Waterfront District as described by Chuck Pilcher in his recent paper (read more here). All we need to do is dust off the plans we have already paid for and start the conversation rolling.
Where to spend our limited resources?
Great attention is being given by the city to those who want Kirkland to build a new indoor aquatic center. We wonder why? Some schools are closing pools as the costs associated with maintaining such facilities grows ever more prohibitive. Some are looking to the city to spend public money to build a new pool. A new aquatic publicly-funded center would be a nice perk indeed. But do we really need it? A reliable source has suggested that the cost of a new aquatic center would be $40 million and it would only benefit about 7% of our population. One wonders if the city has its priorities straight. $40 million is a high price to pay when such funds could go toward improving the sorry state of some of our existing parks. Rather than building a new facility, why not consider alternatives such as using the Bellevue Aquatic Center (601 143rd Ave. NE ) which is located just 7.5 miles from Kirkland City Hall? Interestingly, a call to the Bellevue Aquatic Center reveals that Kirklanders (and all other non-Bellevue residents) pay the same price for swimming as Bellevue residents. The only benefit for Bellevuites is early registration for classes.
Our neighboring cities are hardly standing still
Downtown Redmond is undergoing a $43 million revitalization and downtown park in the heart of the city. The City of Bothell has boldly re-envisioned their downtown with the Bothell Landing, an exciting new multi-purposed remake of downtown streets, public spaces, housing, retail and more. Old Bellevue Main Street is full of new restaurants and shops, with a bright future as the city builds out extensive plans, purchasing private property along the waterfront of Meydenbauer Bay. The new plans will give Bellevue a long stretch of waterfront park connected to downtown through Old Bellevue Main Street.
Kirkland has the most prized asset of all of our neighbors: our lakeside downtown location. We only need to see its potential and boldly move forward. Being Kirkland, we will, of course, take care to remember our past while updating our crumbling infrastructure. We have a real opportunity to create win-win for Kirklanders and businesses by increasing public open space for generations to come, encouraging pedestrians to explore our downtown core.
The Project: Lakeshore Plaza @ Marina Park
In 2004, the City of Kirkland and the Downtown Action Team (DAT) studied the feasibility of developing the Lakeshore Plaza @ Marina Park project. The project would create a waterfront plaza and park in the heart of our pedestrian-oriented downtown. The concept is simple – reorient the downtown to the lake by building a structural lid over the existing Marina Park parking lot with a significant public plaza on top (at the same level as Lake Street and Central Way) and an expanded parking garage below.
The plaza would be over 1 acre of public open space and would provide a seamless connection from the downtown business district to the waterfront. The plaza would represent a significant expansion of Marina Park while expanding the supply of public parking in the downtown.
Marina Park is an important part of the downtown. It is a focal point for the community’s waterfront activities – strolling, concerts, festivals, etc. However, its huge potential public benefits and central role in downtown are not fully realized. Surrounding retail buildings turn their back to the lake and the Marina Park parking lot acts as a barrier between the downtown and the waterfront. A commitment to increasing visual and pedestrian access to the lake is the kind of big picture idea that can transform the downtown: “Bring downtown to the lake – bring the lake to downtown.”
In 2004, the DAT endorsed the following guiding principles to steer the planning process:
Maintain consistency with the vision of the Downtown Strategic Plan (DSP).
Develop a vision and plan around broad community consensus and support.
Create a concept that reflects downtown’s unique character.
Serve to enhance and enlarge Marina Park.
Design a place that comfortably accommodates its users.
Create a place that is “owned” by the entire community.
Promote environmentally sound solutions.
Create a project that is economically feasible and sustainable.
Pursue opportunities to increase the supply of public parking.
Pursue design solutions that create connections rather than barriers.
Minimize disruption of existing activities.
Strengthen and promote retail activity in the downtown.