Residents, tourists and others walking by have likely noticed the metal construction panels surrounding the northeast corner of Downtown Park. The City of Bellevue’s Parks & Community Services department is underway on an expansion project aimed to revitalize the park’s entrance and welcome folks on busy Bellevue Way to the lush Downtown Park scenery.
City Council first launched an extensive proposal to construct Downtown Park in 1984, envisioning a quality space for all in the center of the city. Since its inception, additions to the grand park were adopted in 1986, 1990, and most recently in 2017, including the Inspiration Playground, dynamic water features, and of course, the distinctive circular promenade enjoyed by joggers, dog-walkers and cyclists alike.
One of the last unfinished portions of Downtown Park was that corner at the intersection of Bellevue Way and NE 4th Street. This section of the park seemed to lack an integrated aesthetic appeal, City of Bellevue Project Manager Ken Kroeger said. As a result, this major touchpoint has been largely underutilized. And that’s what the Parks Department aims to fix.
This latest construction project – termed the Northeast Gateway – is poised to nix the previously landscaped corner of the park to create an inviting, accessible entrance that draws in visitors. By adding new pedestrian connections, the northeast corner will serve as a welcoming way to access the park’s circular trail and greenspace while providing better visibility at the highly trafficked intersection. Other central elements of the project include a new pedestrian plaza, site lighting, an aquatic feature, landscape and infrastructure improvements and cosmetic maintenance along the street.
Public art installations will also be added. To pique curiosity and encourage immersive exploration beyond the plaza, design coordinators, city officials and several chairs from the Arts Commission and Park Board elected nationally acclaimed architectural artist Marc Fornes, founder of The Very Many, to develop a holistic concept for a major outdoor public art exhibition.
The project will include varied seating options for one of the most treasured Park activities: relaxing and people watching. According to the artist, the art piece will include different organic textures comprised of carbon material crafted to mimic the dappled light of a forest canopy.
Ultimately, the inspiration behind the northeast Gateway project was to create better access to the park while also adding in new spaces, important improvements and vibrancy through art.
Due to obstacles posed by coronavirus restrictions, the public art piece will be implemented during late summer or autumn 2021 after construction on the northeast corner is finalized. Even with complications and unforeseen impacts caused by the pandemic, Ken said his lead contractor, Ohno Touchdown JV, has been extremely diligent about logging measurable progress while ensuring safe collaboration and security protocols are followed.
Construction was originally slated to begin in early 2020 and wrap by January 2021, but the coronavirus arrived and delayed the launch for several months. Based on current estimates, Ken anticipates the project will conclude in the spring.
As city officials and public health experts continue to closely monitor coronavirus analytics, a grand unveiling for the completed project doesn’t seem to be on the table, although there could be a small, commemorative experience after the art piece has been erected.
Enhancing the park is a noble cause during the pandemic. Parks & Community Services personnel have seen an uptick in activity at local parks correlated to folks feeling cooped up during quarantine and needing safe spaces for outdoor activity. Whether out in the woods or right Downtown, parks offer a space to relax, recreate and unwind safely – a sentiment Ken shared.
“Stay safe and healthy, but don’t stop exploring!”
Keep an eye on Downtown Park for the completion of the project. And in the meantime, the park is still open! There’s plenty of space for you to explore in the Heart of Bellevue.
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