A gondola for Seattle?

With so much talk of a gondola to connect SFU Burnaby with the SkyTrain system, Seattle is now considering one as well. The promise of an aerial gondola would connect the waterfront, Seattle Center, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill. Below are images from a post from City Talk.

Now, you may be thinking, “don’t they have that monorail already that was used for some exposition and now just sits as an awkward tourist attraction?” Yes. Yes, they do. I can’t help but think this would inevitably turn into Monorail 2.0, but there is something kind of neat about this proposal. The “cherry on top” they are calling it, are two towers that the gondola cars would pass through.

Here’s the write up:

One last exciting element here is the cherry on top of the hill. Imagine an iconic tower in the Capitol Hill light rail station area redevelopment.  I’m showing a gondola terminal located about 160 feet up a 400-foot-tall tower that would include a public viewing terrace, restaurant and bar with views in every direction.

The lower portion of the tower could be used as a destination hotel with conference and meeting facilities in the base, possibly combined with a joint-use community center for the local community. Businesses, services and organizations could symbiotically collaborate to occupy the second and/or third floors while the ground floor would be dedicated to street activation in the form of retail and restaurants.

Yes, this is controversial and certainly not allowed by current zoning. However, a tower at this location could be rationalized by the gondola, which is an exceptional public asset (and vice versa). The tower is essential to allow the gondola system to be strung well over the existing buildings on the west slope of Capitol Hill. The tower would also contain the receiving terminal, which needs to be mounted approximately 160 feet or higher above the street. It’s also a means to an end as the added development could better provide the desired neighborhood amenities and public benefits package as identified in the neighborhood’s urban design framework plan (UDF).

The current UDF plan suggests up-zoning this site by one or two stories, which may add 20-25% more capacity to the site. That will bring some value to the project, but it won’t buy much in terms of the long list of public amenities desired by the community. I’m suggesting a doubling or tripling of development capacity that is concentrated in the tower where it can take advantage of the great views.

Assuming a tower is possible, I’d propose it be a stand-alone beacon celebrating the station and the unique attributes of the neighborhood. It could be the next generation’s Space Needle, designed by a rigorous international competition and with no other towers allowed in the district. As the only tower, more sun, light, air and views would be maintained on the station area site. It could be slender and graceful, and set back slightly from the street. I’m showing a form in these illustrations for scale and to show how a gondola would be incorporated. Clearly more design work is needed, and that could be an opportunity for community engagement.

As many have observed, more people living and working in the station area is a public benefit, even if some of them occupy high-end condominiums at the top of the tower. Their carbon footprint will be significantly less living here than if they lived on 10 acres in Woodinville and commuted into town each day. They would potentially help pay for some 250 units of affordable housing, a district energy system, the Nagle Place Market and a community center.

Thoughts? This seems like something worth following, especially with Seattle’s recent plan to demolish and tunnel the Alaskan Way viaducts and their rather progressive push for change in and around the downtown core lately.


2 responses to “A gondola for Seattle?

  1. If Seattle get a gondola before SFU does, I’ll have a fit.
    I hope translink gets their funding stabilised soon so they can finally start expanding service and improve mobility in a real way.

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