Construction begins this month on the long-anticipated plan to replace Seattle’s crumbling downtown seawall.
Waterfront businesses are bracing for what is likely to be three years of disruptions from the $290 million project, which was approved by voters last year.
“We’re nervous. It’s going to be hard,” said Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s Inc, which operates a 400-seat restaurant on the waterfront.
The first phase of the project involves re-routing traffic from Alaskan Way, the main arterial that runs along the waterfront. Construction crews need to excavate the road to reach the seawall, which lies beneath it.
On Monday, crews were erecting fences, posting “Do not enter” signs and staging heavy equipment in a parking area beneath the concrete structure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. They plan to build a new roadway there that will serve as an alternate route for waterfront traffic.
“There is a lot that’s going to happen there in the next six weeks,” said Jessica Murphy, the seawall project manager for the city. “We’re actually working two shifts, a day and night shift, six days a week, to get it all done.”
For the time being, Murphy says, businesses along the waterfront will remain open. But after the summer of 2014, about a dozen shops and restaurants — including Ivar’s, Red Robin, and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop — have agreed to close when construction is at its peak. If the project remains on schedule, the businesses will re-open nine months later.
Steve Bohn, the owner of a gift shop called Happy Salmon on Pier 56, called the closure a “bummer.” But he said it’s an unavoidable disruption.
“It’s going to be what it’s going to be, we are going to try to hang on and do what we can,” Bohn said.
Waterfront businesses have long supported replacing the seawall, but complained the city’s construction schedule would put many out of business. Earlier this year, the city offered to pay up to $15 million in compensation to businesses that are forced to close.
Bohn said the money will help, but he is still looking for a temporary location to do business during the closure.
City officials say people who use the waterfront should prepare themselves for various levels of disruption over the course of the next three years.
“We just ask that people have patience and allow extra time,” Murphy, the project manager, said.
City officials argue the project is essential for public safety because the century-old seawall poses a risk of failure in the event of an earthquake.
But Murphy said it will also be “pretty cool.”
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch the seawall being built," she said. "This will never happen again in our lifetime.”