Seattle's Waterfront Reshaped by New Sculpture Park

Artists and city planners are reshaping Seattle's largest undeveloped downtown water front -- a toxic vacant lot -- into a sculpture park, museum and environmental restoration project.

SEATTLE — Artists and city planners are reshaping the city's largest undeveloped downtown water front -- a toxic vacant lot -- into a sculpture park, museum and environmental restoration project that officials hope will become a new landmark alongside the Space Needle and Pike Place Market.

Surrounded on three sides by high-rise condominiums, the $85 million Olympic Sculpture Park was designed to highlight the natural setting on the shores of Seattle's waterfront, while cleaning up the once contaminated area.

"It is a project that captures what is distinctive and so stunning about Seattle -- the natural setting," said Mimi Gardner Gates, director of the Seattle Art Museum which curates and manages the park.

The park will be the first of its kind on the West Coast and rank among world-renowned parks, such as Chicago's Millennium Park or New York's Storm King, said Michael Klein, executive director of the New Jersey-based International Sculpture Center.

Seattle's park will be free, fenceless and in the heart of the city. Officials hope the easy access will encourage a greater appreciation of the arts from people cycling, jogging or just strolling through the area.

"I love the idea of people who don't know they're interested in art being surprised," Gates said.

The collection will mix seminal works from sculptors Alexander Calder, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra and Mark Di Suvero with with newly commissioned sculpture from Louise Bourgeois and Mark Dion, among others.

When the park opens late this summer, visitors will descend a path that bridges a busy roadway and railroad tracks and then provides panoramic views of the Olympic mountains to the west and Seattle's skyline and port to the south. At the bottom of the trail, the museum is recreating a beach, the first to be restored in an area of waterfront mostly dominated by piers and cargo terminals.

"People will be able to dip their toes in the water," said Michael Manfredi, a partner in Weiss/Manfredi Architects of New York, which designed the park.

The beach and the protected cove will provide a refuge for juvenile salmon from nearby rivers and replace an area once used to transfer petroleum products, Manfredi said.

Union Oil of California first started using the site in 1910 as a storage and transfer facility. The site closed in 1975 and in the late '80s the company began cleaning up the area, removing 120,000 tons of contaminated soil and millions of gallons of water.

The refurbished site is expected to include four distinct Pacific Northwest habitats with native species: a valley of spruce, cedar and fir; a grove of hemlock and aspen; grassy meadows; and the shoreline with salt-tolerant plants.

"They went and created a very special kind of park where art and nature connect," said Sarah Clark-Langager, director of Western Washington University's sculpture gardens. "I just can't think of anywhere else in the U.S. where you can get that."

Many of the planned sculptures also will include the environment. Dion's "Seattle Vivarium" will feature a 60-foot long fallen tree trunk, housed in an 80-foot greenhouse. Known as a "nurse log," the limb will create a spawning ground for smaller plants and organisms. Visitors will be able to see how new life forms while the log decays.

Curator Lisa Corrin said she set out to collect a mix of artists, showing how sculpture has defined itself over the last 30 years. The park will start with about 20 pieces, filling only about a third of the capacity, she said.

"This is a sculpture park that is about evolution and constant change," Corrin said. "We don't want it to feel finished, because that would means it's the end of the story."

Source: Associated Press

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